Tag Archives: Depression

Review: Swimming in a Sea of Stars by Julie Wright

Swimming in a Sea of Stars by Julie Wright cover shows a whited out/glowing image of a girl who appears to be underwater, reaching for a small star above her. Her legs are kicked out behind and below her.

Swimming in a Sea of Stars
Julie Wright
Shadow Mountain Publishing
Published August 1, 2023

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About Swimming in a Sea of Stars

Journal entry: Heading to school. I know what everyone will say. There goes the girl who tried to kill herself.

Addison is no stranger to feeling stressed, insecure, and sad. Her therapist recommended she keep a journal to help her understand those feelings better, which she really needs today. It’s her first day back to school, several weeks after she survived her suicide attempt. She knows there are rumors about why she did it: A lousy home life? Bullying? Heartbreak? None of them are true, but it doesn’t matter because Addison still feels like she’s drowning. She still holds secrets she’s not ready to share.

During the school day, Addison encounters four other students struggling with their own secrets:

Booker is anxious about seeing Addison. They were sort of a couple until he tried to kiss her. She fled and then tried to end her life. Those two things couldn’t be related, could they?

Celia feels trapped by her mother’s abusive boyfriend. She can guess why Addison did what she did.

Damion is TikTok-famous and thinks befriending Addison could boost his followers. But what no one knows is he needs the world to remember him since his sick mom doesn’t anymore.

Avery is considered a loner and doesn’t know Addison, but they have neighboring lockers. With Avery’s older brother in jail for dealing drugs, Avery is desperate for meaningful human connection.

SWIMMING IN A SEA OF STARS is a poignant and gripping novel about how we’re all interconnected, like the stars in the night sky that form constellations and map out the universe, and if even one star goes missing, the effect is profound.

My Review

I like the concept of this novel. The story follows an ensemble cast. It shows diary entries from a girl who’s recovering from a suicide attempt and the point of view of her former best friend, a boy whose cousin is diagnosed with cancer. We follow a girl experiencing domestic violence, a boy whose mother has early-onset Alzheimer’s, and a girl whose brother was recently arrested for trying to sell Fentanyl.

Each of them crosses the paths of the others, and each carries secrets the others are completely unaware of. I love that idea. It’s very much an embodiment of the expression, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Though the story touches on difficult issues (domestic violence, sexual abuse, homelessness, and terminal illness), it often keeps those things at a distance by sparing readers the painful details. I think this idea allows the book to be more accessible to younger or more sensitive teens than some of the other popular young adult titles on the shelves.

What I wish, though, is that the commentary on drug addiction wasn’t quite so judgy. I think also that in the attempt to keep difficult content to a minimum, the text sometimes veers into telling rather than showing the story.

On the whole, I still think this concept is really cool. I like that the author used a quote from a Linkin Park song to tie all the stories together. I’d recommend this for readers interested in heavier topics but not ready for or interested in the harsh details books on those topics sometimes deliver.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 12 up.

Representation
Booker is Black. One character is a domestic violence survivor. Another is a sexual assault survivor.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
None.

Romance/Sexual Content
Vague references to assault.

Spiritual Content
List.

Violent Content
One character details some of the physical abuse she’s endured. Vague references to gang rivalry and threats of violence. See sexual content above.

Drug Content
A girl’s brother is in jail for possession of Fentanyl with intent to sell. Another student confronts her about rumors that she also sells drugs.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of SWIMMING IN A SEA OF STARS in exchange for my honest review.

All Alone With You by Amelia Diane Coombs

All Alone with You
Amelia Diane Coombs
Simon & Schuster
Published July 25, 2023

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About All Alone with You

HBO Max’s Hacks gets a romantic twist in the vein of Jenn Bennett in this swoon-worthy novel about a standoffish teen girl whose loner status gets challenged by a dynamic elderly woman and a perpetually cheerful boy.

Eloise Deane is the worst and doesn’t care who knows it. She’s grumpy, prefers to be alone, and is just slogging through senior year with one goal: get accepted to USC and move to California. So when her guidance counselor drops the bombshell that to score a scholarship she’ll desperately need, her applications require volunteer hours, Eloise is up for the challenge. Until she’s paired with LifeCare, a volunteer agency that offers social support to lonely seniors through phone calls and visits. Basically, it’s a total nightmare for Eloise’s anxiety.

Eloise realizes she’s made a huge mistake—especially when she’s paired with Austin, the fellow volunteer who’s the sunshine to her cloudy day. But as Eloise and Austin work together to keep Marianne Landis—the mysterious former frontwoman of the 1970s band the Laundromats—company, something strange happens. She actually…likes Marianne and Austin? Eloise isn’t sure what to do with that, especially when her feelings toward Austin begin to blur into more-than-friends territory.

And when ex-girlfriends, long-buried wounds, and insecurities reappear, Eloise will have a choice to make: go all in with Marianne and Austin or get out before she gets hurt.

My Review

I can see the comparison to Jenn Bennett in the marketing copy– I felt like the vibes between Eloise and Austin were a little like the relationship between Bailey and Alex in ALEX, APPROXIMATELY. There’s not a rivalry, but there’s definitely a vested interest in dislike on Eloise’s part, especially at the beginning of the book. The romance blooms slowly, and everyone sees it coming before Eloise herself. In fact, sometimes she’s willfully blind to the signs that it’s there.

I really liked the exploration of friendship in the book, too. Eloise was burned pretty badly by her former friends during a personal crisis, so she’s got her defenses up sky-high when she’s introduced to Austin and Marianne. Her prickliness and Marianne’s take-no-prisoners attitude make for some really fun banter.

Between Marianne’s past and Austin’s present role as bass player in a local band, there’s quite a bit of focus on music in the book, too. Each chapter begins with a quote from a song by the Laundromats. One scene shows Austin’s band rehearsing for a gig. Another shows them playing the gig. I enjoyed the way those scenes played out and how they added a lot to Austin’s character beyond the goofy, Mr. Sunshine character we’d gotten to know.

All in all, I think if you’re looking for a prickly, slow-burn romance, with cross-generational friendship, ALL ALONE WITH YOU is a perfect fit and definitely worth checking out for Jenn Bennett or Jennifer E. Smith fans.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Eloise has depression and anxiety. Austin is Korean American and lost his dad. Marianne is a lesbian and struggles with alcoholism.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Very brief reference to the fact that Eloise struggled with suicidal ideation. She refers to Austin’s white van without windows as a “murder van”.

Drug Content
Marianne smokes cigarettes and drinks vodka in several scenes. Eloise notices a bong among Marianne’s things.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of ALL ALONE WITH YOU in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Don’t Ask If I’m Okay by Jessica Klara

Don’t Ask If I’m Okay
Jessica Klara
Page Street
Published May 9, 2023

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About Don’t Ask If I’m Okay

Heartfelt and bittersweet, this coming-of age story explores the tender space of healing where grief meets love

A year ago, Gage survived a car accident that killed his best friend, Hunter. Without the person who always brought out the best in him, Gage doesn’t know who he is. He likes working as a fry cook and loves his small-town friends and family, but they weren’t in the wreck and he can’t tell them how much he’s still hurting. He just wants to forget all his pain and move on.

So when his stepdad shows him a dream job opening in one of his idol’s restaurants, Gage knows this is his chance to convince everyone and himself that he’s fine. To try to push past his grief once and for all, Gage applies for the job, asks out a crush, and volunteers to host a memorial for Hunter.

But the more Gage tries to ignore his grief, the more volatile it becomes.

When his temper finally turns on the people he loves, Gage must decide what real strength is—holding in his grief until it destroys him, or asking for help and revealing his broken heart for all to see.

My Review

My friend recently asked me what things are common to the books that I love. I think she asked what makes me love books or think they’re good or something more in that vein, but it started me thinking about what the common denominators are in the books that I tend to love and enjoy.

For me, one thing that comes up over and over is stories that explore the value of community, whether that’s in a friend group, family, or found family. I also love stories that wrestle with grief of some kind, because I think we don’t talk enough about that. And the relationships between characters are also really important to me, so I tend to love books with banter or compelling dialogue of some kind.

I feel like DON’T ASK IF I’M OKAY really hit all those marks for me. I loved Gage’s friend group and especially the way they functioned as a support group/community to help one another through dark times. My favorite scene was after they’ve finished watching part of a movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and they need to go do something. One friend turns to Gage and says, “You have my sword.” Another tells Gage he has his bow. A third says, “And my Suburu.” Which straight up made me laugh out loud. So great.

I also cried through some of the scenes in which he’s caught in this spiral of grief. He’s listening to some bad advice about what grief looks like and how he should feel instead of healthy counsel, and I could just feel how much it was hurting him to believe that toxic stuff.

Which made his journey from that moment so much more powerful and meaningful.

The only thing that I’d say caught me off guard with this book is that for some reason I thought the story was going to be about him getting a new cooking job and starting that job and how that helps him. Pretty much the whole story takes place in his hometown. I loved his small Idaho town, though, so that was great. For some reason I was expecting something else from the book, but I’m not unhappy with the story I read.

On the whole, I think this is a great celebration of the importance of a support network and of emotional vulnerability. I loved it and I would definitely read more by Jessica Klara.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Major characters are white. Gage has panic attacks and PTSD-like symptoms resulting from a car accident that killed his cousin and best friend. Minor characters are POC and LGBTQIA+.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Strong profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to making out.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Gage experiences some explosive feelings of anger. At one point he shouts at a younger cousin. A veteran visiting Gage’s house is triggered by a gunfire-like sound. Gage experiences slivers of memories from the car accident, including seeing his cousin’s lifeless face. In one scene, Gage throws a man out of a restaurant after an altercation that began when the man made inappropriate comments to a girl who was working as his server.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of DON’T ASK IF I’M OKAY in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Review: If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come by Jen St. Jude

If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come
Jen St. Jude
Bloomsbury YA
Published May 9, 2023

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If Tomorrow Doesn’t Come

WE ARE OKAY meets THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END in this YA debut about queer first love and mental health at the end of the world-and the importance of saving yourself, no matter what tomorrow may hold.

Avery Byrne has secrets. She’s queer; she’s in love with her best friend, Cass; and she’s suffering from undiagnosed clinical depression. But on the morning Avery plans to jump into the river near her college campus, the world discovers there are only nine days left to an asteroid is headed for Earth, and no one can stop it.

Trying to spare her family and Cass additional pain, Avery does her best to make it through just nine more days. As time runs out and secrets slowly come to light, Avery would do anything to save the ones she loves. But most importantly, she learns to save herself. Speak her truth. Seek the support she needs. Find hope again in the tomorrows she has left.

IF TOMORROW DOESN’T COME is a celebration of queer love, a gripping speculative narrative, and an urgent, conversation-starting book about depression, mental health, and shame.

My Review

One of the things I’m learning about the way I manage reviews is that it doesn’t allow me to be a mood reader as often as I’d like. Lots of times, I don’t think it matters, because I have pretty broad interests. Books like this, though, which touch on deeply painful issues like depression and, you know, the literal end of the world, would probably be better suited to a mood read experience.

That said, I liked a lot of things about this book even with its heavy topics. Much of the story is told in two timelines, which gives us a chance to see Avery’s backstory play out in real time. We get to experience her plunge into depression and loneliness. We are with her as she realizes she’s in love with her best friend. Getting to experience those moments with her firsthand means that as we zip back to the present, a scant few days before an asteroid will destroy life on earth, the relationships with her family and with her best friend Cass feel fraught and raw, as if those other memories just happened. I thought that was a smart way to tell the story and give the relationships and history a centerstage feeling without letting the whole end-of-the-world element upstage everything.

Avery’s brother and his family? His wife and their three year old son? OMG. They absolutely wrecked me. I mean, completely demolished. I loved them even though thinking about parenting a small child in a moment like that is heartbreaking and terrifying.

On the whole? I think in concept, this book reminds me a little bit of THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers because that’s also about a girl who is suicidal and faced with the potential end of the world, in this case a zombie apocalypse. The emotional depth of the story really moved me, and the relationships between characters and moments showing the beauty of life and humanity made this a lovely read.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Avery has undiagnosed clinical depression and is suicidal. She’s also in love with a girl. Cass is a lesbian and biracial. She’s Mexican American and Indian American. A minor character is a Muslim.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two girls. Sex between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Avery is raised Catholic. She prays and volunteers with the church and has a pretty deep guilt complex over things. She’s been raised to believe that being gay is a sin. A priest tells her this and also that suicide is the greatest sin. (Super yuck.) She later tells the priest this is harmful and not to do this to anyone else. A family member also publicly affirms her in front of the church.

Violent Content
In the opening scene, Avery is on the brink of killing herself. There are rumors of shootings, riots, and other violence once news spreads of the asteroid heading toward earth. Two men with guns tie up a couple and steal their stuff. A man with a gun and another man threaten and chase two girls.

Drug Content
Teens drink alcohol. References to smoking pot.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of IF TOMORROW DOESN’T COME in exchange for my honest review. All opinions my own.

Review: I Will Find You Again by Sarah Lyu

I Will Find You Again
Sarah Lyu
Simon & Schuster
Published March 14, 2023

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About I Will Find You Again

All the Bright Places meets Ace of Spades in this twisty teen thriller about finding a way to live after losing the one person who feels like home.

Welcome to Meadowlark, Long Island—expensive homes and good schools, ambition and loneliness. Meet Chase Ohara and Lia Vestiano: the driven overachiever and the impulsive wanderer, the future CEO and the free spirit. Best friends for years—weekend trips to Montauk, sleepovers on a yacht—and then, first love. True love.

But when Lia disappears, Chase’s life turns into a series of grim snapshots. Anger. Grief. Running. Pink pills in an Altoids tin. A cheating ring at school. Heartbreak and lies. A catastrophic secret.

And the shocking truth that will change everything about the way Chase sees Lia—and herself.

My Review

For some reason, I find I’m always drawn to books about complicated grief. This one is no exception. It’s an intense story, both in its exploration of grief, but also in the way that it’s written like a thriller. I feel like all the stories I want to compare it to give things away about the plot, though.

After Lia’s death, Chase finds herself trying to sift through her memories and those of her friends to piece together what happened and understand why. She feels someone must be responsible, or that there must be an explanation that will make Lia’s death make sense, and she’ll do whatever it takes to find the truth.

I liked those things about her. Her desperation was palpable. Her grief exploded off the page. I couldn’t help rooting for her, even though sometimes she did self-destructive things.

The story explores the pressure that Chase and her friends feel at school. All of them have ambitious AP course loads plus extracurriculars. They decide that drugs and a cheating ring, in which one person completes an assignment or test and distributes the work to the others, is the only reasonable way to survive.

While obviously cheating is wrong, I couldn’t help pausing to think about why they chose that course and whether certain high-achieving academic programs do push kids too hard. I don’t know. It’s still something I’m thinking about.

All in all, I WILL FIND YOU AGAIN has perfect pacing in a deep, emotional landscape. Fans of E. Lockhart or Matthew Quick totally want to check this one out.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Chase is Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Taiwanese. Lia is Korean and adopted by white parents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
Mentions of suicidal thoughts. Brief mention of a suicide attempt.

Drug Content
Chase takes an upper called Focentra (a fictional drug) which she buys from a classmate.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of I WILL FIND YOU AGAIN in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Cartographers by Amy Zhang

The Cartographers
Amy Zhang
HarperCollins
Published January 31, 2023

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About The Cartographers

Struggling to balance the expectations of her immigrant mother with her deep ambivalence about her own place in the world, seventeen-year-old Ocean Wu takes her savings and goes off the grid. A haunting and romantic novel about family, friendship, philosophy, and love.

Ocean Wu has always felt enormous pressure to succeed. After struggling with depression during her senior year in high school, Ocean moves to New York City, where she has been accepted at a prestigious university. But Ocean feels so emotionally raw and unmoored (and uncertain about what is real and what is not), that she decides to defer and live off her savings until she can get herself together. She also decides not to tell her mother (whom she loves very much but doesn’t want to disappoint) that she is deferring—at least until she absolutely must.

In New York, Ocean moves into an apartment with Georgie and Tashya, two strangers who soon become friends, and gets a job tutoring. She also meets a boy—Constantine Brave (a name that makes her laugh)—late one night on the subway. Constant is a fellow student and a graffiti artist, and Constant and Ocean soon start corresponding via Google Docs—they discuss physics, philosophy, art, literature, and love. But everything falls apart when Ocean goes home for Thanksgiving, Constant reveals his true character, Georgie and Tashya break up, and the police get involved.

Ocean, Constant, Georgie, and Tashya are all cartographers—mapping out their futures, their dreams, and their paths toward adulthood in this stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding the strength to control your own destiny.

My Review

This is another book where I feel like the cover copy doesn’t truly reflect the story. I get it, though– this is a really hard one to put into a neat and catchy few paragraphs. Ocean spends a lot of time obsessing over her relationship with Constantine and trying to understand her depression. But that makes the book sound like a downer, which isn’t good.

While THE CARTOGRAPHERS doesn’t shy away from emotional anguish, I wouldn’t describe it as a downer. I liked the way the writing pressed into messy feelings and relationships without closure or clear communication and how addicting they can sometimes be. I found myself nodding along with some of Ocean’s observations and thinking about a particular relationship in my own past that reminded me of the dynamic between her and Constantine.

The philosophy conversations were really cool, too. The whole book felt really smart to me and also a little bit whimsical. Sometimes funny, sometimes deep. Lots of chasing wild ideas. I loved that.

Some of those things make this a tough book to categorize. It’s not really a romance. Maybe it’s more of a coming-of-age story? A journey through depression? It’s a lot of thing, so many of them heartfelt, brave, and smart.

Something about this book reminded me of THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT or AWAY WE GO by Emil Ostrovski. (Both of which I LOVED!) I think readers looking for a book that doesn’t shy away from messy relationships and emotions, that explores the connections between people, will like this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Ocean Wu is Chinese American. Two minor characters (girls) are in a romantic relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to a boy and girl having sex.

Spiritual Content
Ocean and Constantine talk philosophy in person and a Google Doc they share.

Violent Content
Ocean has suicidal ideations.

Drug Content
Ocean drinks alcohol with her roommates and at a dinner with her roommate’s family.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE CARTOGRAPHERS in exchange for my honest review.