By: Jeff Zentner
Release Date: March 8, 2016
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Audience: Teens - Grades 10 & Up
Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace. He and his fellow outcast friends must try to make it through their senior year of high school without letting the small-town culture destroy their creative spirits and sense of self. Graduation will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is content where he is thanks to his obsession with an epic book series and the fangirl turning his reality into real-life fantasy. Their diverging paths could mean the end of their friendship. But not before Dill confronts his dark legacy to attempt to find a way into the light of a future worth living.
What an extraordinary read. Everything about this novel radiates with authenticity and presents a way of life that is very real but told in a manner that is sensitive and thought provoking. Every character is so well drawn that I feel as if I know them personally. The small town southern setting is so well crafted, I felt like I was there. Additionally, this novel presents a number of important themes and opportunities for discussion. It is a story about not giving the mistakes of the family the power to dictate who we're meant to be. It’s about finding courage in yourself and discovering that that’s not always easy. It’s about understanding, empathy, and asking for help. It’s about allowing others to share their strength when we can’t find our own. It’s about recognizing what makes others special to us and not taking them for granted. It’s about finding the things that bring you happiness and joy and sharing that with others. It’s about friendship, family, love, faith, grief, growing up and moving on. It’s about finding your best self and realizing you matter. It’s about so much more; it’s about everything that makes us human. I cannot speak highly enough of this truly impressive debut and I am honored to have had the opportunity to read it. I can’t wait to share this with every reader and I look forward to seeing what this author does in the future.
By: Shannon M. Parker
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster / Simon Pulse
Audience: Teens - Grades 10 & Up
Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College. But love has a way of changing things. Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control. Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and … terrifying? But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed. So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life. If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Although this isn’t the first book that has dealt with abusive and controlling relationships and while there were some aspects of this novel, specifically one of the final scenes, leaned more towards the dramatic, this is still an incredibly important story that deserves a place in every library collection. Zephyr is a fantastic character and what made her extraordinary is just how normal she is. She is a good student, a field hockey player, and has solid plans for her future. Additionally, the insecurities she is suffering from after the departure of her father feel incredibly real and her reaction to them are authentic. In terms of Zephyr and Alec’s relationship, this also was an excellent example of what teen girls need to be aware because it is all too real. As a reader it is easy to see Alec’s manipulation, but much like Zephyr, it is much more difficult to recognize whilst in the throes of love. This, in particular, is what makes this books worthwhile, the gradual progression of an unhealthy, volatile, and abusive relationship. Teen girls need to know that these types of relationships exist and it is not something that is easily recognizable or innately known. In addition to Parker’s development of Zephyr and Alec’s relationship, I also have to comment on the friendship between Zephyr and Lizzie. I am a huge advocate for strong female friendships and Lizzie is one of the best book best friend’s that I have ever had the pleasure of reading about. She is confident, Zephyr’s biggest ally and the relationship between the girls is one based on respect and admiration not petty jealousy or bitterness.
Despite these strengths, there is one weakness, and that’s the ending. There is a lot of build-up and suspense throughout the novel, however, the ending and resolution come much too quickly and with too many questions. This by no means lessen the thematic elements in the book but it does somehow make some of the final scenes feel too much like a thriller novel rather than realistic fiction and I believe this is do large in part to not getting a full picture of the aftermath. While I appreciate and admire a balance between resolution and ambiguity, this type of book needs a solid ending in order to really drive the point home in terms of how to return to the world and bounce back from the trauma caused by an abusive relationship. The epilogue style ending touched on this but having become so invested in the characters it would have been nice to have just a little bit more and as I mentioned before this doesn’t make the thematic elements covered throughout the entire novel any less important, it just could have made the storytelling a bit more solid. Aside from that, this is still an impressive debut and a necessary addition to YA collections, one I definitely I look forward to sharing.