Review of The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

Five years ago, the town lost five cheerleaders within the course of a few months. There was the car accident, the murders, and the death by suicide. But what if they were actually all related? What if it was a conspiracy?

Monica, the sister of one of the dead cheerleaders, begins to investigate this very question as the five year anniversary of this all occurring approaches. Finding an unexpected series of creepy letters locked away in her stepdad’s desk as well as her sister’s old cell phone, Monica begins her investigation into the possibility that maybe her sister didn’t actually kill herself–perhaps she was murdered because the real murderer of the other two girls was never caught.

Monica finds an unexpected friendship in one of the other dance team members–Ginny. Monica and Ginny begin to investigate the past, and as they do so, Monica begins to have her own creepy experiences. Perhaps the killer is still out there and wants to prevent anyone from ever knowing the truth.

With The Cheerleaders, Kara Thomas once again proves herself a force to be reckoned with in YA Lit, especially in the thriller category.

Go check this one out.

Review of Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes

Embry is not a good person. After deciding to put her relationship with her boyfriend Luke on hold, she decided to hook up with Holden. But there’s a problem: Holden was dating Embry’s best friend Julia at the time. While Holden did break up with her, Embry still hasn’t admitted to Julia that she was the person that Holden hooked up with–nor has she stopped.

After Embry’s and Holden’s misadventure results in setting the Sea Cliff Inn on fire by accident, she suddenly finds herself thrust into small town fame after she ran back into the hotel to save a homeless man. No one knows that she’s responsible for the fire.

Until the letter comes demanding that she either admit to everything that happened on Facebook or the person will ruin the life of someone that she cares about.

Embry chooses the second option. And what ensues is a dangerous game of lies and putting those she loves into danger to keep the secret hidden.

This was an excellent YA thriller. I’ve heard some other people complain that it was obvious to them who was behind the letter and messages, but honestly, I had no idea until the very end. And even if so, I still think there’s fun within the journey anyway.

Additionally, I thought that this had a very realistic portrayal of poverty. For example, Embry’s family (just her mom) could only afford to live in that town because the mortgage had been significantly paid off when they inherited the house. They struggle to pay bills. There’s a tension that comes from knowing that her friend Julia can simply buy what she wants while Embry cannot. At one point, Embry does not want to go the hospital when she should because it would be just another bill that her family would be in debt for. There’s not a lot of YA books that feature characters like this, and I think this may be the actual first one that I remember that specifically mentions that a character gets free breakfast and lunch at school.

Definitely a worthwhile read.

Review of Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram

Darius Kellner is a high school sophomore who describes himself as a Fractional Persian, half on his mother’s side. Living in Portland Oregon, he is dealing with feeling that he doesn’t quite belong along with bullying at school. He has one person that he considers to be a friend, and he regularly feels that his dad disapproves of him. Darius also takes medication for clinical depression which has had weight gain as a side effect, and Darius is overweight (his self-descriptor).

After his babou’s (grandpa) test results reveal that the brain tumor is growing, the Kellner family quickly makes plans to leave the U.S. for a 3 week trip to Iran to visit him and tell him goodbye.

This is Darius’ first trip to meet his grandparents and his first time stepping foot in Iran. While there, he feels the tension of not quite belonging–he doesn’t speak Farsi like his mom and younger sister do, and those who find out that he takes antidepressants there don’t understand mental health and tell him that he should be trying harder.

He does, however, meet Sohrab who helps out Darius’ babou. Sohrab invites him to play soccer (non-American football), and Darius feels a tug towards Sohrab and accepts his invitation. Over the course of the book, we get to see more of this whirlwind friendship and what it means to belong.

This book was truly excellent. First: it’s a rare YA book that has a character on medication for mental illness from the beginning. Furthermore, it’s even rarer that the character’s mental illness isn’t completely managed by medication. This truly shows a realistic portrayal of how they can help to manage mental illness but don’t cure it. Another thing done really well is the relationship between Darius and his father. His father also has depression and also takes medication for it. However, this doesn’t mean that they are close. I thought this was honestly quite realistic, and I saw some of my own relationship with my father emulated in that.

I liked that this book also continued to change the trend of having words other than English italicized. Instead, the Farsi that appears in this book is kept in the same stylized font as the rest.

Honestly, this was a super fantastic heart-rending read, and I definitely recommend it.