Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Stories with a Soundtrack

I just finished the 2015 revision of my book What's New in Young Adult Novels? and Ideas for Classroom Use, adding over a hundred new titles. One of my favorite chapters is "Stories with a Soundtrack." Just as many movies have soundtracks that help define characters and move the plot forward, more and more books are including musical references that create a mood and provide background information.  Some authors even offer soundtracks online that complement the novel. Frequently, the main characters bond over a shared love of music or friendships are initiated by one character introducing another to her favorite tunes.  If readers have a working knowledge of the music incorporated in a novel, it helps them understand the personality of the characters and the stage upon which the story plays out.  A variety of projects can be assigned to help students explore the story soundtrack and analyze how it impacts the novel.  These projects are detailed in the book. Four books I recently added to the chapter will be reviewed in this month's blog. Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly is about a young Filipino girl who moves to Louisiana and is obsessed with the Beatles.  Placid Girl by Brenna Ehrlich focuses on a drummer in a punk band.  For the Record by Charlotte Huang chronicles the tale of a reality show contestant who takes the place of the lead female singer in a popular band.  This Song is (Not) for You by Laura Nowlin is about a love triangle which complicates band dynamics in an experimental noise rock trio.

In Blackbird Fly April Yengkoa and her mother move from the Philippines to Louisiana after her father dies. The only thing she has of his is a Beatles cassette, which she cherishes.  Hoping to learn all the Beatles songs on the cassette, she wants to take up the guitar, but her mother vehemently objects.  After becoming a social pariah when her name appears on the "Dog Log" list of ugly girls, she makes friends with a fellow listed girl and a new boy who encourage her to follow her dreams.  A music teacher, who discovers April has a natural gift for the guitar, takes her under his wing, providing her with a guitar and lessons.  Through music April is able to deal with her classmates' prejudice and the conflict with her mother, and find a way to follow her heart.  The subtitles of each chapter are Beatles songs which reflect what happens in the chapter.  The author also provides an "Apple Yengkoa" playlist on her website. 

Hallie, aka Placid Girl, is a drummer in a punk band with her best friend Sarah. They deal with their dysfunctional parents by embracing punk music, in particular the music of a masked musician named Haze.  Although he hasn't been heard from in five years, Hallie, who has begun an online flirtation with a mysterious stranger, wonders if it's him.  Aspiring music journalist Steve, who recently moved into her neighborhood, says he can get her into Haze's secret comeback gig, so she decides to hit the road with him and Sarah to solve the mystery once and for all. This story is filled with suspense and is also a cautionary tale about social media and obsessive fan behavior. 

Ever wonder what happens to reality show singing contestants who don't win?  In For the Record Chelsea Ford initially goes back to a life of anonymity after being voted off the show.  Then the lead singer of the band Melbourne quits and the manager of the band, who has seen her in the competition, invites her to take her place, sending Chelsea on the road with three hot musicians who barely tolerate her.  When teen movie star Lucas Rivers begins romancing her,  the band is furious with the kind of media attention it brings.  Suddenly she and Lucas are the focus, which threatens her already shaky relationship with the band. To complicate matters Chelsea and the band's guitarist Beckett are involved in a forbidden flirtation, which keeps readers guessing.  As Chelsea tries to prove herself before the end of the summer tour, she wonders if it's worth it. The band's tour itinerary and their song lyrics are included at the end of the book. 

Ramona and Sam are best friends and band mates in This Song is (Not) for You.  They are secretly in love with each other, but don't want to risk the band or their friendship by acting on it.  When they meet Tom, a guy who loves experimental music and glitter bombing, they realize that he is just what the band has been missing.  They quickly become inseparable. Then Ramona decides she is in love with Tom, and although she still has feelings for Sam, she and Tom become a couple, complicating band dynamics.  The story is told from three alternating points of view and deals with themes of unconventional friendships, musical experimentation and  different types of love.  In the author's note Laura thanks The Icebergs, an experimental noise rock band who let her "hang out with them during practice and call it research for her novel."  Their music can be found online.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Realistic Reads: Not If I See You First, The Anatomical Shape of the Heart and Orbiting Jupiter

As an approved professional reader on Net Galley, I have access to advanced copies of more books than I can possibly read.  How do I choose which books make it to the top of my virtual reading pile? Many times my choice is based on knowledge of the authors or word of mouth.  This month I am enthusiastically recommending three new realistic reads.  Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom chronicles the tale of a teen who lost her sight, as well as her mother, in a horrific car accident.  The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett introduces us to Beatrix and Jack, two unconventional artists who meet on a midnight bus in San Francisco.  In Orbiting Jupiter by two-time Newbery winner Gary Schmidt,  sixth-grader Jackson narrates the story of his foster brother Joseph, a thirteen-year-old who has a child himself.  

In Not If I See You First  Parker Grant, who was blinded in a car accident that took her mother's life, develops rules that are her coping mechanism for life. Don't treat her differently, don't take advantage, and no second chances.   When her father dies and Scott Kilpatrick, the best friend who broke her heart in middle school reenters her life, she needs to rethink the rules.  Trying out for the track team and giving tough-love advice to her classmates keep her busy, but before she knows it, all the emotions she's been avoiding overwhelm her and she implodes.  Now she must relearn to navigate her world and include forgiveness and trust.  Scott and Parker's unconventional love story will have you at hello. 

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart focuses on Beatrix, whose specialty is anatomical drawing and Jack who is a notorious graffiti artist who hides in the shadows in San Francisco. She is hoping to win a drawing competition that will win her a scholarship to become a medical illustrator. He is leaving single gold words of inspiration around the city.  She would love to spend the summer drawing cadavers at the Willed body facility at a San Francisco medical school, but is denied. When she meets Jack on a late night bus and spies a can of gold spray paint in his backpack, little does she know that he will be the key to her realizing her dreams.  When Jack opens doors for her at the medical school, she finds out he is the mayor's son, who is hiding many family secrets.  Together they navigate a plethora of problems to find a future that allows them a chance at love.  These two engaging characters will win readers' hearts through their frank humorous dialogue and heartfelt actions. 

Jackson Hurd, the narrator of Orbiting Jupiter, rises to the occasion when his family takes in Joseph, a 13-year-old foster kid, on their farm in rural Maine.  Joseph has suffered parental and institutional abuse, fathered a daughter and lost the love of his life in childbirth.  As Joseph acclimates to life on the farm and a new school, Jackson tries to help him find the daughter he has never been allowed to see. Not only is this the story of Joseph's redemption, it is also a coming-of-age tale for Jackson. Flashbacks to Joseph's past illuminate his journey, where the present tale shows Jackson's development as he defends Joseph and defines his own code of behavior.  This is a powerful character study that one has come to expect from Gary Schmidt and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mountains and Plans Booksellers' Recommendations: The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Wolf by Wolf and These Shallow Graves

I recently attended the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers' Trade Show where I got lots of wonderful recommendations for new books coming out in 2016.  However, I also was alerted to three new novels by favorite authors that have  recently been released.  The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness (The Chaos Walking Trilogy) is a satire of the "Chosen One" genre that focuses on the kids living normal lives while the Chosen Ones battle other worldly beings. Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin (The Walled City) is an alternate history fantasy which focuses on a shape-shifting concentration camp survivor in a world where Hitler won WWII. Finally, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly ( A Northern Light and Revolution) is a turn-of-the-century murder mystery about an aspiring reporter investigating her father's death.

In Mikey's town the heroic "indie kids" have battled the undead, vampires, soul eating ghosts and are now trying to keep the Immortals from finding a vessel for their Empress to inhabit, so that they can take over the world.  Meanwhile, Mikey and his friends are just trying to get through senior year.  Mikey, whose dysfunctional family includes an alcoholic dad, a power hungry politician mom, and an anorexic sister, is struggling to overcome his OCD issues and get up the courage to ask his longtime crush Hanna to prom.  Each chapter opens with a brief description about the battle with the Immortals, but then switches to chronicling the trials and tribulations of being a "normal" kid amidst the chaos.  In The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Ness's parodies of the "Chosen Ones" novels are hilarious, with the underlying message being everyone is special in one way or another.

Wolf by Wolf, a story about Yael, a girl who survived Nazi concentration camps, imagines what would happen if Hitler won the war.  Yael, the Jewish subject of Nazi experimentation is now an Aryan looking girl who can shape-shift, assuming other people's identities.  A resistance fighter, Yael is charged with assuming the appearance of a cross-country motorcycle racer, Adele Wolf. Adele won the last Axis Tour, a global motorcycle race, and got to dance with Hitler.  Yael's plan is to pose as Adele, win the race, and kill Hitler during the victory dance.  She doesn't count on Adele's brother Felix accompanying her, nor her former lover Luka alternately helping her, then thwarting her plans. Can Yael keep her identity secret, win the race and carry out her plans?  The action in this alternate history fantasy is wonderfully fast paced, and the ambiguous, yet satisfying, ending will leave readers anxious for the sequel in the duo-logy.

In These Shallow Graves the year is 1890 and the only thing expected of Josephine Montfort is that she marry a suitable upper-class man and settle down; but Jo, an aspiring reporter, has other ideas. When her father dies of wounds supposedly suffered during a gun cleaning accident, Jo is determined to find the truth.  Enlisting the help of Eddie Gallagher, a reporter at her father's newspaper, she risks her reputation and searches for clues in the seamy underworld of NYC.  As Jo learns more about her family's sordid history, she struggles with family and societal expectations and her attraction to Eddie, who is an orphan and self-made man.  The suspense-filled story line moves forward with clues and revelations that keep the reader one step ahead of Jo, and the short chapters make this a satisfying page-turner.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New YA Series: The Scorpion Rules, Reawakened, Court of Fives, and After the Red Rain

New series in the young adult world are frequently fantasies. If authors are going to go to the trouble of creating a whole new world, they certainly don't want to leave it after one book.  Also, getting book deals from publishers is probably a lot easier if authors promise several books in a series.  This month I will review four new books that kick off new series that I think kids will enjoy.  Erin Bow's The Scorpion Rules: Prisoners of Peace establishes a world where the children of world leaders are held hostage, paying with their lives if their country enters a war. Colleen Houck's Reawakened takes us to the Valley of Kings where three Egyptian princes are reawakened every thousand years to fight off the evil god Seth. Kate Elliott's Court of Fives introduces Jessamy, a mixed-heritage girl who longs to compete in a multi-disciplinary endurance contest known as the Game of Fives. Finally, Barry Lyga's After the Red Rain is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel about a world destroyed by a toxic rain where the remaining people struggle to survive.

In The Scorpion Rules: Prisoners of Peace, Erin Bow, winner of the Monica Hughes award for Science Fiction and Fantasy, imagines a world where an artificial intelligence named Talis has mandated world peace, by raising the children of world leaders in a U.N controlled enclave called the Precepture.  Should a country go to war, the child of that country's leader dies.  Greta, the crown princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, is comfortable with the status quo until Elian arrives and defies the machines that rule their lives.  When their to countries declare war, Greta is determined to find a way to save them. Although Elian is not Greta's love interest (Princess Xie is), she cares deeply about this rebellious boy who inspires her to grapple with tough decisions in this world where sacrifices must be made for the greater good. This thought-provoking tale is filled with twists and turns that will keep readers engaged and looking forward to the next installment.

Colleen Houck, author of the best-selling Tiger's Curse series, takes on Egyptian mythology in the well-researched first book of the Reawakened Series. Lilliana Young meets Amon, a live Egyptian prince who has been reawakened after 1,000 years of mummification, when she is visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Amon cannot find his canopic jars filled with his life's essence and must bond with Lily so that her energy can sustain him while he fulfills his destiny.  She travels with him to the Valley of Kings to find his brothers, also resurrected mummies, who must help him stop the evil shape-shifting god Seth from taking over the world. Lily and Amon's romance takes a back seat to the non-stop battle scenes with other-worldly demons determined to thwart them.  This is a perfect series for readers graduating from Rick Riordan's middle level action adventures.

Kate Elliott, World Fantasy Award finalist for her adult novels, just published Court of Fives, the first in her new young adult fantasy series. The trilogy opener introduces Jessamy, a girl of mixed heritage who longs to compete in a multi-disciplinary endurance test known as the Game of Fives. Her father, a skillful soldier of noble blood, who has four daughters with his commoner wife, is unaware that Jes has been training for the contest.  Masked, Jes participates in the game, but allows Kalliarkos, the nephew of Lord Gargaon, to win, hoping to avoid detection.  When her father's patron dies, Lord Gargaron becomes his patron and breaks up the family, but at Kalliarkos's urging, allows Jes to train at the palace.  Jes, who finds herself falling for Kalliarkos, enlists his help in rescuing her mother and sisters, who have been entombed with the dead patron, During her struggles, Jes realizes the Game of Fives is far more than a game in the history of warring kingdoms, and she tries to determine its significance and her role in it.  This page-turner is an obvious choice for fans of The Hunger Games.

Barry Lyga (I Hunt Killers) has teamed up with Peter Facinelli (Dr. Cullen in the Twilight movies) and producer Robert Defranco in penning After the Red Rain, a post-apocalyptic thriller that is bound for the silver screen.  The story is set after a toxic rain caused by environmental devastation destroys the earth and most of the people who inhabit it.  When Deedra, an orphan, who now supports herself with factory work and scavenging, rescues Rose, a boy struggling to cross a poisoned river, she enters into a unique partnership which may just be key in saving the planet.  Rose, whose true genetic nature is hinted at in his name, has unexplained abilities that are gradually revealed, as he and Deedra fight the powers that be, and in doing so, they become inextricably bound to one another. The unique story line and sympathetic characters make this a dystopian novel that stands out in an overcrowded genre.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

New Books from Award-winning Authors: Chasing Secrets, Fuzzy Mud, Goodbye Stranger and Another Day

Several award-winning authors have new books out in time for the beginning of the school year.  Jennifer Choldenko (Al Capone Does My Shirts) has penned Chasing Secrets, a new historical fiction about the plague in turn of the century San Francisco.  Louis Sachar (Holes) tries his hand at an issue-driven novel in Fuzzy Mud, about a threatened environmental disaster.  Rebecca Stead (When You Reach Me) explores the limits of adolescent friendships in Goodbye Stranger, and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) follows his best-selling Every Day with a companion novel, Another Day, which tells the story from Rhiannon's perspective.

Chasing Secrets, which takes place in San Francisco during a little know bubonic plague threat in the early 1900s, introduces Lizzie, who lives with her brother Billy, their widower doctor father, and their cook Jing in a home on her uncle's Nob Hill estate.  Accompanying her father on his house calls, she hears rumors of the plague breaking out in Chinatown.  When Jing disappears, she fears he was caught while doing errands in Chinatown and is now under quarantine. To complicate matters, his son Noah is hiding in their attic.  As the powers that be deny the plague's existence, Lizzie wonders how to rescue Jing, get medicine to the afflicted and follow her dreams of becoming a doctor.  An author's note, time line and bibliography illuminate the historical facts upon which the book is based. This middle level book is filled with mystery and suspense, as well as an exploration of the challenges girls faced who longed to be more than "a proper lady."

Fuzzy Mud,  the new eco-disaster novel by Louis Sachar, includes three story lines.  When  middle-schoolers Tamaya and Marshall take a short cut through the woods to avoid Chad, a bully who is threatening Marshall, they find themselves in a heap of trouble.  Chad follows them, and when Tamaya grabs a handful of "fuzzy mud" to throw at him, she unleashes an environmental disaster. Unbeknownst to her, a nearby factory is trying to create a new bio-fuel and has dumped the "fuzzy mud" waste that is toxic to humans.  As the federal government get involved, the contaminated kids fear for their lives.  This story line is alternated with one that takes place several months after the kids' initial encounter, showing the devastation ahead. The third  recaps Senate hearings investigating the bio-fuel's risks and benefits.  Although the story line is a bit outlandish, readers will be entertainingly familiarized with the very real threat of science experimentation that gets out of control.

Goodbye Stranger focuses on Em, Tab and Bridget, three best friends who have sworn never to fight. However, as they enter seventh grade, problems threaten this pact.  Em's maturing body is attracting boys, and flattered by their attention, she experiments with texting inappropriate pictures of herself, leaving her friends wondering what to do. Tab's new-found interest in feminism and social justice becomes annoying, as she throws herself into activism at the expense of her friendships.  Finally, Bridget, who was involved in a near-death accident when she was eight, wonders at her purpose in life, as her girlfriends grow away from her, and Sherm, her best guy friend, becomes more than a friend.  Interspersed in the day-to-day happenings are a mysterious high school student's second-person chapters that take place on Valentine's Day in the future.  Can the girls navigate the problems they are facing and keep their promise to each other?  This novel about friendship, love and bad decisions won't disappoint Rebecca Stead's fans.

Another Day revisits the story (Every Day) about "A" who wakes up every day in a different person's body.  Learning to adapt, he tries not to get attached or interfere with a person's life.  Then he meets Rhiannon when he inhabits her boyfriend Justin's body and they fall in love.  Another Day tells the same story from Rhiannon's perspective, as she spends each day wondering who A is that day and how they can find each other.  Every Day was one of my favorite books last year.  It is such a creative way to discuss the idea of  "walking in another person's shoes," exploring issues of race, gender, sexuality, obesity and more.  I loved getting a different perspective on A and Rhiannon's story, and I think mature readers will enjoy it, too.

Friday, August 7, 2015

YA Novels Focusing on Parental Abuse: Emmy and Oliver, Everything, Everything, and Awake

Young adult novelists frequently find a way to minimize the main character's parents so that the YA characters can take credit for dealing with their own coming-of-age problems.  However, my recommendations this month focus on books where the parental roles are paramount, because parental abuse causes the conflict in the story. Emmy and Oliver by  Robin Benway (Audrey, Wait!) explores the problems involved when a boy, who was kidnapped by his father, is returned to his mother and her new family after being away for ten years.  Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon involves a teenage girl who has been diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disease (SCID) by her physician mother who keeps her imprisoned in their hermetically sealed home, only allowing her to have contact with her and a nurse. Awake by Natasha Preston (The Cellar) introduces Scarlett Garner who manages to escape after being offered up as a cult sacrifice by her parents.

Emmy and Oliver, next-door-neighbors and best friends, are torn apart at age seven when his father kidnaps him. As a result,  Emmy's parents become extremely overprotective, so she hides elements of her life like surfing and a desire to go way for college, which would horrify them. Over the ten years they are apart, she obsesses over Oliver's disappearance, fantasizing about his return.  Meanwhile, he has been living with his father in NYC, unaware that his father, who tells him his mother abandoned him, is actually on the run. When he is fingerprinted on a school field trip, the authorities find him and return him to his mother and her new husband and twin girls.As he struggles to fit into his new family and come to terms with his father's betrayal, Emmy tries to find a way back to their childhood relationship.   Rather than focusing only on the teen romance, the author examines the effects of the abduction and return on not only Oliver and Emmy, but also his mother and family, Emmy's parents and his other childhood friends.  No matter how desperately the people involved would like things to return "normal," they must come to the realization that nothing will ever be the same.

Everything Everything focuses on Maddy, who has "Bubble Baby Disease" and has lived for years inside a sterile environment, having contact only with her physician mother and her nurse Carla.  Then Olly, a gorgeous boy with smooth parkour's moves, arrives next door and everything changes.  After flirting through the windows of their neighboring bedrooms, they connect via email and begin a secret relationship. Finally Carla, who realizes something's up, allows Olly to visit.  As they fall in love, Olly and Maddy struggle to find a way to be together. His abusive alcoholic father and her obsessively overprotective mother are seemingly insurmountable roadblocks to romance.Spot art, emails, instant messaging and medical charts, as well as Maddy's "Spoiler Alert" blog about the books she reads, make this a unique read, but it is the sympathetically quirky characters, that make this story so compelling.

In Awake, Scarlett Garner does not remember the first four years of her life, until a car accident triggers strange dreams about the past. Her adoptive parents are very evasive and try to explain away her visions of a burning building and a girl named Evelyn. At the same time she falls for Noah, a new student at her school, who unbeknownst to her, has been sent by a cult called Eternal Life to abduct her so she can be sacrificed for their eternal salvation.  The story is told in alternating chapters from Scarlett and Noah's perspectives, so the reader knows his true motivations long before Scarlett. Against his better judgement Noah falls in love with Scarlett, complicating his desire to follow the cult's orders. Unwisely agreeing to take a weekend trip with Noah, Scarlett ends up the cult's prisoner, where her biological parents greet her with open arms and unfinished business.  As her memories become clearer, she realizes that escape is her only hope for staying alive. The story is filled with suspense and romance, as the reader wonders what will happen when she discovers Noah's betrayal and whose side he will ultimately take.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Romantic YA Reads for Summer

When it comes to romantic teen reads, Sarah Dessen seems to be a genre in and of herself. So many books are marketed for "fans of Sarah Dessen" or as Sarah Dessen type reads.  Readers can always count on her for sympathetic characters, witty dialogue and  exploration of compelling teen issues.  Well, Sarah Dessen, who has slowed down considerably since becoming a mom,  has published a new book!  This month I will be recommending Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, as well as other romantic reads that are similar in tone. In  Saint Anything  Sydney, whose older brother has been sent to jail for a drunk driving accident, struggles to deal with the family dysfunction that follows. Adi Alsaid (Let's Get Lost) has just come out with a new novel called Never, Always, Sometimes, which is about Dave and Julia, best friends who take their relationship to the next level.  Kasie West's The Fill-In Boyfriend explores the repercussions when high school senior Gia is dumped by her college boyfriend in the parking lot at prom and randomly asks a stranger, who witnesses her humiliation, to pose as her date. Lara Avery's A Million Miles Away focuses on identical twin Kelsey, whose sister Michelle dies in a car accident.  When Kelsey tries to break the news to Michelle's boyfriend in Afghanistan, he mistakes her for Michelle and she can't bring herself to tell him the truth.

Saint Anything introduces 16-year-old Sydney whose brother Peyton has always been the focus of the family's attention and has everything going for him; however, he seems bent on self-destruction. Finally, after injuring another teen in a drunk driving accident, Peyton lands in jail.  Sydney, who has always lived in his shadow at the private school they attend, decides to transfer to public school for a fresh start. After her first day at the new school, she stops by a pizza parlor where she meets fellow students Layla and Mac, whose father owns the shop.  Layla immediately sweeps Sydney into her world and Mac becomes Sydney's secret crush.  In their mother, she discovers a person she can talk to who will listen, unlike her own mother whose entire focus is on Peyton and his incarceration. Sydney's family is a dysfunctional mess, with her mom constantly meddling in Peyton's life and her father immersing himself in work.  Layla and Mac's family also has its problems, with their sister struggling with drug problems and their mother battling MS, but instead of being torn apart, their family has drawn closer.  The contrast between the two families and Sydney's problems with unwanted attention from one of Peyton's friends add tension to the story.  Although Sydney becomes romantically involved with Mac, her friendship with Layla is really the heart of the narrative. Dessen fans will not be disappointed.

Never, Always, Sometimes is a refreshing new offering from the author of Let's Get Lost, which was one of my favorite reads last year.  As freshmen, best friends Dave and Julia agreed to avoid high school cliches and made a "Never" list, including #10 Never date your best friend.  But as "senioritis" hits, they decide to break ALL the rules.  Little does Julia know that Dave has been in love with her since freshman year and is filled with trepidation about #10.  To complicate matters Dave has just starting seeing sporty, popular Gretchen, whom he really likes, and artistic impetuous Julia seems to be jealous. As they break one rule after another, Dave and Julia begin to realize that by skipping the cliches they were missing out on a lot of the fun of high school.  Their banter-filled relationship contains many poignant moments, keeping readers in suspense as to whether romantic love will blossom between the two.

The Fill-In Boyfriend takes the familiar tale of a shallow girl who finds depth through adversity and creates a sweet romantic read filled with witty dialogue and cringe worthy humor.  Gia Montgomery is a self absorbed high school senior who is constantly seeking social media approval.  She arrives at prom with Bradley, the college boyfriend she has been bragging about, but her friends have never met.  Disgusted by her superficial worries about showing him off, he breaks up with her in the prom parking lot.  This is witnessed by Hayden, whom Gia quickly enlists as a "fill-in Bradley." Hayden performs admirably and then disappears.  But Gia finds herself fantasizing about a real relationship with him.  Luckily, his sister Bec, a new student in Gia's history class, asks her to return the favor and pose as Hayden's new girlfriend to make his ex jealous.  Predictably, Gia and Hayden feel a mutual attraction, but trouble ensues when the truth comes out. Although Gia is at first annoyingly self-centered, her journey to self-discovery through her relationship with Hayden and his family is an enjoyable ride.

A Million Miles Away explores the topic of dealing with a sibling's death through a compellingly unique story.  Twin sisters Kelsey and Michelle look identical, but their personalities are polar opposites.  Kelsey is the dance team captain with a steady boyfriend and Michelle is a free-spirited artist with a steady stream of flings, the latest being Peter, a soldier recently deployed to Afghanistan. When Michelle dies in a car accident, Kelsey tries to tell Peter about her death; but when she skypes with him, he mistakes her for Michelle and tells her getting back to her is what he is living for. Kelsey can't bring herself to tell him the truth.  As she continues the subterfuge, she finds comfort in impersonating Michelle and begins falling for Peter.  Wondering what will happen when Peter finds out the truth will keep readers turning the pages.