Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne Young

Review: Girls with Sharp Sticks – Suzanne YoungGirls with Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young
Series: Girls with Sharp Sticks #1
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: March 19, 2019
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five-stars

The Girls of Innovations Academy are beautiful and well-behaved—it says so on their report cards. Under the watchful gaze of their Guardians, the all-girl boarding school offers an array of studies and activities, from “Growing a Beautiful and Prosperous Garden” to “Art Appreciation” and “Interior Design.” The girls learn to be the best society has to offer. Absent is the difficult math coursework, or the unnecessary sciences or current events. They are obedient young ladies, free from arrogance or defiance. Until Mena starts to realize that their carefully controlled existence may not be quite as it appears.

As Mena and her friends begin to uncover the dark secrets of what’s actually happening there—and who they really are—the girls of Innovations will find out what they are truly capable of. Because some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Since coming across The Program in 2013 I have been a fan of Suzanne Young and her books. There is something about the way she tells a story that sucked me in from the get go. I swear every time I need a new book by her I don’t think she can write any better than she has and yet she constantly proves me wrong. But I can confidentially tell you that Girls with Sharp Sticks is 100% her most brilliant masterpiece yet. When I tell you that I loved this book, I mean it more than I can accurately explain. It is just such a memorable reading experience you truly won’t be able to find the words to describe your feelings.

Girls with Sharp Sticks is about Mena, a girl that goes to a school where she is taught how to be the ‘perfect woman’. The girls are told how to dress, how to act, and how to behave in order to please the men in their lives. They are conditioned to behave and be ‘proper’ and to obey. But when strange things start happening Mena starts noticing how unusual the school is and how sheltered the girls actually are. With the help of a new friend from outside the school walls, Mena opens her eyes and sees what’s really going on at Innovations Academy and she isn’t going to let it continue. When all the girls ban together the men of Innovations learn what the tag line says: Some of the prettiest flowers have the sharpest thorns.

This book was hardcore! And epic! And amazing! And fantastic! And any other adjective you can think of to describe such an unexpectedly powerful book. I was completely creeped out and disgusted reading it. These men were so vile and gross and 100% taking advantage of these girls to suit their needs. I swear I wanted to punch them all in the face so many times. But these girls, Mena, Sydney, Annaliese, Marcella, Brynn and Valentine (not a name a few), were actually what these men feared. These women together held all the power. They were the ones that were able to stand up for themselves and say ‘no, enough is enough’, and I loved every minute of it.

I want to say so much about this story. I want to tell you every detail and small thing I loved. But I refuse to ruin this experience. I strongly feel this is a book that everyone should read and will love. It is so unexpected and brilliantly done. I really can’t say any more than that. If you have trusted my book judgement in the past then trust it now. I swear it is worth it!

Now bring on Girls with Razor Hearts!

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New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Welcome to New to You!

This idea came along last year when I was supporting Lauren Miller’s newest book All Things New and I asked Kelsey to read and review Parallel, a book I have read more than once. I didn’t really get it going until December when I offered people the chance to sign up to read and review a book that has been a favorite of mine that they have never read. I got a great response and I’m happy to tell you (minus January) you will see a New to You post twice a month.

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Next up for New to You CJ from Sarcasm and Lemons. I’m not going to lie, I was nervous when I assigned this book to her. It is heartbreaking and a gorgeous story, but the subject matter is a hard sell. Honestly I have never recommend Forbidden to anyone because it isn’t a book that you can tell someone to read, they have to want to read it because it is high disturbing. But when CJ was the only one that selected it as an option, my warning included) I knew she was the right person. Let’s see what she had to say about a book that tore me to pieces:

New to You (18): CJ Reviews Forbidden by Tabitha SuzumaForbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: June 28, 2011
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three-stars

Perfect for readers who enjoyed Flowers in the Attic, this is a heartbreaking and shocking novel about siblings Lochan and Maya, their tumultuous home life, and the clandestine, and taboo, relationship they form to get through it.

Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As de facto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: A love this devastating has no happy ending.

Family Dysfunction is an Understatement

If I had to reduce my thoughts to a sentence, I think it would mostly be facial expressions. FORBIDDEN is a slow burning, heart wrenching book. There’s something a little old fashioned about the writing, something a bit V.C. Andrews or Nancy Drew, and it’s difficult to place it in any particular time. Entering it is almost entering another world. Even the characters speak with a poetic gravity. But all this gives a timelessness to the story of two hapless lovers, who happen to be brother and sister.

It’s no easy read. I found myself alternately hand-wringing and squirming and placing my hand to my heart throughout. You can’t help but sympathize with Lochan and Maya’s impossible situation, even as a very deep part of you feels nauseated by a relationship you’ve been programmed to revile. It’s a complicated story with no easy moral statements, no clear answers, and although the slow pacing made for some languorous skimming at times, the relationship between Maya and Lochan–and its startling conclusion–left me deeply mired in thought. It’s a book worth talking about.

Romeo and Juliet Had it Good

Our story opens on the Whitley family. Just from the set-up, you know this is going to be a Family Drama. The mother never wanted children and is scarcely at home; most of her time is spent playing cougar with her boyfriend. The father has gone to Australia and never calls. Teens Lochan and Maya are forced to play siblings and parents both to delinquent Kit, hyperactive Tiffin, and sweet naive little Willa. I often found myself raging at their mother, but also knowing that she’s the kind of person who would never take responsibility–which made me rage more, and also feel quite protective of the characters.

In this environment, it’s no wonder the result is a strange relationship between Lochan and Maya. I’m not sure if Suzuma meant to write it as a pure, sweet love; perhaps because of my background, I read it as unhealthily co-dependent. There’s an aspect of Heathcliff and Cathy in it. They cling to each other, fiercely enmeshed in their own world, isolated from others by fear and choice, parentified by the lack of an adult figure. They are everything to each other. I found it a little shocking how quickly they grow used to the idea of their romantic relationship–I would have expected some more hesitancy initially. But perhaps that’s part of the tragedy. It was a strange feeling, finding myself sometimes rooting for them, sometimes sickened, sometimes horrified and overwhelmed by the pathos of their abnormality. It made me want to do research, which is always a good sign that a book has made me think. I think the ending really underscored the tragedy of it all: in this world, their romance is abomination. Should it be? Was it a phase? Was there another way? Are we supposed to support them or assume they need therapy?

The best part of the book was its portrayal of depression and anxiety. I’ve rarely read such a thorough, accurate description as Lochan’s. He suffers from extreme social anxiety, to the point of having intense panic attacks at school when forced to speak to anyone. He also experiences soul-crushing depression, tinged with hopelessness and marked by the occasional outbursts of temper and self-harm. His POV chapters are electric and claustrophobic with the feeling of being trapped and beset on all sides. By contrast, I thought Maya was a bit fluffy. She’s the one who immediately accepts their relationship, sees it as them against the world. Her personality seems less distinct. Lochan was her whole world, and I couldn’t help but feeling the horror of that, and knowing it wouldn’t end well.

That Ending Though

Whatever you think of the sibling relationship, you’d have no soul if the ending didn’t give you pause. I admit, I didn’t see it coming. Not because it didn’t make sense, but because the last few chapters are so frenetic and fraught after a period of seeming contentment that it comes as a slap in the face. I was left with so many questions, for myself and the world. How could such an attraction like this occur? Was it the neglect of their circumstances? Would they have grown out of it? Is it wrong for society to see it as wrong if it’s two consenting parties? Am I wrong for being disturbed? Despite my hangups with the pacing and tone, I’m glad I read FORBIDDEN. It’s always good to be thrust out of your comfort zone and to question everything you’ve accepted as true. I have a feeling I’ll think of this one for a long time.

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Thanks CJ for signing up for New to You. I promise, you are right, you will think about this book for a long time. I read it in 2011 and I still find myself thinking about it.

Have you ever read anything with a disturbing subject matter? How do you feel about recommending it?

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New to You (12): Lindsay Reviews The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler {+ a giveaway}

Welcome to New to You!

This idea came along last year when I was supporting Lauren Miller’s newest book All Things New and I asked Kelsey to read and review Parallel, a book I have read more than once. I didn’t really get it going until December when I offered people the chance to sign up to read and review a book that has been a favorite of mine that they have never read. I got a great response and I’m happy to tell you (minus January) you will see a New to You post twice a month.

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Next up for New to You is Lindsay, @bookiecrumbles on Twitter. Linds is going to be sharing her thoughts on The Summer of Chasing Mermaids. I don’t know about you but I originally was terrified to read this one because the concept sounds odd, but Sarah blew me away and in the end it is now a favorite book of mine. Let’s see what Linds thought!

New to You (12): Lindsay Reviews The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler {+ a giveaway}The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: June 7, 2016
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five-stars

From the bestselling author of Twenty Boy Summer comes a “compelling and original” (Kirkus Reviews) novel about a talented singer that loses her ability to speak after a tragic accident, leading her to a postcard-perfect seaside town to find romance.

The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse d’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.

Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.

Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.

When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly suppresses her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

I had no idea what to expect from this book when Andi asked me to read it. I didn’t even read the synopsis before starting it, I trusted Andi that much. I did read another of Ockler’s books, Twenty Boy Summer, and loved it, so I suspected I would enjoy this one quite a bit as well…. And I did! I was pleasantly surprised that it was based on The Little Mermaid, especially since that is my favorite Disney movie. The similarities to the original source material, and the deviations that Ockler made were excellent, and provided a truly great reading experience.

First of all, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is an excellent summer read, and I’m glad Andi had me read it in June. I loved the writing and the prose throughout the book, both were absolutely gorgeous. Elyse’s writing style and poems were amazing, and one of my favorite parts of the story.

I truly enjoyed reading about Elyse’s journey to find herself again. The contrast Ockler showed in losing one’s physical and metaphorical voice was fantastic, and I loved how she compared the two of them. One of my other favorite aspects of the story was the slow burn romance with Christian. He was a complicated love interest, and I liked reading about his family and issues aside from the race. Speaking of his family, Sebastian was awesome! Such a fun (non-annoying) little brother. The relationship between the brothers was one of my favorite things in the entire story.

Ockler does an excellent job exploration a variety of relationships: parental, sibling, extended family, friendships, and romantic. They are all interesting and complicated in their own way, especially Elyse’s relationship with Kirby. I liked how their relationship evolved throughout the story. I also enjoyed Elyse’s new friendship with Vanessa. Both Kirby and Vanessa challenged Elyse in ways that she needed (even if one instance annoyed me…).

Underneath the overlying story of Elyse’s journey is the discussion of mermaids themselves, which was interesting and provided great background for many aspects of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, thanks Andi for having me read it!

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 5, 2018. It is US ONLY!

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Thanks Lindsay for signing up for New to You! So happy you enjoyed your second Sarah Ockler book!

My The Summer of Chasing Mermaids review.

Have you read The Summer of Chasing Mermaids yet?

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Review: Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett

Review: Starry Eyes – Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: April 3, 2018
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four-stars

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I fell in love with Jenn Bennett’s YA books last year when I read Alex, Approximately. The story and writing was exactly what I love in a realistic contemporary. When I finished Alex I moved on to The Anatomical Shape of a Heart. Same writing and story vibe that I love. Bennett seems to just click with what I love. So when Starry Eyes was announced I was beyond excited. And although it I wasn’t as in love with it as I was with her other two, it’s up there with some other favorites.

Starry Eyes is about Zorie, a girl with a plan. No, seriously, she has a plan for everything! And her plan fo the summer is to work, see a meteor shower, and to stay away from her former best friend Lennon who broke her heart. Unfortunately life doesn’t go according to plan. Suddenly Zorie finds herself abandoned in the woods with only Lennon to rely on to get them home. When plans are no longer an options Zori starts to learn things she never knew and has to deal with the aftermath of it all.

My favorite part of Starry Eyes was Zorie and Lennon’s relationship and history. It’s clear early on that there are things about their relationship that is a mystery to both of them. Honestly they are both missing parts of their own story. Reading as they delve into the past and see what went wrong really endeared them to me. It showed just how teenager-ish they were. Instead of talking they shut out. It was pretty perfect. And Bennett unfolded there story in a way that was paced perfectly.

Like I said, I didn’t love it as much as the first two Bennett books I’ve read, but I think that’s a me thing. I’m an indoor girl so the extended woods part was a tad too much for my city girl loving heart. But with that aside this book was really great. It shows friendships changing, parents failing, and character growth. Definitely one to get on the TBR.

Have you read any of Jenn Bennett’s books? Alex, Approximately is still my favorite!

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New to You (5): Lillian Reviews The Program by Suzanne Young

Welcome to New to You!

This idea came along last year when I was supporting Lauren Miller’s newest book All Things New and I asked Kelsey to read and review Parallel, a book I have read more than once. I didn’t really get it going until December when I offered people the chance to sign up to read and review a book that has been a favorite of mine that they have never read. I got a great response and I’m happy to tell you (minus January) you will see a New to You post twice a month.

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Next up for New to You is Lillian from Mom with a Reading Problem. For a while now I have been planning a readalong for Suzanne Young’s series The Program. The final book in the series comes out in April (Spoiler alert…it’s AMAZING) and I wanted to bring this amazing series to everyone’s attention. When Lillian signed up and wanted to read The Program the timing was perfect. More info on the readalong will be posted on 3/16, but for now, check out Lillian’s review below and find out what she thought!

New to You (5): Lillian Reviews The Program by Suzanne YoungThe Program by Suzanne Young
Series: The Program #1
Published by Simon Pulse
Published: April 30th 2013
Buy on Amazon
Add to Goodreads
five-stars

In Sloane’s world, true feelings are forbidden, teen suicide is an epidemic, and the only solution is The Program.

Sloane knows better than to cry in front of anyone. With suicide now an international epidemic, one outburst could land her in The Program, the only proven course of treatment. Sloane’s parents have already lost one child; Sloane knows they’ll do anything to keep her alive. She also knows that everyone who’s been through The Program returns as a blank slate. Because their depression is gone—but so are their memories.

Under constant surveillance at home and at school, Sloane puts on a brave face and keeps her feelings buried as deep as she can. The only person Sloane can be herself with is James. He’s promised to keep them both safe and out of treatment, and Sloane knows their love is strong enough to withstand anything. But despite the promises they made to each other, it’s getting harder to hide the truth. They are both growing weaker. Depression is setting in. And The Program is coming for them.

Why?! Oh, why did it take me so long to pick up this book?!?! Thank you goes to Andi for putting it back on my radar and hosting this feature so I finally could get my hands on it. My heart hurts y’all! The Program by Suzanne Young is a YA dystopia that will leave you heart sick and hopeful all at the same time. I could not sit it down! The author took me through a range of emotions from euphoric to rock bottom depressed to hopeful and aching. Sloane’s journey in the book will rip your heart out and tear it to shreds….you know, in a good way 😉

The Program is set in a not too distant future where an epidemic is rising among the teens of the world. The epidemic: suicide. Suicide in itself is a touchy subject, but I found when placed in a dystopian society such as this one, it is downright horrific. Suzanne Young does a beautiful job of describing not only the depression that brings someone to the brink of ending their own life but also the heartache for the loved ones left behind. This book needs a big warning label on it: NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Seriously y’all, I cried my eyes out, and when I thought I couldn’t possibly have any tears left, I cried some more.

The teens in this story live their lives in fear. They are not allowed to show any emotion outside of being happy. Why? Because the Program will take you if you show ANY signs of depression (crying, anger, etc.) to prevent the epidemic from spreading. The Program is meant to save your life, prevent you from committing suicide and succumbing to the epidemic. But the “returners,” those who have completed the program, are not what you would expect. Think Stepford wives. These returners have been wiped clean so to speak, having little memory of life before the Program.

And this is how the story begins, with Sloane and her boyfriend James and best friend Miller. Sloane is an average 17 year old girl, at least her thoughts appear that way. Yet she lives in fear of being taken by the Program. Her brother is dead, having committed suicide previously and her home life is less than stellar. She isn’t permitted to show her grief to anyone except James. James is her rock and the only person who truly knows her. When Lacey, her childhood best friend is returned blank, it sets in motion a downward spiral for Sloane, James, and Miller that can only be described as heart-wrenching.

The plot revolves around Sloane and her downward spiral. As I’ve already mentioned, the author’s ability to pull the reader into Sloane’s depression, her resistance to the Program, and her feelings toward the people in her life is astounding. I felt what Sloane felt. I ached for her and James. I cried for all she lost and gained. The intricacies of the Program are interesting and slowly revealed as Sloane experiences them. I found myself intrigued and wanting to know more immediately about this secretive cure for the epidemic the teens faced.

I fell in love with The Program! I loved Sloane and James, Realm (who is introduced later in the story) and the dystopian world. And the epilogue….mind blown! I’ve already purchased book two The Treatment and hope to start it soon. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is a fan of YA dystopia. It doesn’t disappoint!

About Lillian @ Mom with a Reading Problem

I’m a thirty-something Southern girl, currently living in the mountains of East TN. I started blogging in 2014 on a dare from my husband after I became a stay-at-home mama to our little man and haven’t looked back. When I’m not blogging or reading, I’m a superhero or a Jedi and sometimes I’m just Mom.

Website: http://www.momwithareadingproblem.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/momwithareadingproblem
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/lillian_mccurry
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/mom_with_a_reading_problem
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/lmccurry286

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Thanks Lillian for signing up for New to You! I’m so happy you loved The Program. I hope you stop by and join the readalong for The Program!

Have you started The Program series? If so how many have you read? Will you be joining my readalong?

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