Into the night suddenly disappear two teenage sisters, Emma and Cass, leaving an empty car on the beach and a single pair of shoes in the surf. Three years later, Cass alone returns to her parents’ home with a story of captivity on an unidentified seven-acre island, and a driving urgency to find her sister who has since given birth. In Emma in the Night, author Wendy Walker carefully weaves a psychological thriller that is even more carefully unwound in a way that reveals only bare hints of resolution until all is immediately exposed.
As the narration switches between Cass’s first-person recounting and a third-person limited overlook of FBI Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Abby Winter, details of Cass and Emma’s home lives before their disappearance come into light. Their mother is revealed to be a pathological narcissist who has spent years competing with her daughters for attention, power, and validation, as her girls have grown in beauty. As the oldest daughter who has realized the threat that she is to her mother, Emma has the stronger love-hate relationship with their mother, and Cass takes refuge in Emma’s shadow as a “bird on the battlefield” with an unrealized, yet growing desire to see her mother defeated.
Cass’s experience growing up with a narcissistic mother is reflected in Dr. Winter’s character, whose mother was also a narcissist. Having investigated Emma and Cass’s disappearances since the beginning, Dr. Winter brings a contrasted, systematic aspect to the novel’s premise of psychosis, while remaining approachable to the reader by her own emotional investment in the case. As Dr. Winter learns of Cass’s childhood, she remembers her own, and is ultimately able to discover Emma’s whereabouts by understanding the dynamic in Cass’s household.
Throughout the novel, Cass is repeatedly put into situations requiring either swift decisions or well-thought-out planning, nothing in-between; Cass is forced to quickly become an adult, and learns that survival in her environment requires rigid observation, manipulation, and sacrifice. Wendy Walker presents the argument that people will believe what they want to believe, and paired with Walker’s working knowledge of the causes and effects of narcissism, Emma in the Night allows its audience to keep guessing at what the truth behind the girls’ disappearance and captivity might be.
Her fifth novel in just over two years, Nicole Campbell presents The Tower, a young adult story of life, love, death, and loss. Setting her tale in Elizabethtown, Illinois, and distinguishing it with a foundation in witchery, Campbell tells the otherwise familiar story of three teenagers who have grown up together and are now learning how to navigate through the realities of life.
Rowyn, Reed, and Rosalyn are as close as three friends can be. Having been raised as members of the same “Circle,” their families’ beliefs in witchery knit them close as the characteristic that sets them apart from the other kids at school. Outside of their beliefs, though, Rowyn, Reed, and Rosalyn are every-day teenagers that struggle with coming of age, relationships, what to do after high school, and even the effects of sudden tragedy.
While the staple themes of a young adult novel are well carried throughout the novel, the significance of some of the witchery signified in the story isn’t directly communicated. For example, the Tower card is drawn periodically during readings, but without an understanding of tarot cards and their meanings, the connotation is lost to the reader. It is not until the last page of the book that some connection is made between events in the story and drawings of the Tower card:
“The Tower card hadn’t lied. Everything crumbled and fell, and it took pieces of me with it.” Excerpt From: Nicole Campbell. “The Tower.” iBooks.
Campbell writes well while switching between points of view of each of the teenagers. She is attentive to differing reactions that each character might have to the same event, and is able to understand and communicate emotional struggle. The Tower is an approachable story, remaining realistic in its “paranormal” basis, welcoming any reader of general young adult fiction.
Mick & Michelle Nina Rossing
Published by: Harmony Ink Press
Publication date: October 31st 2017
Genres: Contemporary, LGBTQ+, Young Adult
Fifteen-year-old Mick Mullins has a great life: his parents are sweet, his sister is tolerable, and his friendships are solid. But as summer descends on Queens, he prepares to turn his carefree existence upside down by disclosing a secret he has kept long enough. It’s time to work up the courage to reveal that he is not a boy, but a girl—and that her name is Michelle. Having always been the perfect, good boy, Michelle is terrified that the complicated truth will disappoint, hurt, or push away the people closest to her. She can’t continue hiding for much longer, though, because her body is turning into that of a man’s, and she is desperate to stop the development—desperate enough to consider self-medicating with hormones.
Most of all, Michelle fears that Grandpa, who is in a nursing home after a near fatal stroke, won’t survive the shock if he finds out that his favorite grandchild, and the only boy, is a girl. If she kills her beloved Grandpa by leaving Mick behind, she isn’t sure embracing her real identity will be worth the loss.
Nina Rossing lives in Norway, where the winters are long and the summers short. Despite the brilliant nature surrounding her, she spends more time in front of her computer, or with a book in her hands, than in the great outdoors (though you may find her out on her mountain bike if the weather is good). She works as a high school teacher, which in her opinion is probably the best job in the world.
Drawing from a childhood of trauma and a self-proclaimed “fragmented” psyche, Canadian poet and author Beth Goobie presents The Pain Eater, a relevant story of a teenage girl who is swallowed by the emotional effects of sexual assault and finds a way to confront her fears.
After being attacked by four masked classmates on her way home from a school production during the last school year, fourteen-year-old Maddy Malone finds herself with a deep-kept secret and a hollowed, introverted personality. In an attempt to bury her shame and fear, Maddy retreats into herself and begins digging her fingernails into the backs of her hands and burning her inner thighs with cigarette butts. Maddy is determined to keep her secret, and pushes away her friends, parents, and sister who have noticed the change in Maddy.
With the arrival of the new school year, Maddy takes her resolution to hide into the hallways with the hope that she can remain invisible. As days pass, Maddy is able to identify three of her attackers, and finds that she shares an English class with two of them. The class begins to write a story about a teenage girl named Farang who “eats” the pain of her fellow villagers, and as each student presents his chapter, Farang’s struggle becomes more and more like Maddy’s until Maddy’s secret is on the brink of coming out.
Beth Goobie utilizes a frame story variation throughout The Pain Eater that uses Maddy’s class story of Farang to explore Maddy’s feelings more openly. The emotional similarities written between Maddy and Farang are made suspiciously obvious. While Farang is unallowed to voice her desires, Maddy is unwilling to talk about her secret. When Farang is finally free from having to endure the pain of her community, Maddy is finally willing to confront her attackers and accept support from the people who care about her. Goobie advances the connections between Maddy’s and Farang’s emotions until Maddy finds the courage to stand again, addressing a tender topic with a strong approach to show that sometimes, a person may find healing in their own way and in their own time.
Wendy doesn’t remember anything about Neverland—or the experiments done on her there as a child. Seven years later, all she wants is a normal life, but shape-shifting shadows plague her dreams and turn her life into a waking nightmare. When the shadows attack at a football game and a boy disappears right in front of her, she realizes these wraith-like shadows are real. They’re not just haunting—they’re hunting.
A mysterious boy named Peter, his foul-mouthed sidekick, and a band of misfit boys intervene before Wendy faces a similar fate. But can they trust Wendy enough to take her to Neverwood Academy and reveal all of their hidden secrets when she’s hiding a secret of her own, or will the dreaded Red Skulls find her and drag her back to Neverland?
Chanda Hahn is a New York Times & USA Today Bestselling author of the Unfortunate Fairy Tale Series. She uses her experience as a children’s pastor, children’s librarian and bookseller to write compelling and popular fiction for teens. She was born in Seattle, WA, grew up in Nebraska and currently resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their twin children.
It’s here! Saving Phoebe Murrow is now riding many shelves and I’m more than excited to welcome the author, Herta Feely, to Shelf Rider!
Here are some words from the lady of the hour and an excerpt from the book. Saving Phoebe Murrow (Upper Hand Press, September 2, 2016) is available in paperback and e-book formats via all online and select brick-and-mortar book retailers. Get your copy today on Amazon!
From Herta Feely:
In writing Saving Phoebe Murrow I hadn’t intended to focus on the “mean girl” phenomena, but in the process of writing this fictional story about cyber-bullying, mean girls emerged and their behavior became another key element. I don’t want to say too much about these characters in the novel, both young and old, because of its spoiler potential…but rather I’d like to invite you to take a moment to reflect on this issue.
After the novel was accepted for publication, women often asked me what it was about. Quite often this unleashed stories of their own daughters’ traumatic experiences of being bullied, cyber-bullied, and excluded from girl cliques. Likewise, I was surprised by the number of people who reviewed my novel and made comments like:
“Wow, I do not miss high school!” (Kim Gay)
“Bullying …in high school … was notes and rumors and just mean girls you could kind of avoid…nowadays cyber-bullying is WOW…I have no words.” (Stephanie Showmaker)
“Having been a target of mean girls long ago I know what Phoebe went through all too well, but thank goodness social media didn’t exist!” (Mary Ann)
“Saving Phoebe Murrow is a book that took me back a few years to being a teenager at school surrounded by bitchy, cruel girls who were always ready to knock you down with their comments.” (@SophieRTB, Book Blogger)
Though I had been bullied a bit in grade school for being German (during a time rife with WWII films), that the problem is so pervasive caught me by surprise. (Please note lots of statistics on this problem, which extends to boys as well.)
All this has made me wonder what can be done about the problem? For young girls to have good role models among the adult women surrounding them is, of course, critical. I would like to think that most mothers of girls provide this? But perhaps this isn’t the case? So who can substitute? It seemed that in the stories I was told the mothers of some of the bullies refused to acknowledge their daughters’ destructive behavior. How can we break down these barriers and also the cyclical nature of this problem being passed along from one generation to the next?
One answer is to discuss the problem more openly, and to rely on resources like http://www.meganmeierfoundation.org, dedicated to providing parents, students and teachers with anti-cyber- bullying tools. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome!
From Saving Phoebe Murrow:
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Phoebe said.
Though her figure looked more slender than her pudgy eighth-grade self last year, she knew she wasn’t the fairest of them all, but was she even in the game? Making faces at herself, she dashed on pink lip gloss, then grabbed her lime green monogrammed book bag and ran out the door, yelling good-bye to her mother.
“But you didn’t even have breakfast! Don’t you want me to give you a ride on your first day of high school?” Her mother’s shout reached her as she crossed the recently mown lawn of her family’s three-story home that stood in the shadow of the National Cathedral.
“I’m good,” she yelled back. She walked several blocks to the bus stop on Wisconsin Avenue and found a spot on the bench to await the bus’s arrival.
Today was no day to have breakfast, not on her first day as a freshman at Georgetown Academy. Ever since last year she’d vowed to lose weight and leave the ugly duckling years of middle school behind. She could still hear the hideous insults Skyla VanDorn had thrown at her after grabbing her thermal lunch bag last spring and dumping its contents onto the cafeteria table for everyone to see! Two sandwiches slathered with peanut butter and jelly, a container of yogurt, a banana, an apple, a Snickers bar and two Oreos. The girls around her had pointed at the pile of food and laughed. “Gee, Phoebe, eat much!”
Her visiting great aunt Marta had packed the lunch, and even Phoebe was appalled. What had she been thinking? But Phoebe knew. Growing up in Hungary after the war, great aunt Marta had often gone to bed suffering hunger pains. And then Skyla captured the attention of a few boys wandering by with their trays, and they’d joined in the hazing. Even Noah, who she had a crush on, hadn’t defended her. Though he did avert his eyes.
Phoebe had wanted to die. Instead, her face had flushed red, even brighter than her hair, and tears sprang to her eyes. She rushed from the table and headed to the girls’ bathroom. In the last stall, she sank to a crouch on the floor and sobbed. She was sick
of being humiliated, sick of being the brunt of jokes and teasing; Skyla had picked on her so often she’d lost count.
That’s when she found a paper clip in her pocket, and without thinking, untwisted it until one end jutted out like a tiny dagger.
She’d taken the weapon and run the sharp metal across the inside of her thigh, pushing it hard until droplets of blood surfaced. Then she’d stabbed herself. She’d done it again and again. What had surprised her the most was the sensation of relief that had flooded her body. The way the ragged cuts absorbed her sadness. She’d let out a deep breath of air, then torn off some toilet paper and dabbed at the blood, watching the scarlet color spread onto the tissue. That was the first time she’d resorted to what Dr. Sharma called self-injury.
From an author who lives in the desert and enjoys hunting down abandoned buildings and haunted houses comes a young adult novel that resists growing up as much as its author did. Chelsea Sedoti’s The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is a refreshingly written, coming-of-age story of a small-town girl who takes on a big-time investigation in an effort to find her place and feel belonging.
Hawthorn is a seventeen-year-old girl who struggles with her state of nobodiness. She is conscious of her unpopularity at school, and wonders if she’ll ever experience a “movie kiss”. Notably contrast to Hawthorn is Lizzie Lovett, a girl to whom nothing bad ever happened, who had friends, and whose biggest problem has been “whether to match her shoes to her eyeshadow.”
Although Hawthorn never really knew Lizzie, other than understanding that she would never attain Lizzie’s status of popularity, Hawthorn finds herself trying to uncover what happened to Lizzie on her own. Hawthorn inadvertently accepts Lizzie’s old job at a neighborhood diner and befriends Lizzie’s boyfriend, with whom she shares her own wild theories of what may have happened to Lizzie.
Sedoti buries Hawthorn’s investigation into Lizzie’s disappearance under Hawthorn’s own journey to find belonging. Unless Hawthorn is actively talking about looking for Lizzie, the reader finds himself more engrossed in Hawthorn’s personal struggles. Because of this toggle, with the story of Hawthorn’s personal life taking some prevalence over Hawthorn’s search for Lizzie, the resolution of Lizzie’s disappearance toward the end of the novel comes as a surprise, catching the reader off guard.
Perhaps most refreshing about Chelsea Sedoti’s writing is her ability to put a phrase or conversation on paper exactly how it is thought or said. In Hawthorn’s narration, Sedoti writes “kinda” where the laws of grammar say to use “kind of”, and during the conversations of a chatty teenager, Sedoti stands confident behind run-on sentences. This allows the reader to fully feel as if they are standing in the room with Hawthorn, participating in the investigation and going through Hawthorn’s struggles with her.
As if showing the reader a glimpse back into his or her own teenage years through times of uncertainty, insecurity, and nonacceptance, Chelsea Sedoti weaves a story of a girl looking for meaning into a grim reminder that life is a reality, and calls her finished product The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett.
If ever a motivator was needed to step outside of the “everyday grind,” or inspire a need for rejuvenation and embark on a new adventure, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, meets every requirement.
Life sometimes brings moments of feeling lost, disorientated, or adrift in a static sea, after an unfortunate or emotional event. An experience like this is normally not voluntary, and is generally difficult to emerge from. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the true story of how a 26-year-old woman found healing and reawakening after conquering an 1,100-mile hike on her own.
It was not until after Strayed divorced her husband, lost her mother to lung cancer, and experienced an addiction to heroin that she decided to attempt to hike a 1,100-mile portion of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), beginning in the Mojave Desert and ending at the Bridge of the Gods in Washington. Important to note is the fact that after her divorce, Strayed, whose given name is Cheryl Nyland, legally changed her name to Cheryl Strayed in order to signify the times in her life that she’d really lost her way.
Strayed noticed a PCT guidebook at outdoor recreation outlet REI, and later found herself returning to the store to purchase the guidebook. Having never been backpacking before, she was driven to make the hike, not entirely sure how, or even why. Strayed soon after quits her job as a waitress, sells the majority of her possessions, and purchases an amateur’s set of supplies for what would become a three-month journey.
Within her memoir, Strayed tells two stories alongside each other: one of her journey along the PCT, and the other of her personal background, or what brought her to the trail. Both of Strayed’s stories show a struggle, and in the end, conquest over one actually brings Strayed to victory over both.
Strayed makes sure to communicate to the reader how much of a burden her backpack was on several, quite comical, occasions. Strayed dubs her backpack “Monster”, which she notes was 70 pounds at its heaviest, and 50 pounds at its lightest. Either stuffed into or strapped onto Monster are fleece pants, a thermal shirt, a hooded anorak, two pair of wool socks, two pair of underwear, gloves, a sun hat, a fleece hat, rain pants, food for fourteen days, a sleeping bag, a camping chair, a headlamp, bungee cords, a water purifier, a stove, a canister of gas, a lighter, two cooking pots, utensils, a pair of sandals, a towel, a thermometer, a tarp, a mug, a snakebite kit, a Swiss Army knife, binoculars, a compass, a book telling how to use the compass, a first-aid kit, toiletries, a menstrual sponge, a lantern, water bottles, iodine pills, a saw, two pens, three books: The Pacific Crest Trail, Vol.1: California; As I Lay Dying; and Dream of a Common Language, and a sketchbook. Needless to say, Monster is our literal representation of Strayed’s struggle while on the PCT.
Perhaps more personal about Strayed’s struggle on the PCT is Strayed’s struggle to come to terms with her mother’s sudden death. Strayed writes that her mother passes away seven weeks to the day after being diagnosed with cancer, and how Strayed had carried a particular anger since losing her mother so soon. Being motherless causes Strayed to “instantly grow up and forgive her [mother’s] every motherly fault,” instead of gradually growing apart from her mother while concurrently realizing that her mother had raised Strayed to the best of her ability. Before her death, Strayed’s mother repeats to Strayed, “I’m with you always,” like she would when Strayed was a young girl.
Strayed captures perfectly the symbiotic relationship between carrying Monster on her back and anger in her heart in this quote: “I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it,” (pg. 92). Ultimately, it is Strayed’s realization while closing in on her journey’s goal in Washington that her mother’s death didn’t have to be a burden of grief, but could be a burden of love, that releases her from her strayed struggle within.
In her latest thriller, With Malice, author Eileen Cook places two girls in Italy and brings only one of them back – with broken bones and memory loss.
Cook opens her novel presenting Ivy League-bound Jill Charron waking up in a hospital, having just been emergency airlifted from Italy and not knowing that she was ever in Europe. After being told about the car accident that left her with a broken leg and aphasia, Jill struggles to put together the pieces of her missing memories. Jill tries to use a hospital phone to call her best friend, Simone, convinced that Simone will be able to fill in the gaps of her memories, but Jill is rudely thwarted by Simone’s parents. Jill later learns that although she and Simone had gone on the school-sponsored trip to Italy together, excited to immerse themselves in all the art and history that Italy has to offer, Simone didn’t return from Italy – and Jill is the leading suspect in Simon’s apparent murder.
Already wrestling with her lack of memory, Jill is burdened with pressure from her family’s lawyer, who is trying to control what the media publishes; from the Italian police, who want to extradite Jill to face charges of manslaughter; and even from her parents, who have doubts of Jill’s innocence. All the while, Jill strives to remember any piece of her time in Italy, her supposed “lover”, and what could’ve caused such an argument to lead Jill to possibly murder Simone.
Cook expertly keeps the reader from deciding between Jill’s innocence or guilt by venturing out of the normal form of writing a novel. Cook builds the story partially through published snippets of blog posts, Facebook posts and comments, text message threads, and interview transcriptions. Cook alternates her chapters from publishing witness accounts and social opinion of the Jill’s innocence or guilt, to progressing Jill’s story as she spending her weeks in therapy and residential care, anticipating the day when she’ll have to go to court. As soon as one piece of evidence is revealed that seemingly proves Jill’s guilt, another eyewitness account is presented that convinces of Jill’s innocence. This method of writing draws the reader into the story, and largely contributes to the thrill of reading on to find the truth.
Cook develops Jill’s character around internal struggles, self-discovery, personal growth, and the questioning of faithfulness, all of which a teenager battles during transition between high school and the “real world.” One common coming-of-age reality that Jill comes to face is the reality that she’s going to have to move forward with college and the rest of her life without her best friend, Simone, whom she’s known since fourth grade. Cook challenges this concept with Jill’s roommate in the recovery home, who teaches Jill to be open to trusting people regardless of how long or how well she knows them.
With Malice is a suspenseful read that explores the values of honesty, loyalty, and friendship, as well as the argument that a person’s real character is only discovered by persevering through difficult times.
Into a world that has grown focused on the appearance of self and the embellishment of truth, Noah Hawley installs a cast of characters representative of both connivance and compassion. Our society today knows to accept news reports at arm’s length, unless the sources are verified and the facts are proven to be correct. Hawley’s latest thriller, Before the Fall, epitomizes this conflict between reported fact and fiction, drawing the reader in closer and closer until the truth is finally revealed in quite literally the very last pages of the novel.
Thirty miles off of the coast of New York, a private plane falls out of the sky taking the lives of nine very wealthy passengers with it. The only survivors are a struggling painter, and the four-year-old son of a news magnate.
Scott Burroughs, middle-aged and not quite the successful artist, manages to find the boy floating amidst the waves and wreckage. Having somewhat of a history in swimming, Scott is able to get himself and the boy safely, heroically, to the shore. Scott is soon thereafter greeted not with a hero’s welcome, but instead with accusations of conspiracy to assassinate the boy’s parents and the others that were on the plane.
Investigators are taught to ask the hard questions, and unfortunately, this sometimes sheds a darker light onto mysteries surrounded by unfortunate circumstances. Why was Scott on a plane with ten other people worth millions of dollars? What was Scott’s true relationship with the boy’s mother, who seemingly “invited” Scott to make the flight with them? And how is it that Scott is the only survivor, save the little boy whose well-being Scott seems to be unusually concerned with? Instead of recognizing Scott for the selfless feat that he accomplished in swimming thirty miles to shore with a young boy on his back, the media tears apart supposed innocent coincidences in an effort to prove Scott guilty: all in the name of having someone on whom to pin the murder of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hawley proves to be a master of weaving together pieces of a puzzle that he’s already solved, in a way that teases the reader so that putting down the book before the reader is satisfied is simply out of the question. By the end of the book, every single detail presented by Hawley falls into place and complements the whole in a way that leaves nothing unresolved. Before the Fall is an investigation that the reader is invited to participate in, carefully waging the forces of truth and fiction against each other in a skillful battle for liberation.