ARC Review of Always Smile by Alice Kuipers

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Always Smile: Carley Allison’s Secrets for Laughing, Loving, and Living is compiled by Alice Kuipers and is a collection of blogs from Carley and a commentary from her family and friends.

Carley Allison was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with a cancer so rare that at the time, she was only the second person to ever be diagnosed with it. This cancer, found in her throat, immediately threw a wrench in all of her plans. She had been a competitive figure skater and a singer, but suddenly, she had to have a trach and begin chemo. Prior to beginning chemo, she began experimenting with her voice to see if she could still sing. She figured out how to do so, recorded a video, and her video garnered the attention of Selena Gomez. Carley fought valiantly and entered remission before the cancer came back in her lungs which tragically led to her death.

Carley Allison’s story later led to a movie, and while this was the first time that I was hearing about Carley, her story is still worthwhile reading even for those who had never heard of her.

Because the book is not just Carley’s blog, you get a feel for how the cancer impacted her and her family. For those who have never experienced a loved one facing cancer (or even those who have), hearing from the person who has cancer and those who had to watch is an eye-opening experience about how fighting cancer takes a whole community.

Those who had followed Carley’s story will appreciate this, and for those who will be learning about Carley for the first time will be touched.

Always Smile releases May 7.


ARC Review of The Sound of Silence by Myron Uhlberg

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Sound of Silence is a young reader’s adaptation of Myron Uhlberg’s memoir Hands of My Father. Full disclosure, I didn’t even realize that while I was reading the book which certainly speaks to the quality of the adaptation.

Myron Uhlberg was born in the Great Depression era to two deaf parents. At the time, deafness was greatly misunderstood, and when Myron was born, they weren’t sure if he would be hearing or deaf. However, Myron was born hearing, and unlike his parents who became deaf after illnesses in childhood, he retained his hearing.

Because Myron was hearing, he ended up acting as a de facto liaison between his parents’ world and the hearing world. He served as their interpreter in many situations, including at stores, doctor’s offices, and parent-teacher conferences.

Because Myron didn’t quite fit in to either world, hearing or deaf, he struggled a bit as a child with making friends. It didn’t help either that when his younger brother came along, his brother was diagnosed with epilepsy.

The young-reader adaptation has short easy-to-consume chapters, and the story of Uhlberg’s life is an interesting subject, one that I would have devoured when I was in the targeted age group for this book. Younger readers who are like I was will definitely be interested.

The Sound of Silence releases on May 1.

ARC Review of Color Outside the Lines

Disclaimer: I received a DRC from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Color Outside the Lines is an anthology compiled by Sangu Mandanna. Each story features around interracial relationships, whether friendships, family, or partners. There’s a total of 16 stories; however only 14 of those were available in the DRC.

Anthologies are challenging to rate because the odds are that a singular person will not connect to all of those stories. Additionally, short story writing is challenging, and anthologies have proven to me over and over again that it takes a certain skill set to be able to write a compelling short story.

That said, my personal highlights:

“Your Life Matters” by L.L. McKinley: Features an interracial couple, Ari (white) and Candace (black). Ari’s father is a cop who doesn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement, and this causes some tension in her relationship with Candace. And Candace has a secret–she’s a superhero. I honestly wish that this was a full blown novel, but the short story was very compelling and engaging the whole time.

“Gilman Street” by Michelle Ruiz Keil: Set in 1980, I loved the music elements.

“The Agony of a Heart’s Wish” by Samira Ahmed: set in the 1920s in India, it’s a look at colonialism in more than one regard.

The other stories are definitely all worth a read; I liked others that I didn’t mention here while I didn’t like a couple of them.

Overall, this is a worthy addition to the anthology collections that exist in YA.

Color Outside the Lines releases November 2019.

ARC Review of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

Disclaimer: I received an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dear HaitiLove Alaine by Maika Moulite and Martiza Moulite is a welcome addition to YA.

Told through a series of journal entries, emails, tweets, letters, and texts, this is a uniquely told story. Alaine Beauparlant is a first-generation Haitian-American. She attends a fancy private school with unique classes, and for a class assignment, she picks Haiti and must give the background of several key people in Haiti’s fight for freedom. However, she decides to treat this assignment as a bit of a joke, something that her teacher calls her on. After her news anchor mother has a buzzworthy incident on camera, Alaine faces a bit of bullying from one of her classmates, and she decides to get revenge with the project’s help.

Ultimately, this gets her booted temporarily from her private school, and her father sends her off to Haiti with her aunt and her mother who is privately dealing with the fallout from the news incident.

Once in Haiti, Alaine begins to find out more about her heritage. At this point, Alaine’s voice shifts, and we no longer hear the sardonic wit from Alaine. While this is an understandable character shift resulting from what she deals with at this time, I was still disappointed, and I became less engaged in the story.

Overall, however, this is very well told, and the style of story-telling works very well.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine releases September 3.

ARC Review of Earth to Charlie by Justin Olson

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When Charlie Dickens was younger, his mother disappeared. Charlie remains convinced that aliens took her because that’s what she said would happen. She told Charlie that one day the aliens would come for him as well, and Charlie has constantly looked for UFOs since then.

Now that Charlie is a freshmen in high school, he still believes, and on one of the last days of school, the new kid Seth catches Charlie looking up UFO sightings in Montana. Rather than make fun of Charlie, Seth is determined to befriend him.

Because of Charlie’s past, he is bullied and tries to stay out of sight. He’s not sure what to think of Seth but decides to accept his offer for lunch. The two quickly strike up a quiet friendship.

Charlie also deals with his life by visiting his grandma who is in a nursing home and by visiting his neighbor Geoffrey and walking Geoffrey’s three-legged dog Tickles.

As the book progresses, Charlie wishes more and more desperately that aliens would come for him and return him to his mother, but his changing circumstances may change that too.

This was one of the first YA books I’ve read in a long time that actually centers a freshmen protagonist which was extremely refreshing. It also takes place in a small town (3000 people) where everyone knows everyone’s business. This was  also refreshing.

The shorter chapters were very refreshing as well. It worked very well with Charlie’s character as the story is told through Charlie’s perspective.

Ultimately, Earth to Charlie is a sensitive portrayal of abandonment and being found in the most unusual ways.

Earth to Charlie comes out April 16.

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ARC Review of Finding God’s Life For My Will by Mike Donehey

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

In Finding God’s Life for My Will, Donehey takes the question, “how do I find God’s will for my life?” and flips it. The title is best described in Donehey in the “non-introduction” in which he explains his life changed when he stopped trying to know God’s exact plans and rather inviting God to be active in Donehey’s daily life and change him daily. (Due to the nature of eARC reviewing, I am unable to provide the exact quote for legal reasons, but this best sums up the explanation.)

Although the initial publisher blurb may lead you to believe that this book is purely a teaching book. I’d say it’s closer to about 50% Christian teaching and 50% memoir. Although some readers may be surprised by this, this works well for the practicalities of what Donehey is teaching.

For those familiar with Donehey’s band Tenth Avenue North, you will be familiar with several of Donehey’s personal stories as he has shared many of these stories on stage or in teaching videos over the last ten years. Coupled with the exact teaching (which has been heavily researched), these stories take on new life, and the reader will be able to see how exactly Donehey’s life experiences led him to experience Christ on a deeper level.

Additionally, several of Donehey’s teachings may be familiar to those who have attended a Tenth Avenue North concert over the past ten years. Instead of it being a three minute transition into a song, however, Donehey is able to expand on these teachings in addition to further explaining the research he has done in this.

For those unfamiliar with Donehey’s band, this should hold up very well with them. Personally, I have read a few memoirs/teaching books by other Christian artists, and most of them would not hold up well to a person unfamiliar with that Christian artist’s career. Donehey’s is an exception to this. While he does mention his band periodically, he does so primarily as either explanation or illustration before expounding on teaching principles.

Overall, if you are a person who reads a lot of Christian non-fiction, this will be right up your alley. If you are a person who seldom reads Christian non-fiction but are a Christian, this is also up your alley as well. Donehey uses very accessible language that’s sometimes missing in Christian non-fiction while never compromising the teaching.

Finding God’s Life for My Will comes out August 6.

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ARC Review of Deposing Nathan by Zack Smedley

Disclaimer: I received an eARC through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Deposing Nathan begins in conference room of a state’s attorney office. Nate had been involved in a fist-fight that led to his former best friend Cam stabbing him in the gut with a shard of ceramic.

Just how they got to that point is the question. While the book takes place over the course of just a few days, the back story takes up the course of nearly a year. The design of this book is unique; it goes back and forth between remembering that we are hearing Nate tell this story inside of the state’s attorney office and figuring out what exactly happened between him and Cam.

Nate and Cam met on the first day of Nate’s junior year (and Cam’s sophomore year) of high school. Cam is new to town, and Nate’s in an AP Bio class without any friends. Cam immediately befriends Nate, and the two begin a very complicated friendship.

We also learn a bit more about Nate’s home life. His mom died when he was around 7, and he is being raised by his dad who is gone frequently and his aunt (his mom’s sister) who seems to be a bit emotionally abusive. Cam’s home life is also complicated; his younger sister died when she was around 5, and his family is still dealing with that.

As time passes, Nate and Cam begin to change each other, but is all that change actually good?

Besides straight up amazing story-telling and excellence use of a non-linear plot device (think Sadie by Courtney Summers, with the podcast replaced for a conference room in the state’s attorney’s office), I love its nuanced discussion on sexuality especially with the Church.

Both Cam and Nate go to a Catholic school, but Nate is more of devout follower. As time goes on, Cam realizes that his sexuality isn’t as straight forward as he thought it was, and Nate begins to deal with with similar things. While there have been a few other novels (think Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens and Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruits by Jaye Robin Brown) dealing with the issues of sexuality and Christian beliefs in YA, this is something that’s not commonly explored in YA, and this is the first time that I saw the internal conflict between someone who so desperately believed in his faith and what the Church teaches versus what he feels. It’s something I am glad to see in YA because it’s needed.

This was an absolutely wonderful book, full of complexities and hope.

Deposing Nathan comes out on May 7.

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