The Pregnancy Project: A Memoir by Gaby Rodriguez with Jenna Glatzer

When I first heard about Gaby Rodriguez, I just knew she would get a book deal and that I would purchase her book for my library.  I was impressed that she not only chose to fake a pregnancy for her senior project but that she managed to pull it off until the scheduled reveal at the end of her “second trimester.”  Even more impressive than her skill at pulling off this elaborate ruse, though, was her reason for doing this project.  Gaby grew up in a community where teen pregnancy was very common.  In fact, her own mother and seven older siblings had all become parents as teens.  Gaby decided to pretend to “live down to” people’s expectations to raise awareness of the way our culture reacts to teen pregnancy and treats the parents-to-be.  In order to get the most accurate results from this experiment, Gaby had to keep her project secret from all but a few people in her life.  The only people who knew the truth were her mother, her boyfriend, one of her best friends [who would report back about the reactions of teachers and students], one sister [who would report back about the reactions of family members], and some school administrators who had to approve the project.

It was amazing [albeit disheartening] to read about how quickly people changed their opinions of Gaby.  While she was still in the top 5% of her class, and she still belonged to two leadership organizations, many people automatically assumed her life was ruined as soon as they heard she was pregnant.  Based on all of the negative attention her boyfriend, Jorge, received, Gaby also came to understand why so many teen dads take off.  Being physically able to run away from a situation that everyone assures you will “ruin your life” certainly sounds like an understandable response to me.  This book is a good way to get a conversation started about how we, as a society, can do better to prevent teen pregnancy and also how we can better support teen parents so they provide themselves and their children with a better life — and hopefully help their own children break the cycle of teen pregnancy.

How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Mandy Kalinowski is pregnant and scared.  She isn’t sure about much in her life, but she is sure that she wants her baby to have a better life than she can provide — so she plans to give her baby up for adoption.

Jill MacSweeny has been lonely and depressed since her father’s sudden, unexpected death about a year before.  She has driven away most of her former friends but has a mom and a boyfriend who are ready and willing to support her.  The problem is that she doesn’t want to learn how to move on… She just wants things back the way they were.

How do their lives intersect?  Jill’s mom, Robin, is planning to adopt Mandy’s baby — without lawyers or an adoption agency.  Jill is extremely cynical, to say the least.  She is not happy that her mom is trying to adopt a baby, but she is more afraid that Mandy is going to decide to keep the baby and break her mom’s heart.  Mandy knows that the Robin is better prepared to raise this baby, but she also fantasizes about running away and keeping/raising the baby herself.  It’s hard to imagine anything but a heart-breaking ending to this story, but I promise you will cry HAPPY tears for this one!  An amazing story about life, love, and finding your place in the world.

Dead to You by Lisa McMann

Ethan De Wilde was kidnapped from right in front of his house when he was just 7 years old.  Merely typing that sentence made my blood run cold because my own little boy just turned 7, and I cannot imagine the heartache and the despair that a family would go through in such an event.  Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to hear about stories like this in the news.  This particular story, though, seems to have a happy ending.  After all, the book opens with 16-year-old Ethan and a CPS worker waiting for his family at an Amtrak station.  After being abandoned by the woman who raised him, living in a group home for a while, and then running away and living on the streets, Ethan is finally heading home.  But what seems like a fairy tale ending at first glance is actually very complicated.

Ethan can’t seem to recall anything from his early childhood and feels extremely out of place.  He wishes he could remember something — anything! — but he just can’t.  Mama and Dad accept that it will take some time to adjust to their new situation, but that is little comfort.  Gracie, who was born a couple of years after the abduction, accepts Ethan almost immediately.  Even though she had been sheltered from the truth, she is ready and willing to open her heart to the long-lost brother she never knew.  His brother Blake, on the other hand, remembers all too well what it felt like when Ethan disappeared.  Blake is angry because he feels that his brother should have known better than to get into a car with strangers in the first place, and he resents the fact that Ethan’s disappearance and reappearance have over-shadowed nearly his entire life.  It makes sense that Blake would react by lashing out in anger, but his behavior was still a bit shocking at times.

This is definitely a book I would recommend for reluctant readers.  Between the interesting premise and the short chapters, I absolutely flew through this book!  I wish I could say more about what kept me turning pages, but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone…  Just know that there is something BIG and keep reading until you find it.  Trust me — you’ll know when you get there.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt

What’s even better than a companion book for  The Wednesday Wars?  A companion book that works just fine as a stand alone book!  (Some people call this book a sequel, but I am calling it a “companion” book because it has a different main character and doesn’t require you to read the first book in order to understand what’s going on.)  There IS a bit of a shout-out to Holling Hoodhood, which is nice, but this book focuses on Doug Swieteck — one of Holling’s friends whose family has to move upstate, to a small town called Marysville, when his dad’s bad attitude causes him his job.

We learn early on that Doug’s father is a jerk; he treats his family like trash and doesn’t grasp the simple notion that the world doesn’t owe him  anything that he didn’t work to earn.  Doug’s mom is really passive and pretty much ignores her husband’s faults while trying her best not to anger him.  And then there are Doug’s brothers — one who is serving in Vietnam, and one who moves with the family and then falls in with the local herd of jerks.  Luckily, Doug meets Lil Spicer and gets a job delivering groceries for her dad’s deli.  Through this job, he gets out of the house, forms relationships with some of the townspeople, and makes a little bit of money to boot.  There are several points where things get really rough for Doug, but he always manages to find solace in the local library where he is intrigued by, and learns to draw, the birds found in the John James Audubon book kept on display.  With its complex characters, rich setting, and the message of hope and perseverance, I think this book would appeal to nearly anyone who likes a good story.

Wicked Appetite by Janet Evanovich

The first in a new series by Janet Evanovich, Wicked Appetite is a fun, easy read.  Main character Elizabeth Tucker or Lizzy is a strong interesting character whom readers will enjoy getting to know.

Lizzy, a pastry chef by trade, finds out she has an unmentionable ability to identify enchanted objects.  The objects she is supposed to identify are the seven stones of power, each said to represent one of the seven deadly sins.  She is joined by Diesel, another unmentionable there to protect her, Gerwulf Grimoire, there to use her ability to enhance his power, a one eyed ninja cat, a monkey and others who help her to locate the first of the stones — the gluttony stone.  Recommended.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

After trying to read Going Bovine and feeling like I was too dumb to understand what the heck was going on, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Beauty Queens.  Luckily, I talked to a coworker who thought this book would be perfect for me, and I decided to give the audiobook a chance.   Shortly after finishing this book, I discovered a blog post entitled “Ten Things I Want to Tell Teenage Girls” and it was as if this entire book was condensed into number 10 . . . in a much less sarcastic way.   I think that might be a big part of what I loved about this book — the sarcasm, that is.  I am an *extremely* sarcastic person, and I just love some tongue-in-cheek satire.

Have you ever asked yourself, “What would happen if a plane full of beauty queens crash-landed on a deserted island?”  Then, this is the book for you! Beauty Queens examines consumer culture, reality TV, politics, rom-coms, the beauty industry, and religion while exploring issues of gender, race, sexuality, beauty, and identity.  While it’s hard to believe that a unified storyline can emerge from a story that tackles so many issues, it really came together nicely.  Although the issues covered in this book are totally serious, Bray manages to be anything but serious and still makes her point.  (She also manages to sound like a full cast of readers in the audiobook!)  I wish I could assign this book as required reading to every insecure girl/woman I know so they could start to see how ridiculous it is that we allow society to put so much pressure on us to be “perfect.”  One of my favorite lines was from an advertizement for Lady ‘Stache Off — “Because there’s nothing wrong with you . . . that can’t be fixed.”  I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of our culture telling me that I need to “fix” myself.  I hope to teach my daughter (and every teen girl I work with) that we’re all beautiful just the way we are thankyouverymuch!

Happy Reading!