CBR9 #8: The Realm of Last Chances by Steve Yarbrough

realmHere’s another book that I liked and I don’t know why.  Something about the structure worked well for me.  It felt like the book was made up of slices and I only had a vague sense of the timeline, and I liked that.  Time is told through New England weather and I wonder if readers from places where there are no seasons got stuck trying to figure out how long this story lasted.

The plot is one of frustration.  Kristen and Cal have relocated from California to Massachusetts.  They’re in their fifties and this was not an expected move, but Kristen lost her job in higher ed administration, and you move to where the next job is, even when it’s a step down.  I don’t think Cal has a job.  He exists.

This was one of the things I liked about this book.  Kristen never defines or explains her second marriage.  We know when her first marriage ended, it was a complete shock and even looking back decades later, she doesn’t see any warning signs of what was coming.  With Cal, it’s simpler.  They ask for what they need.  If there is silence, it’s because no one wants anything.  Cal detests Kristen’s work and academic life, but rather than punish her, he simply waits to see if she will want to talk about things.  Kristen seems to like this freedom within her marriage, although there are times when she wonders what it would be like to love something as much as Cal loves music.

It was fascinating to watch them together because they seemed completely separate, and yet others saw their partnership.  Perhaps neither one could see it until someone outside showed them.

Kristen finds herself frustrated and lonely in her new world.  Cal has music and is remodeling and fixing their new house.  Kristen has her work, but there’s little comfort there as she tries to adjust to a small Massachusetts college.

A flooded basement leads her to a new friendship with a younger neighbor.  Matt is also alone, even among his friends.  His choices led to losing his job, marriage and kids, and so he keeps to himself and is on pause.  He knows he can’t go back, so he doesn’t bother to move forward.

Kristen is the first person he’s met who both needs him and is entirely self-sufficient.  Their friendship brings comfort and then an affair.  Kristen logically examines the end of her marriage while we see a few slices of Cal’s story and reactions.

What I liked the most about this book is that we never get the full story of Cal and Kristen.  There is a huge reveal about Cal that was fascinating.  There was a earlier reveal, but it’s old news when we find out about it, so it sits in the background until we learn the other story.  I was impressed at how Yarbrough constructed Cal’s personality.  He’s filled with music and disgust.  We see his depression and action.  He seems completely still and I wondered how much of his life he had lived letting things happen to him.  I wanted to know how he and Kristen chose each other, and yet it didn’t matter.

There is extreme violence in this story, and yet the book felt calm and slow, and I can’t figure out how or why.  Yarbrough laid out a clear path for his characters and then took his time following it.  There are a few flashbacks and side steps, but it moves forward and the ending makes sense.  If I had read this when I was younger, I don’t think I would have liked the ending at all.  It works for me now because it’s realistic and shows that life simply is sometimes.

 

Does The Dog Die Spoiler:

There is a dog.  Nothing bad happens to the dog.  Hooray!

CBR9 #7: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

my-grandmotherI don’t know why I liked this book.  It’s sweet.  It’s as far from cynical as one can get.   It’s… nice.

But the characters aren’t.  They are sarcastic.  And angry.  Super dysfunctional.  And really funny.

Seven year old Elsa tells this story and she is hilarious.  She’s far too smart for her age and finds other seven year olds to be boring and useless.  Adults aren’t much better, especially the ones at school.

Granny is her savior.  Granny doesn’t have time for rules.  Spelling is a suggestion.  Tormenting her neighbors in the apartment building is a must.  Sneaking out with Elsa in the middle of the night to break into the zoo is logical.

Within the first few paragraphs, I knew Granny wasn’t long for this world.

Sure enough, Elsa overhears a conversation and has to look up lots of information about cancer.  Granny gives her a letter and Elsa is sent on an adventure to tell people she only knows by sight that Granny has asked her to tell them she’s sorry.

Elsa learns that a seven year old doesn’t really know much about a grandmother.  She wasn’t always a grandmother.  She wasn’t a great mother.  The woman Elsa got is not the woman Elsa’s mother got, and that’s hard for anyone to process.

She learns more about her neighbors and pieces things together from the vivid stories Granny told her from the magical land she created.  No one has ever had much of a choice when Granny made a decision, so even now Elsa has to finish her quest and those who knew Granny are forced to participate.

There were points where the book made me laugh out loud and more than a few places where I sniffled through.  I didn’t understand why Granny was sending Elsa off on this adventure and why she didn’t sort things out on her own before she died, but on the other hand, it’s hard to turn away a dead woman’s apology being delivered by a seven year old.

I liked how all the pieces came together and the realistically happy ending.  Elsa’s world is much bigger and an apology from the afterlife helped a lot of Granny’s friends move forward.

The only part that didn’t work for me were a few moments where I didn’t know if Elsa’s voice was truthful.  Not having kids, I don’t know what serious conversations between a seven year old and her mother are like.  It mostly felt true, especially when her mother broke down and said she didn’t know how to talk about this stuff.  But other times I wasn’t sure how the reality of the story fit through Elsa’s narrative.  Another character couldn’t suddenly step in to explain it, so there were a few times I felt like a sentence didn’t quite fit.

If you liked Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, give this one a try.  There are some similarities, but Granny does not have the 9/11 backdrop.

 

 

Does The Dog Die Spoiler:

Unfortunately there is a not a book version of Does The Dog Die.  There’s a dog in this book.  The dog does not make it to the end of the book.  My friends are legally obligated to tell me if an animal in a book gets hurt or dies, so I freely pass this service on to you.

CRB9 #6: The Secret of Raven Point by Jennifer Vanderbes

ravenI am so ambivalent about this book that it’s taken me several minutes to compose this first sentence.  I want to read some satisfying fiction, and this was not it.

We start out in 1941 with our protagonist Juliet blowing stuff up in the science lab at school.  I am on board with this.  I’m thinking this is going to be a book about a woman doing science during the war having to deal with everything this entails.

This is not what the book is about.  It’s confusing that Vanderbes started out with such a strong setting and gives Juliet a brilliant mind and then makes the book not about that.

Juliet has an older brother named Tuck and he is her entire world.  Their dad is loving, but quiet and reserved.  Their mom died when Juliet was three, and her dad’s new wife is decent, but there’s not demonstrative love in this house.  This is a house of science, and calm, rational discussion.

I get the sense that Tuck gets to experience and feel more things because he’s a boy and star of all the sports, so he can move quickly and speak loudly.  He gets to make decisions and take action and Juliet is there to support him.

Things happen to Juliet, and that’s my biggest complaint about this book.

Even when she takes action, I never felt like it was her own choice.  Tuck made decisions, so she made her decisions based on him.  I never really got to know Juliet even though the entire book is her perspective.  I didn’t feel frustrated when she did.  There were a few moments where I felt her anger, but she seemed so detached from everything.

But then again, it’s WWII and detachment might mean survival.

We’ve got the basic war plot where Tuck signs up and heads off.  Letters stop coming.  A telegram comes.  He’s missing, which is sometimes worse than death.

Juliet has decided to become a nurse.  She didn’t know she had decided to become a nurse.  She said it out loud and, oh hey, she’s going to become a nurse.

Again, she is super smart and I wanted more of that scientific brilliance to show through.

So she becomes a nurse and she plans on doing domestic nurse things until she turns 18 and can join the Nurse Corps.  Now that Tuck is missing?  What if she were to lie about her age and keep putting in for transfers until she gets as close as possible to where he last was?

Can that happen?  I don’t have any prior knowledge here, but this seemed really unlikely.  I liked the idea.  Tuck is her world, so of course she’s going to go look for him, but would this work?

Before Tuck went missing he sent Juliet a really weird letter.  He referred to Raven Point, their childhood safe place.  He used the code phrase they invented but not in a context that made sense.  Juliet reads it again and again trying to puzzle out what he was trying to tell her.  It didn’t match any of his other letters and they’d never had a face to face conversation like this.  She decides that he must be asking for her help, which fuels her to get as close to battle as possible.

She’s thrown in with a good cast of characters but she remains distant, which meant I remained distant from her.  I never got the sense that she loved her job or was proud of what she did.  It felt flat to me.

I’m reading and waiting for the secret of Raven Point to be revealed.  Conveniently, a member of Tuck’s platoon shows up, only Tuck has never written about him.  She knows everything about the other men, but nothing about this guy.  Also, he’s in a coma-like state.  Juliet is convinced that if she can unlock his mind, she’ll find Tuck.

I had checked out of the book long before this, but half-heartedly finished because I was interested in the secret and what kind of resolution comes with a missing-in-action brother.  I also realized I’d be able to finish it in one read, which was good because if I had put it down, I wouldn’t have gone back to it.

The did like the final few pages, which was in itself a let down because I thought the rest of the book could have done better.  The problem with the last bit though was that it was a bunch of telling and tying things up with pretty bows.

Eh.

Not a horrible book, just not for me.  Unless I am completely on board with a main character, I’m going to have a hard time with the story.

 

CBR9 #5: Goldenhand by Garth Nix

tl;dr: Stick with the first three books in this series: Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen.  I don’t know what Nix is doing with these later ones, but he’s not doing it super great and it’s a total bummer.

Goldenhand isn’t a waste of time, but it does not hold up to the originals, especially the first two.goldenhand


The Back Story

For five years I was a seventh grade English teacher.  One of the best parts of the job was hearing my students’ book reports and reading their book logs.  I had a built in data-pool and instant access to titles to explore (or avoid) for 180 days a year.

My first year of teaching, one of my students gave a report on Sabriel.  It was a delight to watch because he had that excited frustration that a reader gets when a book is so good and you can’t find the words to explain it so you just want to thrust it at someone and say “Please, just read it!  Trust me!”  I could tell that he loved it and immediately recognized that eagerness to share it with others.  I got a copy soon after and was not disappointed.

Nix created something original using the familiar when he wrote Sabriel.  Almost 500 pages of intense description, world creation and history with strong plot and characters.  And an amazing kick-ass female lead.

When Lirael came out, I thrilled at the brick sized paperback.  Again, almost 500 pages continuing the Abhorsen story line.  Lirael was even a more compelling character than my beloved Sabriel and I was so happy to live in her world.  Nix again took his time to create her story and weave it into Sabriel’s world.  So much mystery, the same familiar magic and more characters who were an absolute delight to read.

He finished up with Abhorsen.  Not quite 400 pages this time and the font and page size was bigger, but still a satisfying read.  Lirael and Sabriel’s stories are added to the history of all the Abhorsens and while I wanted to read more and more and more about them, I was content with what Nix had created for us.

It was massive, it was well written, the female characters were awesome, and whenever anyone asks me for a book recommendation for a niece or cousin or family friend’s kid, this trilogy is always my immediate response.

Perhaps not wanting to leave the Old Kingdom and knowing there were more stories to tell, Nix published Across the Wall, a book of short stories.  I grabbed it and it was a nice companion to the three.

And then he threw Clariel at us.  I was disappointed in a way that only happens when a creator somehow manages to make his original work become less by screwing up with new stuff.  (Looking at you, Star Wars Episodes 1-3.)

Feel free to read my review over on Goodreads.

Ugh, it was such a drag.  I found myself wondering if Nix had even written it himself.  It didn’t follow any of the strengths of the original three and I was sad and confused.  How could someone who created such an amazing trilogy of books somehow lose his mojo when writing the backstory of one of his characters?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when someone on the Cannonball Read FB group suggested the original three.  There were a bunch of us who had read them and were all “YES!!!” and someone reminded me about Goldenhand.  I had completely forgotten that Nix was working on book five, and even better, it was done and out.  I snagged it from my library and hoped it wasn’t another Clariel.

The Review

We’re in hardcover here, and I immediately knew it did not measure up to the page count of Sabriel and Lirael.  This was my first indication that this was not going to hold up to its sister books.  Those first two books especially were not the kind of YA  to talk down to its readers with large font and large pages.  These were physically solid books that were not fucking around.  You were going to work to read them.  Abhorsen grew in page and font size, and while it lagged behind, it wasn’t trying to scrimp on ink.  Clariel fell into the big font and pages that seem to be the norm of YA.  Yes, I want readers to not feel overwhelmed by a book, but at the same time, I want them to feel accomplished when they’ve finished a book that is massive both in page count and plot.

The story picks up where Abhorsen ends.  I read these a long time ago, but felt like I was brought up to speed fairly quickly.  Nix doesn’t take time to retell everything, but throws in a few sentences here and there to remind us what happened.

Lirael is still a delight.  She’s shy and awkward and doesn’t quite fit in.  Part of her very much wants to disappear back into the library, but she knows she doesn’t belong there.  She is in physical pain from mourning her Disreputable Dog and I felt like I could cry with her.  Dog’s disappearance meant Nicholas was returned to life, and while there is a great deal of solace there, Lirael aches with emptiness.

The confusion she feels over Nicholas was not my favorite part of this book.  On one hand, it makes sense that Lirael is so awkward.  It would be off and wrong if she was suddenly self-assured and commanding.  But she also read like a young teenager sometimes and it took me out of the story.  The same with Nick’s POV when he’s tripping over himself to try and be cool.  There were moments when it was a little cute, but other times it felt clumsy, and not because the characters were clumsy.

Sabriel and Touchstone have been forced into a vacation, leaving the kids to run the kingdom.  Not the best plot point, especially when it’s echoed later with the Clayr, but whatever.  We need to get Lirael and Nick back together.  A message is sent from over the Wall, Lirael investigates, here comes Nick, and off we go.

On the other side of these chapters we have Ferin.  Here’s a character who I enjoyed, but by the end was very concerned at how close to Mary Sue status she came.  There is some serious danger headed down from the North and Ferin is the only one who can warn Lirael and save everyone.

Ferin, like Sabriel and Lirael, is a total badass.  She’s was brought up to be the best of everything and does not have time to deal with the unknown or insignificant.  She moves toward one fixed point, doing whatever she needs to do in order to get there.  There were times where I felt like this should have been a negative trait and more strife should have happened, which is where the Mary Sue comes from.  But I also liked her matter of fact attitude.  She immediately accepts the facts, deals with them, and moves on.  She’s not going to ponder all the what-ifs or dwell on what could be.  She assesses a situation, looks at what she has in the moment and moves.  It’s really fun to watch.  I’m not sure why she didn’t bug me, and this is where Nix’s talent shows.  Ignoring Clariel, he writes great characters.  I wanted Ferin to succeed and watching her interact with Sam and everyone else on the other side of the Greenwash Bridge was a lot of fun.  Sam especially needs to learn to get out of the way because she’s going to take him out when she passes by.

A bunch of stuff happens super fast and the book ends.

Seriously.

The pacing of this book is such a let down because in the first three Nix took his time.  And it wasn’t boring!  He describes the journey.  He lives in Sabriel and Lirael’s heads.  He shows you how they’re changing and you see what they are missing.  He sets up his plot points so he can reveal them later.

Goldenhand though?  Was he told he only had so many pages?  There were only short descriptions of getting from Point A to Point B.  Maybe nothing of importance happened, but it made me miss the original books.  Nix had a lot to say and show and share in them, and it’s not here.

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a book based on previous works, but isn’t that a sort of compliment to the author?  Nix did an amazing job, so when he isn’t amazing, I hold him to this higher standard.  If this book was the first book, maybe I would have liked it more.

Even the final scene was “Eh.”  There were only a few pages left and I knew there’d be a happy ending so I was almost skimming to get to the part where everything is fixed.  I don’t remember feeling that way in Sabriel and Lirael.  Lirael especially had me stressed out because how were things going to get resolved?

This ending felt rushed and way too short.  Just hang in there, dear reader, everything is going to be A-OK.

I am glad I read this.  I was happy to be back in the Old Kingdom.  It was wonderful to see Lirael and get a tease of what’s coming up from her after this book ends.

I missed Sabriel and Touchstone.  I guess we’re not supposed to care about them anymore because they’re boring grown ups.  I’d like to get another story of everything they’ve been doing since Sabriel ended, but the stories have been turned over to the next generation.  Even Clariel went back to the teenage years.

If you’ve read the Old Kingdom books, you’re going to read this one.

If you haven’t yet, read the first three.  Love them.  Reread them.  Hold them in your heart.

Maybe stop after Abhorsen and be content with two books that feel close to perfect and a third and final that is an acceptable conclusion.

 

CBR9 #4: The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

booksellerIt’s such a bummer when you read a book that’s just “eh”.

If it’s something you hate, you can decide if you want to cast it out of your life and be done with it or if you want to revel in how bad it is, knowing you’ll be able to write a fun review. (See Dan Brown. And also Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy.)

But an “eh” book is tough because maybe it’ll get better. Maybe there will be a twist or an ending that’s satisfying.  Or maybe you’ll finish it and it won’t be great and you’ll be mad you spent time on a book that wasn’t your thing.

That is  what I have been struggling with while reading The Bookseller. It’s not a bad book. I’m curious about the conflict and unknown. It’s not the type of book where I don’t care about the characters.

But… eh.

It’s human nature to wonder about the life we don’t have.  The one we’d be living in today if we had chosen a different college.  Taken the bus instead of walking.  Not answered the phone.  Got the job.  Turned left instead of right.

Kitty is currently living both of these lives right now, only one version is an incredibly real dream.  Here, she’s married and has children.  She somehow knows how to be a wife and mother.  She is deeply in love with her husband.  There is an easiness here.  Bills are paid.  Grocery lists are organized by meal.  Days are scheduled.  She is Kathryn.

In Kitty’s waking world, there is confusion.  She and her best friend are struggling to keep their bookstore open.  There are no dates.  No love.  But there is friendship and the familiar and she’s never felt miserable.  Just… maybe not completely whole.

Kathryn, however, is complete.  Dependable.  She knows what to do and what to say.  How to be a mother.

But something is wrong here and Kitty is having a hard time keeping up with the rules of the dream.

And then the book turned and went from being “eh” to becoming “What in the hell?”

Kitty starts remembering things in Kathryn’s world that she shouldn’t know.  Then she starts forgetting things in her waking world.  She’s lost two days, sort of.  She knows she must have gone to work, but doesn’t remember how she got there.  Dreaming, Kathryn can’t remember how to drive from the park to the grocery store, but she knows what kind of shoes to get for her kid.

Clearly something was going to be decided and I couldn’t tell what it was.  Was Kathryn dead?  Was Kitty dead?  Did Kitty get to decide to go to sleep and never wake up and stay as Kathryn?  Would Kathryn overthrow Kitty?  Was she in a mental institution?  Was ANY of this real?

I burnt through the last third of the book because I could not figure out what was real.  Or was ANY of it real?

I liked being confused, even if I was worried Swanson wasn’t going to be able to end it in a way that made sense.

I liked the setting of this one a lot.  It’s early 1960’s and women don’t have it super awesome.  Kitty and her best friend have their own bookstore, but had to have Frieda’s father cosign because women can’t get loans.  They’re in their thirties and unmarried and there’s a mix of freedom and “Oh, how sad.”

And there are infuriating moments where women are blamed for things they have no control over.  I thank science for figuring out that A did not happen because of B.  Things happened in Kitty’s dream life of Kathryn that made me clench my jaw because I’m sure women are still told it’s their fault if they need to get a c-section.  And that it’s the mother’s fault if things aren’t right at home.  And the wife’s fault if there is unease in the marriage.  It’s worse here though because there is no one telling her that this is all bullshit.  Little details that made the book feel honest.

This is another addition to the “What if…” conversations that we will continue to have.  What would your life be like if you kissed that person?  What if you had ordered the chicken instead of the pasta?  If you had left your house ten minutes before you did?  If you had taken the later flight?

And what would you do if you dreamt an entirely different life?  Would you wake up?

 

CBR9 #3: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

miniaturistI don’t know how to write this review.

Partly this is a physical problem.  I have an injured dog wearing a cone trying to get as close to me as possible, forcing me to twist toward the keyboard which will result in muscle rebellion later.  (He scratched his eye and will be fine, but is so very pitiful right now.)

But more than that, this book is hard to describe because of how different and solitary it is.  I keep pausing to find my adjectives and debate connotation over denotation.  It’s a strange book, but that’s not quite the right word.  It’s not something brand new, but it is very much its own thing.  I’m not madly in love with it, but these characters are absolutely going to live in my mind and I know I’m going to be wondering what came next.  Burton did something that’s now part of me, and not all authors win the rights to my brain space this way.

It’s 1686.  Nella is 18 and newly married.  A quick ceremony and her husband is off without a wedding night or even a kiss at the ceremony.  Nella leaves home to join him in Amsterdam.  Her father is recently dead, leaving the family with an old name and endless debts.  Her mother wrote letters, found a solution for her eldest, and here she is, standing in front of her husband’s house, waiting for someone to open the door.

Her husband’s house.  Her house?

Instead of the comforts of wealth she may have expected, she is met by a cold sister who has no interest in kindness or conversation.  Is Nella to be the mistress or merely a child in Marin’s way?  What does Marin want?

And where is her husband?  And why doesn’t Marin know where her brother is?

So many secrets and confusion for both me and Nella and I found myself quickly wondering if there would be any happy endings in this book.

I am the worst at piecing together mysteries and rarely figure out the secrets ahead of time.  I was searching for clues throughout these pages and while I had guessed at a few, I had no idea what the full truth was.  Burton is very careful with her slipped in clues and sentences that I had to go back to later.

Something is wrong in this house, but also on the streets and canals of Amsterdam.  There is money, but there is also fear of God.

Nella receives gifts that she doesn’t understand.  Items that she ordered, but then others that are too real.  Someone knows what she doesn’t and can see into rooms that Nella thinks are closed.  She tries to puzzle out the meanings of the pieces and cannot tell if she is being warned or if she is being toyed with.

Money is power but secrets are worth more.  Nella comes to her husband’s house with few skills and grasps for friendship and knowledge anywhere she can find it.  Her husband, when he is there, is kind, but something is wrong.  Marin and Johannes fight and I was as lost as Nella trying to figure out their relationship.  They each protect the other, but from what?  What secrets do they share and what’s being hidden?  Who is running the business and who keeps the family safe?

And still the gifts come.

***

One of the strengths of this book was that all of the characters were well developed and written.  I didn’t hate anyone, mostly because I was so confused.  I knew Marin had a past and there must be a reason for her to behave the way she does, especially toward Nella.  And her actions felt so real.  There were moments of… not kindness, but a sort of understanding where it was clear she didn’t wish harm on Nella, but painfully understood that Nella was in no way prepared for the truths behind closed doors.  Her anger with her brother was also shot through with love and I knew that something must have happened that Marin was trying to either make up for or protect him from.  Or punish him with?  It depended on the sentence.

Nella was a perfect slate for the story to be written on because she was a complete outsider.  Nothing was familiar to her, and things she was expecting from a marriage weren’t there.  She had to piece things together, and because the setting of the story was completely unfamiliar to me as well, I was right there with her in confusion.  She’s not a child, but with her lack of knowledge, she might have been a schoolgirl still learning basic lessons.  She struggles to keep her feet beneath her and hang on to her dignity.  She has value and she knows if she can just find a crack to dig into or a corner to call her own, she’ll be OK.

But eventually things begin to slip out from behind closed doors and Nella has to decide what to do in order to keep the family intact.

 

CBR9 #2: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

aristotle-and-danteFew things are as satisfying as starting a book and realizing you’re going to sit there and read it straight through.  It is such a wonderful moment where you know this is your life’s purpose for the next few hours and you can measure your next bit of existing by the number of pages the author has handed to you.  It didn’t take me long to know I’d be with Aristotle and Dante and Sáenz until the last word.

Ari is 15.  He’s bored and miserable.  He can’t figure himself out or anyone else.  He can throw a punch, so everyone leaves him alone, and this makes him happy.  He doesn’t understand how people interact with each other.  What they talk about.  How they’re supposed to feel.  So he hopes things will change but you can tell he doesn’t really even know what that would mean either.

Happily he has a great relationship with his mom.  She worries about him, but there’s lots of love there.  Several times during this book I wondered what Ari’s life would be if he didn’t have her.  His dad?  That one is confusing.  He’s back from Vietnam, but he’s not really back.  He and Ari try, but for Ari, it’s easier to avoid and wonder why his mom fell in love with the guy in the first place.

Ari is waiting for things to change.  For summer to end.  For it not to be so hot.

And then he meets Dante and… Ari doesn’t know what’s happening.  Are things changing?  Is this how you act when you have a friend?

Dante is different from anyone Ari has ever met.  He gets excited about things.  He wants to talk about everything.  He shares his thoughts and ideas and experiences.  He wants Ari to do the same.

Ari doesn’t get it.  He doesn’t want to share.  He’s worried that he doesn’t have anything to share.  Maybe he’s so entirely different that if he did share, Dante would realize there is something wrong with him and decide he didn’t want to hang around.

But that doesn’t happen.  Suddenly Ari is laughing all the time.  He’s reading books he didn’t know about.  He’s thinking more about who he is and why he acts the way he does.  He doesn’t like that part so much.

He wants to know the secrets in his family.  Dante is always asking questions, but Ari stopped asking long ago.

And then he finds out Dante is leaving at the end of the summer.  Ari doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel.  How to react.  He’s sad and excited for Dante.  Jealous.  Relieved.  He doesn’t know how to be a friend.  He won’t have to answer questions.

And after the accident happens, he won’t have to see Dante cry.

School starts.  There are letters.  Ari wants to go back to who he was, but he didn’t know who he was before Dante and he doesn’t know who he is now.

More time passes.  More confusion.  Anger.  Relief.

And then Dante is back.

***

Oh, this book.  Ari is a complicated and carefully written character.  The way he questions everything without wanting to think is both confusing and true.  Sáenz has created a strict set of rules for Ari and does not break them.  There’s sadness and sometimes you see hope.  Ari is afraid of hope.  He’s afraid of Dante.  Of not being friends with Dante.  Of not knowing how to be a friend or how to talk to people.  Of being normal.  Of not being normal.

Dante on the other hand?  Pure and open and honest.  Sure, he has a few things he keeps to himself, but other than that?  If he thinks it, he says it.  His questions don’t stay locked up.  He wants to know favorite colors and deepest fears.  Ari is a puzzle.  Ari is a friend and Dante wants Ari to be open and honest.  Dante has the social constructs down for friendship, but Ari is hesitant because he knows some questions aren’t supposed to be asked.

The parents in this book are so awesome.  Mistakes are made, but there is so much love there.  Knowing Ari and Dante had their parents before they had each other is comforting.

Watching Ari navigate and distrust friendship spins perfectly around the secrets in his own family.  How can you be a friend if you don’t know what happened when you were too little to remember?  How can you be open and trusting when your mom shuts down when your brother’s name is mentioned?  Who is your dad and why do you only get to see parts of him?

Everything about this book… struggles of growing up, coming of age, anger, first kisses, school, fights, family, pure confusion and terror of being a teen.  Sáenz is gifted.  He created a world and made me care about everyone.

I’m really curious about what’s in store for Ari and Dante in There Will Be Other Summers.

M