Book Review: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Does My Head Look Big in This? (2005) by Randa Abdel-Fattah is the story of sixteen-year-old Amal, a modern Palestinian-Muslim-Australian girl. Amal is hilarious, educated, beautiful and spunky, with open-minded parents and a deep commitment to her Islamic faith. The book begins when Amal decides that she wants to wear the hijab full-time. She isn’t sure what her new friends will say about her choice, fears the prejudices she may face in society, and is agonized by the idea that her strict private school won’t let her express her faith.

In this excellent little narrative, Amal chronicles the daily life of a Muslim teenager in a post-9/11 culture. In most ways, she’s an ordinary girl like any other – obsessed with clothes and fashion, sneaking in Cosmo magazines, crushing on boys, and going out for pizza and ice cream with her best friends. But there’s also a poignant multicultural element to her life, with her tight-knit family unit between her and her parents, their peaceful and wholesome observance of Islam, her Muslim friends and relatives, and how each adapts to being an Aussie Muslim differently. These scenes dispel many of the myths and misconceptions about Islam, and paint a beautiful tapestry of people you’d like to meet, celebrations you wish you were a part of, and food you’d love to taste.

Unfortunately, Amal encounters all variations of suspicion, discrimination and ignorance in the outer community, from trying to apply for a job to being bullied at school, and rejection by her crush for observing the tenets of her faith. But in the face of it all, Amal is strong and gutsy and speaks her mind, though without proselytizing or judging others. It’s refreshing to read about a young person so secure in her faith and identity. Amal wants to make it clear to the world that practicing Islam and wearing the hijab is *her* choice, and she is *not* oppressed.

I think my favorite part of the book was her unlikely friendship with the grumpy old Greek woman nextdoor. I read most of this story with tears in my eyes or running down my face, or else laughing out loud. If you love heartfelt stories about multiculturalism and religion, I strongly recommend this one!

Book Review: Without Curtains by Holly M. Campbell

Without Curtains (2015) is the second book by Holly M. Campbell I’ve had the pleasure of reading. After thoroughly enjoying her debut, Foreshadowed, I was more than eager to get my hands on her newest release… and it did not disappoint! I inhaled this novel in a single day, because I was simply unable to set down my Kindle until every last unbelievably tantalizing mystery had been resolved.

Eighteen-year-old Rebecca is about to graduate high school when she receives the news: her estranged father has passed away. Mostly driven by an unexpected phone call from her big brother’s old childhood buddy, Troy, Rebecca decides to attend the funeral, even though she’s maintained no relationship with her dad over the years. And her big brother Jackson is clearly uneasy about returning her to her childhood home… where their mother was brutally murdered.

As aforementioned, I COULD NOT STOP reading this book. I had to know everything. There was so much to discover about every character, like Rebecca’s older sisters Linda and Marie, the charming Troy, and the interesting residents of the little farming town of Clayton Creek. What unfolds is not only a young woman’s journey to find closure and forgiveness with her very complex father after his death, not to mention a complicated but caring romance between her and Troy… but, mostly, a vengeful quest to uncover the “Shadow” entity that’s been stalking her, maybe even solving a fourteen-year-old murder mystery in the process. Together with Troy, Becca becomes intent upon finishing the work she learns her father had started, to find her mother’s assaulter and killer… which may also lead her to discovering who and what has been haunting her bedroom window and tormenting her with nightmares since childhood. I liked that the character of Troy was a psych major, and thus helped explain pertinent things to Becca (and the reader), such as dream interpretation and repressed memories. The murder mystery especially kept me swiping the e-pages, but I was also fascinated by Becca’s broken yet loving dysfunctional family as they coped with their father’s death, each in his or her own way.

If you like New Adult/Teen thrillers, nail-biting suspense, intriguing mystery, gentle romance, stories about families and realistic fiction, I enthusiastically suggest picking up Without Curtains. It actually reads a lot like a Sarah Dessen novel – Sarah Dessen, plus creepy murderer/stalker mystery- yes! Don’t hesitate; this is one great read.

Book Review: Moonglass by Jessi Kirby

Moonglass (2011) is a beautiful coming-of-age novel for teens by Jessi Kirby. Sixteen-year-old Anna Ryan leaves behind the beach where she grew up… where her mother deliberately drowned herself… to a new California beach, full of old family history. Now living in her mother’s childhood vacation spot, on the very shore where her parents had first met, Anna has never felt closer – yet, still so removed – from her departed mother’s memory.

This is a sweet, gorgeous and touching novel. I swiped through each page, completely immersed in the story, transported entirely to that California beach where Anna makes new friends, discovers her mother’s past, and comes to terms with the shame and guilt associated with her mother’s suicide. The only aspect of the story I felt could’ve been more developed was Anna’s chaste romance with the lifeguard, Tyler; I didn’t feel much depth or chemistry to his character. But that’s okay, because the story is really about Anna and her dad, and her mother’s intriguing past. Anyone looking for a good beach read with heart and mystery will adore this gentle, page-turning debut.

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I adore this book, Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins! If you’re looking for a fun teen romance involving international travel and lovable characters, this is it! Anna is an earnest, spunky Atlanta teen with a love for cinema. She dreams of becoming a film critic. She’s also an endearing germophobe. Her BFF is a girl named Bridge, and her co-worker at the movie theater? Well, let’s say he might become something more than a co-worker. Anna’s life is progressing just fine in Georgia, thank you very much, when her father decides– despite Anna’s protests– to send her away for senior year to a boarding school in Paris.

On her first night at the “School of America in Paris,” Anna is sobbing her heart out, when the friendly girl-next-dorm, Meredith, comes to her rescue with some hot chocolate. Anna quickly fits in with Meredith’s clique of artsy friends, and is instantly smitten with Meredith’s crush, a charismatic London boy – with perfect hair – named Étienne St. Clair. Unfortunately for both Anna and Meredith, Étienne already has a serious girlfriend. But it’s evident that Anna’s feelings for Étienne might be reciprocated, despite the fact that Étienne keeps (infuriatingly!) returning to his girlfriend. No sweat, Anna tells herself: there’s still that guy back home. …Or is there?

In a year of serendipity, confusion, heartache and forgiveness, the funny, reliable Anna and charming Étienne take on Paris, navigating the winding roads of their awkward, puzzling, and ambiguous best-friendship. Romantic comedy-esque he-said/she-said fills these pages, but in a well-written, addictive way. (I was so engrossed, I was literally dreaming about this book at night!) Following Anna’s hilariously self-deprecating thoughts and entertaining inner monologues in the first person, present tense, often felt like stepping into my own brain. It was easy to relate to Anna and get wrapped up in her emotions. I loved how genuine and candid she was, not ashamed to show her passion, but also able to laugh at herself and admit her shortcomings. Étienne is also a three-dimensional, convincing character. He practically jumps off the page– all of Perkins’s characters do. Believable, tangible characters and realistic dialogue are this author’s greatest strengths. I also enjoyed the travel aspect of the novel, as Anna adjusts to the culture shock of life in Paris.

Anna and the French Kiss is a sweet (and at times heartbreaking) romance for young adults. One scene that sticks with me is Anna and Étienne’s bittersweet Thanksgiving holiday in Paris. This book is light and funny, yet heartfelt, sometimes tear-jerking. A good read.

Book Review: Keeping the Moon by Sarah Dessen

My favorite book by Sarah Dessen is Keeping the Moon (1999). Nicole Sparks used to be friendless and overweight. But even after her weight loss, mostly brought about by her mother’s recent success as a famous fitness instructor, Colie’s still friendless, and bullied at school by false, vicious rumors. When her mother leaves to promote her fitness brand on a European tour, Colie is dismayed to be sent to the beach of Colby, North Carolina to stay with her eccentric aunt Mira for the summer.

On her first night in Colby, Colie meets Norman, the artsy Deadhead who lives in her aunt’s basement; and Morgan and Isabel, the two waitresses at the Last Chance Bar and Grill. Perky, organized, brown-haired Morgan takes an instant liking to Colie, and asks her to help out at the restaurant. On the other hand, Morgan’s best friend and fellow waitress– the blonde, gorgeous and moody Isabel– makes no effort to disguise her disdain for Colie. But Colie joins the staff at the Last Chance– where Norman also happens to work – and eventually forges an unlikely bond with all three of them: Norman, Morgan, and even Isabel.

The raw and beautiful friendship between Morgan and Isabel steals the show, weaving its own fleshed-out story behind Colie, and making the reader yearn for a friendship like theirs. As such, Keeping the Moon is the definition of chick lit, a “girl book” through and through. And I mean that as high praise! Dessen has won me over again (she had me at What Happened to Goodbye) in her perfect, all-American coming-of-age narrative. I absolutely adored this book from start to finish and will be recommending it to all of my girlfriends.

Book Review: That Summer by Sarah Dessen

That Summer is about a very tall fifteen-year-old girl named Haven, who is self-conscious about her height. The novel begins as Haven’s dad remarries. Her formerly wild older sister, Ashley, is also getting married to a straight-laced fellow at the end of the summer. The story revolves around the dramas of Haven’s dysfunctional family, and her frequent reflections upon one perfect summer at Virginia Beach, when her family was at it’s most ‘normal,’ and Ashley was dating a boy named Sumner.

Now, the jovial and exciting Sumner unexpectedly reappears in Haven’s life, constantly popping up in unlikely places and bringing the comfort, ease, and security Haven craves. Whether or not Haven has a romantic interest in Sumner, or he in her, is ambiguous. A readable debut by Dessen, but IMO hasn’t stood the test of time.

Book Review: Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You (1998) is narrated by Halley, a sixteen-year-old girl just trying to find herself under the stifling confines of her overprotective mother. When Halley’s best friend, Scarlett, discovers she’s pregnant – and the baby’s father has died in a motorcycle accident – Halley is beside Scarlett every step of the way. While Scarlett navigates her choices from abortion to adoption, Halley is secretly facing a decision crisis of her own. Should she sleep with her scumbag new boyfriend before he leaves her for someone that will? Or should she keep her virginity intact, taking a tip from her best friend, Scarlett?

Halley’s new boyfriend, Macon, is despicable. He treats her like dirt, keeps secrets from her, drinks and does drugs, obviously fools around behind her back, and completely disregards Halley’s safety. Meanwhile, Halley ignores the warnings of her family and friends. But Halley’s mother isn’t doing her any favors. Although Mrs. Cooke is right in telling her daughter that Macon is no good, she suffocates Halley, trying to control her  every move, to the point where Halley almost has to see Macon, just to escape her overbearing parent. One of Dessen’s more sobering works, and overall, a tale of friendship rather than romance.

Book Review: Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen is a teen novel published in 2008. The main character is the redheaded Ruby. Keeping up with what seems to be the theme with Dessen’s main characters, Ruby’s not interested in making friends or being dependent on anyone else. The proverbial lock in the title refers to Ruby’s heart. After being abandoned by her family, she refuses to let anyone in, or give anyone the chance to help– or hurt– her. But when Social Services sends her to live with her estranged older sister, Cora, and new brother-in-law at their wealthy estate, Ruby eventually learns that she doesn’t have to live her life as a “one-woman operation.”

We meet Ruby as an antisocial pothead with no direction. Her motto is to expect the worst, and never be disappointed. But throughout the story, the reader witnesses Ruby’s transformation, as she begins to form real and meaningful relationships. This is a touching book about family, friendship, and learning to trust. There are some painful themes of child abuse running throughout. But this is also a beautiful story of two sisters. And a bittersweet love story is in the mix too, with the boy-next-door, who’s hiding his own secrets and pain, albeit with a completely different approach than Ruby’s. A solid read.

Book Review: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen is the charming story of high school senior, Mclean. Mclean’s life was her family, her family’s restaurant, and basketball… until their restaurant went under. Then, her mother cheated on her father with his favorite basketball team’s coach, and got pregnant. With twins. Needless to say, her parents suffered a bitter divorce.

Disgusted with her mother– who now has the audacity to act as if nothing’s the matter, and even fight for custody of Mclean– Mclean chooses to follow her dad and his new restaurant consulting job. But Gus Sweet’s new job requires constant moving, every several months. No problem; Mclean takes it as an opportunity to totally reinvent herself in all her new towns and schools. But now in Lakeview, her attempts at creating another alter-ego are thwarted.

Mclean tries to avoid establishing attachments, because she knows at anytime her father’s job may relocate them. But somehow, new friends are finding her: from Opal, the tattooed, retro-punk manager of Gus’s new restaurant; to Heather and Riley, the cool girls, yet something of misfits themselves; to Deb, the type-A personality “spaz,” who also happens to have a good heart and a surprising interest in metal music. And then, of course, there’s Dave, the long-haired boy genius who lives next-door. Despite her efforts to be standoffish, Mclean can’t help but begin to fall in love with Lakeview, her classmates at Jackson High, and the colorful staff at her father’s latest restaurant. But causing turbulence behind the scenes is Mclean’s mother. Guilt-ridden on her father’s behalf, but wanting to avoid another custody battle, Mclean endures awkward dinners and basketball games with her new step-dad and toddler-age half-siblings, and a mother whom she hardly recognizes anymore.

I loved reading about Mclean’s friends and their own stories. I also enjoyed the scenes with the restaurant staff. Even Mclean’s mother, whom you can’t help but both pity and hate, is an interesting and sympathetic character. Mclean’s lovable, handsome workaholic father is someone I missed as soon as the book ended. But the true heart of the story are Mclean’s friends – in particular, her budding relationship with the kind and mysterious Dave. This novel had heart and soul, and I would recommend it.