Tag Archives: estranged parent

Review: The Search for Us by Susan Azim Boyer

The Search for Us by Susan Azim Boyer

The Search for Us
Susan Azim Boyer
Wednesday Books
Published October 24, 2023

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About The Search for Us

“A sharp-witted and illuminating, impressive sophomore novel.” – Isaac Blum, author of the award-nominated The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen

Two half-siblings who have never met embark on a search together for the Iranian immigrant and U.S. Army veteran father they never knew.

Samira Murphy will do anything to keep her fractured family from falling apart, including caring for her widowed grandmother and getting her older brother into recovery for alcohol addiction. With attendance at her dream college on the line, she takes a long shot DNA test to find the support she so desperately needs from a father she hasn’t seen since she was a baby.

Henry Owen is torn between his well-meaning but unreliable bio-mom and his overly strict aunt and uncle, who stepped in to raise him but don’t seem to see him for who he is. Looking to forge a stronger connection to his own identity, he takes a DNA test to find the one person who might love him for exactly who he is―the biological father he never knew.

Instead of a DNA match with their father, Samira and Henry are matched with each other. They begin to search for their father together and slowly unravel the difficult truth of their shared past, forming a connection that only siblings can have and recovering precious parts of their past that have been lost. Brimming with emotional resonance, Susan Azim Boyer’s THE SEARCH FOR US beautifully renders what it means to find your place in the world through the deep and abiding power of family.

My Review

Stories about the power of family, both found family and biological family, always hit me deep. This book is no exception. It has a lot of layers, which I think is hard to do well, but is well done here. The story feels full rather than crowded. The issues Henry and Samira face tie together and bring them together in unexpected ways.

As a person who grew up with a view of alcoholism in my extended family, a lot of things in the story about Samira and her impulses and beliefs really resonated with me. I liked the way the story addressed her codependency and tendency to “over-function” or control situations.

The chapters alternate between Samira’s and Henry’s points of view. I really liked both of them as characters, so it was really easy to get into the story. The chapters each had so much going on that I felt propelled from one to the next all the way to the end of the book. It felt like a really quick read.

All in all, I loved the messages about family, forgiveness, and relationships in this book. I think readers who enjoyed books like YOU’D BE HOME NOW by Kathleen Glasgow or YOU HAVE A MATCH by Emma Lord will love this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Henry and Samira are biracial, both Iranian and white. Samira’s best friend identifies as bisexual. Henry’s girlfriend, Linh, is Vietnamese and adopted by white parents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used fairly frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Brief statement about “roaming hands” during a makeout session between a boy and girl. Samira’s best friend describes crushes on both boys and girls.

Spiritual Content
A man discusses his experience with Islamophobia. Someone defaces his Koran. He’s not allowed to pray when he should be able to.

Violent Content
Some references to Islamophobia. Henry fights a boy in a hockey game and later hits a man in a gas station he perceives as threatening.

Drug Content
Samira’s brother and two other relatives have alcohol use disorder. Henry’s girlfriend, Linh, smokes weed.

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 SEARCH FOR US in exchange for my honest review.

Review: No One Is Alone by Rachel Vincent

No One Is Alone
Rachel Vincent
Bloomsbury YA
Published July 12, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About No One Is Alone

From bestselling author Rachel Vincent comes a gripping and heartfelt story about a girl faced with a shocking revelation when her mom dies and she’s forced to move in with her father’s “real” family.

Michaela is a junior in high school, close with her single mom. Her dad lives a few towns away and pops in and out of her life only on holidays and birthdays. They barely know each other beyond surface obligations.

That is, until her mom dies. Suddenly on her own, Michaela has to move in with her Dad . . . and learns he’s been married with kids all this time, and she was the product of an affair. Before she can even grieve her mother, Michaela is thrust into a strange house with a stepmom and three half-siblings, including new sister Emery, who is in the same grade and less than thrilled at the prospect of sharing her room and school life. Will Michaela be able to let go of everything she’s ever known-and find herself anew-with a family who didn’t ask for her in the first place?

My Review

I feel like my thoughts on this one are complicated. First, it’s the second book in a row where I didn’t really connect with the main character the way I wanted to. Which is unusual for me. It makes me wonder if I’m just… grouchy or something? So factor that possibility into this review.

I thought the beginning of the book was great. It starts off when Michaela learns her mom died, and right away, her grief throws her into a tailspin. She feels so many things. So many things change faster than she can catch her breath. It drew me in, hooked me into the story.

I loved Gabe and Cody, Michaela’s brothers immediately. Cody is so sweet and so smart. Gabe has this easygoing, funny exterior but it feels like there’s more happening underneath that cheery surface. I wanted to get to know them more. Another character I really liked is Grammie, Michaela’s step-grandmother, who lives with the family and is terminally ill. I liked the way the relationship between them helped Michaela find her place within the family and even process some of her grief. Cynthia, Michaela’s stepmom also won me over pretty quickly. She’s got her issues, but she’s so clearly trying to love and care for all the people around her the best she can.

I found it harder to connect with Michaela. She’s stubborn, which is okay. I think her character was paced really well and the way her stubbornness impacted her other relationships made a lot of sense. She also grew a lot as a result of that stubbornness. And sometimes it led her to say things that needed to be said even though they were hard things to say.

You know that feeling when you’re in the car with someone and they take too long to start braking the car, so you feel your foot trying to stomp an imaginary brake pedal? I think had the reading experience of that feeling in this book. Which I think is maybe evidence that the author did a really good job with making Michaela a flawed, consistent character. And she does grow a lot.

Aside from all of that, let me say that Michaela joins a theater production of Into the Woods, so a lot of the story centers around that and around her performing with her brother’s garage band. I loved both those elements, but the cover copy mentions neither of them. But they’re both worth knowing about.

All in all, I feel like what I’m trying to say is that I think NO ON IS ALONE is a really well-written book. I just didn’t connect with it the way I’d hoped to. I think fans of WHERE STARS STILL SHINE by Trish Doller will like this one.

Content Notes

Content warning for death of a parent, drug abuse and overdose, teen drinking.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Major characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. Reference to sex. Michaela walks in on a couple who are making out and only half-dressed. She immediately walks back out.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content

Drug Content
References to smoking pot. A boy takes hydrocodone without a prescription. Teens drink alcohol in several scenes. Michaela drinks in at least one scene.

A girl discovers a boy unconscious and unresponsive after he accidentally overdosed on 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 NO ONE IS ALONE in exchange for my honest review.

Review: This Is Why We Lie by Gabriella Lepore

This Is Why We Lie
Gabriella Lepore
Inkyard Press
Published September 21, 2021

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About This Is Why We Lie

Everyone in Gardiners Bay has a secret.

When Jenna Dallas and Adam Cole find Colleen O’Dell’s body floating off the shore of their coastal town, the community of Gardiners Bay is shaken. But even more shocking is the fact that her drowning was no accident.

Once Jenna’s best friend becomes a key suspect, Jenna starts to look for answers on her own. As she uncovers scandals inside Preston Prep School leading back to Rookwood reform school, she knows she needs Adam on her side.

As a student at Rookwood, Adam is used to getting judgmental looks, but now his friends are being investigated by the police. Adam will do whatever he can to keep them safe, even if that means trusting Jenna.

As lies unravel, the truth starts to blur. Only one thing is certain: somebody must take the fall.

My Review

This one had me on the edge of my seat.

I liked the complexity of the characters. There wasn’t really anyone who was all good or all bad. Everyone had layers and made choices for reasons that, even if I didn’t agree with them, I understood what they were thinking or what motivated them to do those things. Adam especially had a lot of conflicting feelings and guilt, and it was obvious that he wanted to be a good person but struggled to believe his past hadn’t already decided what kind of person he was.

There were a few frustrating moments where Jenna would do things that seemed naïve, but I think that fit her character. She wanted to believe the best in everyone, from her best friend whose explosive argument with the girl later found murdered put her in the center of the police investigation to her absent mom. So even though I was ready to shout at the book because I didn’t want her to do something, her choices made sense, and her optimism and compassion often led to things in the story being revealed. I liked that it had more of an impact than just potentially placing her in danger.

I think fans of ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus or PRETTY LITTLE LIARS by Sara Shepard will love THIS IS WHY WE LIE.

Content Notes for This Is Why We Lie

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

One minor character is gay.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
References to sex. Kissing between boy and girl. Two boys are caught coming out of the woods together after obviously having some kind of romantic contact.

Spiritual Content

Violent Content – Trigger warnings for drug overdose, domestic violence, and murder.
Situations of peril. A girl’s body is found with bruises on her neck showing she was strangled. A boy dies by drowning after being drugged with Rohypnol. A girl is hit on the back of the head.

Drug Content
Teens drink alcohol in several scenes. One character sells drugs to other teens.

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

Review: Accidental by Alex Richards

Alex Richards
Bloomsbury YA
Published July 7, 2020

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

About Accidental

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy–it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all–the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.

My Review

I did not anticipate how hard it would be to read a book like this while my stress level is already pretty high.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, though. Gun violence, and particularly a story about a toddler accidentally killing her mom, would always be a tough read. Johanna was two and a half when this happened. I have a child who’s two and a half right now, too, so it was hard to think about what it would be like for her to go through something like that, and then not have her mom there to comfort her. Ever again.

So yeah, ACCIDENTAL is a super emotional book. I liked Johanna a lot, though, and really identified with a lot of her emotions, from her frustration with her grandparents’ avoidance to her conflicting feelings about her dad, to her frustration with her best friend.

Packed on top of all of those things is Johanna’s first romantic experience. I thought the author did an amazing job balancing all the relationships and plot elements together, keeping them present but not letting them drown each other out or overwhelm the reader.

All in all, I think it’s really great to see a young adult book that focuses on this kind of gun violence and trauma. I think readers who enjoy books about characters facing down their trauma, such as WHAT UNBREAKABLE LOOKS LIKE, will enjoy ACCIDENTAL.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Gabby’s dad is Jamaican. Leah is Jewish and bisexual. (Both are Johanna’s best friends.) Johanna has been adopted and raised by her grandparents.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used pretty frequently. Also some crude comments.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. One scene briefly describes them removing clothes, implying and then later stating they’ve had sex. Brief references to a girl having had sex with a girl.

Spiritual Content
Johanna’s grandparents are faithful church attenders and expect Johanna to go with them. After she learns about the true cause of her mother’s death, Johanna only feels judged by God, and it ultimately results in her withdrawing from church.

Her dad also references a positive relationship with God through his pastor and church as part of his recovery from drug addiction. Johanna questions that relationship later when it appears to lead him to do hurtful things.

Violent Content – Trigger Warning for Bullying and Gun Violence
Descriptions of an accidental shooting and Johanna’s imaginings of what might have happened.

Kids at school say cruel things to her. In one instance, two boys demand that a teacher search Johanna’s bag “just in case” she’s carrying a gun. A doctored photo of Johanna shooting her mother appears online and at school.

One man punches another man in the face.

Drug Content
Johanna takes Xanax from someone else’s prescription. At a dinner party with her friend’s family, she gets drunk. She learns that her father became a drug addict in prison, and that he used to sell pot.

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