No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert tells the story of three women whose families are all affected by the consequences of a local school district that loses its accreditation. The twelve miles that separate South Fork and Crystal Ridge may not seem like a long distance, but the conditions present in each area are drastically different. All three women and their families find themselves clashing with the difference in circumstances those twelve miles have thrust open them. With affluent Crystal Ridge resisting South Fork’s advance on their children’s education and sports prospects, parents in South Fork are fighting for the right to transfer their children to a better and more equal school district that still has its accreditation.

Anaya Jones grew up surrounded by the South Fork community. Her father even taught at the local South Fork school. Fresh out of college and the first college graduate in her family, Anaya wishes to teach at South Fork just like her dad did. She wants to show the families who attend South Fork that there are people who care for them, no matter what the public says about their town. With South Fork’s lose of accreditation for their school district however, Anaya finds herself instead working as the newest teacher at a top elementary school in the nearby affluent community of Crystal Ridge. Anaya is thoroughly unprepared for the tense situation she is walking into, even though her family’s situation has her slightly on edge around Crystal Ridge anyway.

Jen Covington has worked as a nurse her entire life, a career that she hoped would help her when she became a mother. Despite her and her husband’s intense desire to become parents, Jen’s history and physical body have resulted in a long, painful journey with no baby in sight. After realizing they were unable to have a baby of their own, Jen and her husband turned to adoption, hoping that process would be quicker. Adoption, however, took a long time as well, with Jen and her husband learning as much as they can to prepare themselves for their daughter’s arrival. Once their adopted daughter is home, Jen finds herself struggling in her new day-to-day life despite how much she prepared. Add in a move to Crystal Ridge and Jen and her new family soon find themselves dropped right into the Crystal Ridge and South Fork dilemma.

Camille Gray is the quintessential suburban mom. The wife of an executive, mother of three, PTA chairwoman, and master fundraiser for Crystal Ridge’s annual run, everyone assumes that Camille’s life is perfect. She thinks everything is perfect too. Everything changes when she learns that South Fork has lost its accreditation and that there is a possibility that Crystal Ridge could be affected by this. Students may be given the opportunity to transfer to a school decided upon by the administration. Once it is decided that Crystal Ridge will be the transfer school, the already unruly chaos taking over the community is ratcheted up. While Camille struggles to navigate the challenges presented by this school upheaval, her personal life is also undergoing major changes. Her strength is tested as she works to find a new normal for herself and her family.

What I enjoyed about No One Ever Asked is that the author chose to tell this story from three different points of view which really allowed the reader to understand each person’s motivations for their actions. This book will force you to challenge your perception of discrimination and prejudice right alongside each woman as they struggle with what they believe to be true.

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

How do you like your fiction? Do you prefer to follow the life of one character from beginning to end or do you hope for multiple viewpoints to hopefully better understand the story? Do you want your characters to be upfront about their motivations or instead hope there’s a twist somewhere that will catch you off-guard? Everyone has their own reading preference, but without trying something you normally wouldn’t read, how will you know if you actually don’t like it? I’ve been experimenting lately and while I have some duds that never captured my interest, I did stumble upon a few I really enjoyed. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was one that gripped me from the beginning!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline is a suspenseful thriller that takes a look into how the lives presented to others can be very different than the lives we live behind closed doors. This suburban crime tale begins with a surface look at a mix of characters: a single mom and her athletically gifted high school pitcher son who is shy and socially awkward, but hopes to be recruited by a college for a full-ride scholarship or he has no hope of leaving his small town. The son’s friends range from a fellow teammate from an affluent family who has never wanted for anything, has excellent grades, and is always up for a good time to another teammate whose family is struggling with the recent death of their patriarch, a man who kept the family together no matter what. This community faces all normal high school, family, and teenage struggles, but with the addition of one recent exception: a new stranger in town.

This new stranger seemingly has a hand in everyone’s business in town. He has managed to gain access to the high school as a teacher and coach. With that access, comes ability to better know the parents, staff, and other community members since this is such a small town. This likable stranger has a hidden agenda though, one that no one in the community is privy to and that they could never possibly guess. He has the ability to destroy the town and walk away with no consequences. His hidden plan falls through when a horrific tragedy befalls the school and he is forced to act quickly. Once his plan is put into motion, this mix of characters is forced to reevaluate their actions and their lives. A battle begins for their lives, futures, and well-beings. The fate of the entire community rests on all of their shoulders.


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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

You either love or hate John Green. There’s just no other way around it. I’m firmly in the ‘love John Green’ camp and as a result, I had been anxiously awaiting the release of his newest book, Turtles All the Way Down. He spent a good chunk of time writing this book and when press started to talk about it, I knew I would relate to the character.

Sixteen-year-old Aza has a lot going on in her life. The father of one of her childhood friends has disappeared. That would generate fuss in the community anyway, but add in the fact that the disappeared parent is a fugitive from the law and the craziness begins to snowball. Russell Pickett is a fugitive billionaire and has completely disappeared leaving the community and, more importantly, his two orphaned sons wondering where he is. When a $100,000 reward is offered, Aza and her best friend, Daisy, decide to try to figure out what happened to him. Aza used to be friends with Russell Pickett’s son, Davis, something that Daisy decides is a good omen. Aza is left to try to bridge the gap between herself and Davis.

Aza finds herself doing a lot of trying in life now. Her father died when she was younger, leaving Aza and her mom to try to cope without him. Aza is trying to be so many different things that she feels like she has lost sight of who her real self is. She is trying to be a good friend, a good student, a good daughter, but her mind never lets her be. Aza is contantly caught in a spiral of her own thoughts that gets tighter and tighter the more she tries to ignore it. Until she acknowledges these thoughts, Aza’s mind and body control her. She can’t escape. The distraction that the disappearance of Russell Pickett provides gives Aza a new escape and reintroduces herself to his son, Davis. Aza, Davis, and Daisy form a complicated friend group and Aza spends a great deal of time worrying over herself.

Turtles All the Way Down is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a teenager trying to make it through life. Aza is constantly battling the voices in her head and the spiral that threatens to overwhelm her. She knows that what she is told to do in her mind is usually wrong, but unless she listens, Aza knows she will be unable to function. This book looks deeply into mental health, resilience, the power of all types of friendship, and how love tries to reach us all. Give it a read and let me know what you think.


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The Most Dangerous Place On Earth

As someone who devours non-fiction, biography, and memoir, I was surprised to have finished this work of fiction in just shy of two days. To be fair, the book is a quick read (even for self-professed slower readers such as myself).  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is the debut novel of Lindsey Lee Johnson with impeccable prose and superb character development.  I could even see the book being turned into a film. In a nutshell, the book is broken into  time periods: Eighth Grade, Junior Year, and Senior Year. Within those general time periods, each chapter is further subdivided with titles such as: The Note, The Lovers, The Striver, The Artist,  The Dime, The Ride, The Dancer, The Pretty Boy, and The Sleeping Lady.  Each chapter spotlights each of the core characters whose lives revolve around a tragic incident involving Tristan Bloch, an awkward but brave outcast with an overbearing mother. Over the course of four years, we follow each protagonist as s/he navigates the tough terrain of junior high and high school, further complicated  by  parents, teachers, and digital culture. In many cases, each of these young people–although living in million-dollar beach homes–is forced to establish his or her individuality and navigate adolescence while also living in the shadows of abuse, neglect, and addiction at the hands of the grown ups who are supposed to protect and guide them. As is the case with many young people, these characters can sense when things are awry at home and school; but they lack the agency to be able to articulate those experiences, sometimes in a healthy way. Always looming in this novel is what lies unspoken–what is between the lines.

At the center of this story is Molly Nicholl, a newbie teacher and transplant from central California who is hired on in the English Department at Valley High in the affluent city of Mill Valley in Northern California, roughly a 6-hour drive from Los Angeles. As Molly begins to feel out the culture at Valley High, she finds herself at odds with the other seasoned faculty who are  burnt-out on their jobs, presumably after many years teaching. As Molly reconfigures her classroom into two concentric circles (note, also, the circular themes throughout the novel) so as not to carry on her predecessor’s tradition of an authoritarian, old-school classroom, she endures pushback from teachers who believe she is crossing the line with regard to her relationship with the students. After a car crash and the exploitation of a female student on social media, Molly is questioned about the inappropriate nature of her commenting on her student’s social media threads–even though her comments stemmed from genuine concern about the well-being of her students . Early on in the book, Molly is eager to dig deeper into the lives of her students–to see them not merely as students but also as human beings who have complex lives and much promise.  Molly once asks “Isn’t it our job as teachers to help our students?” She was quickly put in her place when her co-worker says: “No, your job is to teach.” But what does it mean “to teach”? What does teaching–truly teaching–entail?

I think my teacher and parent friends would enjoy this book, especially because it sheds light on a number of questions–namely: What is the role of the teacher? How can teachers truly effect change and the lives of their students if they are forced to keep students at arm’s length? Can teachers truly be effective if they relate to their students on only the most basic, superficial levels? Is it the role of teachers to dig beneath the surface to enable students to identify and pursue their interests? Are teachers supposed to protect and help their students? How can parents and teachers be better aligned for the benefit of the student?  Must there always be such a deep and wide chasm between young people and adults–one in which “adultness” itself is often dishonest, distrustful, and cynical? I have to say that by the end of the book–and yes, it’s just the idealist in me–I feel like Molly compromised too many of her ideals in an effort to play it safe. I mean, on one hand, I can certainly see why she would opt to play it safe, given the events leading up to her transition from newbie mover-and-shaker to cautious, jaded professional.  In one particular scene, Molly receives an essay from Callista who has accepted and processed, through the therapeutic act of writing, her role in the tragedy of Tristan Bloch. This was the moment that Molly had been waiting for the past three years: to play an encouraging and inspiring role in helping  students reconcile their places in the world and hopefully help them tap into their potential. I mean, here was Callista sharing a deeply painful experience with her teacher and in a sense, looking for encouragement and validation. But Molly, perhaps afraid to assume a role other than “superior” or “teacher” misses the opportunity entirely. Instead, she writes Callista a typical response that an English teacher–not a mentor–would write. However, the implications of Callista’s writing–how she knew the fine details of the path Tristan took to the bridge–were curious, troubling. Again, the power of the unspoken demands attention.

This books asks far more questions than it answers; so if you’re ok with ambiguity, you’ll love this book. I’m still wondering about these characters–what becomes of them, if they ever get to realize their true potential. Reading this book also forced me to look back on my own experiences in junior high and high school, which, like most young people, was a mixed bag of good, bad, and ugly. When I was young, I did not have vast social networks at my fingertips and cyber bullying wasn’t yet a thing. So much happens to young people online–entire worlds exist out of the reach of unwitting adults. While I tended to despise the parental and authoritarian figures in this book, I was nonetheless sickened by how these students treated each other. But unfortunately, I also got the sense that Emma, Damon, Callista, Ryan, Elisabeth, Nick, and others were just on their own, abandoned even. I certainly found fault with the parents: what is the role of the parent in providing guidance and support to their children? How can effective parenting provide a more equitable, just world? In essence, how can effective parenting be the anti-thesis to bullying, suicide, sexism, and abuse? How should parents be meaningfully involved in the lives of their children without being overbearing and suffocating? These are just some of many, many questions I have after finishing this fantastic debut by Lindsey Lee Johnson, which has drawn some comparisons to Thirteen Reasons Why.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction in my spare time. A vast majority of them have dealt with sad topics: mental illness, suicide, death, endings of relationships, abuse, homelessness etc. These are all topics that teens deal with on a daily basis, so I appreciate the fact that there are resources out there that teens(and their parents/guardians/loved ones) can turn to if they need some help. However, reading all these angsty books with no break and with no happy ending in sight is throwing me down a rabbit hole of sadness. I needed a break or a book with a happy realistic ending, not a sad realistic ending. Enter Jennifer Niven.

I’d read All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year and had loved her work (fair warning though: this book has a sad realistic ending dealing with mental illness and suicide). Flipping through a review magazine, I found Holding Up the Universe, also by Niven. The premise sounded like it could possibly end well and I was willing to risk it because I had loved her previous book so much.

Holding Up the Universe tells the story of Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. It is told from both of their points of view, alternating chapter to chapter. Libby Strout was once known as “America’s Fattest Teen”, a teen whose house had to be partially demolished in order to get her out of it. Back in school for the first time in years, no one can see past her weight. She’s still just the fat girl even though she’s lost 300 pounds. After her mom’s death, Libby is left picking up herself, her father, and their grief. She is ready for the new start high school has to offer.

Jack Masselin is the quintessential high school popular boy. He has swagger and the ability to give people what they want. He is able to fit in. While he seems like he has it all together, Jack has a major secret. He cannot recognize faces. Jack has prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize people by their faces. Everyone he meets, he has to try to figure out who they are by their identifiers: big hair, beauty mark, Mohawk, etc. Jack gets through life by being the funny, charming guy, but doesn’t let people get close.

Jack and Libby’s lives become entangled together in the aftermath of a cruel high school game. Sitting squarely in community service and group counseling together forces them to make a connection. This connection changes both of their lives, forcing them to confront issues that neither of them realized they are carrying. Will their connection change their world for the better or for the worse? Add in cruel high school students, family issues, obesity, brain injuries, and the possibility of love and Jack and Libby are in for a crazy ride of self-esteem, self-reliance, and teenage angst. Holding Up the Universe was the exact book palette refresher I needed.

Jughead: Volume One

I love Archie comics. Every time I went to the grocery store with my mom, I begged for the newest Archie comic and would begin reading it as soon as I got in the car. Archie was my first graphic novel crush and the whole gang at Riverdale High did things that I expected to do in high school. (When I reached high school and it wasn’t anything like Riverdale, I was more than a little disappointed.)

When I realized that Jughead was going to be given his very own comic, I was ecstatic and knew I had to read it. Jughead: Volume 1 gives Jughead the attention he always deserved in the classic Archie comics. Zdarsky and Henderson expand upon the current Archie volume to give Jughead his own up-to-date background.

In Jughead: Volume One, we meet Forsythe Pendleton Jones III, aka Jughead. He plays videogames, tries to keep Archie out of trouble, skates by in school by just following the rules, and spends his afternoons at Pop’s diner inhaling burgers and milkshakes. Everything is happening like normal until Riverdale High gets a new principal. This new principal institutes new changes on all levels: in the classrooms, in athletics, and, most concerning to Jughead, in the cafeteria. Once he gets rid of all the good food in the cafeteria, Jughead loses his cool and seeks vengeance. This graphic novel is full of gags and antics by Jughead and his friends as they try to oust the new conniving principal from his current position and, in the end, discover his dastardly plot to take over the school for nefarious reasons! This graphic novel had me laughing throughout and was a fantastic trip down memory lane to the classic Archie comics.

The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

the-way-i-used-to-beThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith is a deeply moving, traumatic examination of one young woman’s struggle to overcome the aftermath of a rape. Eden, a 14-year old teenage girl, is raped by Kevin, her older brother’s best friend and college roommate. Her family is asleep down the hall while he crawls into her bed. Eden is the typical band geek, good girl who lives in fear of Kevin as he tells her that he will kill her and that no one will believe her if she talks. She is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t know what to do except try to live her life like normal, an idea that quickly fails as she becomes a new person overnight.

This book follows Eden through all four years of high school, highlighting her relationships with friends and family as she keeps this dark secret under wraps. School becomes increasingly more difficult for Eden as she turns to lies, booze, sex, and parties to smother her emotions. Kevin’s younger sister, Amanda, who Eden used to be friends with, turns against her and begins spreading vicious rumors about her around school. Eden’s best friend, Mara, knows nothing about what happened to her and the two move through high school experiencing some typical high school activities: dying their hair, first crushes, getting piercings, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes for the first time, going to parties, doing drugs, and getting their drivers’ licenses. All the while, distance begins to grow between the two. Eden also finds herself separated from her other friends and her family. She has buried who she used to be, buried her emotions, and buried her secret deep inside.

As Eden grows older, readers are able to dissect the way her rape has affected her personality and her relationships. The way Eden treats herself changes drastically from her freshman year to her senior year of high school, as evidenced through her inner monologue throughout the book. How she believes others to see her changes throughout the book as well. The long-term view of the effect this trauma has on Eden allows readers to gain a better understanding of the guilt, hatred, and complex emotions survivors face in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. The Way I Used to Be is not an easy book to read as watching Eden disintegrate is painful, but the truth and emotions revealed are so vivid and true-to-life that this book becomes a necessary read to understand the emotions survivors experience on a day-to-day basis.  Eden carries a double burden – the weight of carrying her secret and the violation of rape. She shows strength, power, survival, disappointment, pain, heartbreak, and massive loss throughout this book, leaving readers to grow attached to her well-being and her journey through a troubled adolescent made even more difficult by rape. The Way I Used to Be takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster as Eden struggles to find her way back to herself in the aftermath of her rape.

100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know

100-words-every-high-school-graduate-should-knowFrom the Editors of the American Heritage Dictionary comes a quick and educational read: 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. It will help you to ensure you know the meanings of erudite words you are likely to encounter in news articles, books, and possibly cocktail parties (depending on the type of parties you are apt to attend!)

The words span the alphabet and cover a range of disciplines, including agriculture, astronomy, government, literature, mathematics, and philosophy.

A few of my favorites include: abjure, bowdlerize, chicanery, circumlocution, evanescent, facetious, feckless, hubris, incognito, interpolate, jejune, loquacious, moiety, paradigm, pecuniary, quasar, sanguine, unctuous, winnow, and ziggurat.

If you find a few you don’t know, check out 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know. Even if you do know all the ones listed, you might want to challenge yourself to find out if you know the rest found within the pages of this edifying little tome!

Archie, Volume 1: The New Riverdale

archieI grew up slipping Archie comics into my mom’s cart every time we went to the grocery store. I don’t know what it was about the characters, but I always wanted to learn more about Archie, Betty, Veronica, and Jughead. I was always guaranteed a funny story line and a few laughs. When it was announced that Mark Waid and Fiona Staples, two of my favorite comic book writers and artists, would be launching a modern reboot of Archie, I knew I would have to read it.

Archie, Volume 1: The New Riverdale is Waid and Staples’ modern reboot. The characters in this reboot face contemporary issues, while still retaining the classic Riverdale antics that original readers fell in love with. This modern Riverdale High is multiethnic and full of characters that readers of various ages, sexual orientations, genders, and economic statuses can relate to. In this first volume, Archie talks to readers about Riverdale and introduces his friends and family. Jughead rocks out in ripped jeans and readers see Veronica stroll onto the scene as a reality show star living with her uber-rich parents. Betty and Archie aren’t talking after the #lipstickincident and readers, as well as everyone else in the comic, are left wondering what happened to break up this couple that has been together since kindergarten. The world Waid and Staples have designed is true to the original, but allows for flexibility for all characters.

Waid and Staples have concocted a world full of new possibilities for Archie, Jughead, Betty, and Veronica to explore, while still keeping the foundational aspects of each character intact. If you’re like me, you may have been initially hesitant to open this comic for fear that your favorite character may have been completely changed. Never fear! Archie is still a complete buffoon, Jughead is still obsessed with getting food, Betty is still the girl-next-door tomboy, and Veronica still slightly scares me with her vain, spoiled, and conceited attitude. All your favorites are still here just waiting to be rediscovered!

This reboot works as a way to introduce modern themes into the classic lives of all the Archie characters. Social media, fashion, romance, wealth, and other topics are all introduced into their lives and the struggles that each character goes through are all relatable to people reading. This first volume plugs Archie into the mainstream, reality-star culture by introducing characters through writing and artwork that is bright, popping, and fill of dramatic relatable topics. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

keep-quietKeep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline is a gut-wrenching book that begins by introducing Jake Whitmore, his son Ryan, and Jake’s wife, Pam. Tensions seem to be running high in the Whitmore family, stemming from Jake’s loss of job a year ago. The family bore the brunt of his frustration and as a result, Ryan distanced himself from his father and became closer with his mother. Jake and Pam went into therapy to rebuild their relationship. Their current focus is on bringing Ryan and Jake closer together.

Jake is sent to pick up Ryan from the movies when they get into a car accident. This accident threatens the stability of their family and the tenuous relationships that hold them all together. Ryan’s future is on the line and in a split-second, Jake makes a decision that saves his son from a disastrous future. While at the time this seems like the best decision, it instead sends them both down a dark spiral of secrets, lies, and immense guilt. Jake thinks he has everything under control, but someone emerges from the woodwork with the power to destroy his carefully laid plans and expose Jake and Ryan’s dark secret. That life changing accident holds the power to destroy all their lives and Jake is struggling to hold the family together. This book is an intensely powerful guilt-laden journey into the lives of a family who are trying to redeem themselves while their whole world is unraveling around them.


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