Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne – Audiobook Review

Hand Me Down by Melanie Thorne, narrated by Ali Ahn
Published in audio by Recorded Books; published in print by Plume, an imprint of Penguin

Synopsis:

Life has not been easy for fourteen year old Elizabeth Reid and her sister Jaimie. Things got better for awhile once their  mother left their abusive, alcoholic father. The man she brought into their lives next, though, was worse. Terrance is a convicted sex offender who has been jailed more than once for the crimes of exposing himself to and assaulting women. Although Liz’s mother swears up and down that Terrance poses no threat to her adolescent daughters, the lascivious looks and glancing touches he gives Liz tell her otherwise. Worse still are his threats that if Liz pushes back too hard on his flirtatious advances he will turn to her sister. It is almost a relief when Terrance’s parole officer decides that he can have no unsupervised visits with the girls, meaning he can no longer live in the same house as his stepdaughters. The only problem is that Liz’s mother chooses her new husband over her daughters, leaving the girls’ housing to the whims of friends and family.

Thoughts on the story:

With Hand Me Down, Thorne has created a story that draws in the reader immediately. Within less than half an hour of starting the audio, I was tweeting about how incensed I was on behalf of the main character, because the adults in her life put her in such a terrible position. Liz’s mom, in particular, is barely worthy of the title. Thorne does explore her backstory a bit, so that the reader can get an idea of what may have made her so monumentally stupid in this situation, but it isn’t so much that I ever really gave up hating her for her willful blindness. The hate didn’t make me dislike the book, though. On the contrary, the hate just showed me how completely invested I was in Liz’s story, and I, well, devourered Thorne’s story.

Now, yes, the protagonist is fourteen. No, this is not a young adult book, although it certainly has crossover appeal. Why is this an adult book? Well, partly because that is just how it is marketed. Partly also because the setting makes Liz more a contemporary of mine (perhaps even older than me), rather those of kids who are teenagers today. It also just feels as if it was written with an adult audience in mind, which is sort of an intangible quality, but there nonetheless.

Thoughts on the audio production:

I was quite impressed with Ali Ahn’s narration. She does a fabulous job differentiating between voices young and old, male and female. Her portrayal of Elizabeth in particular is quite moving. My only qualm about the audio production is that there were occasionally slightly odd pauses, seemingly the result of imperfect editing. The pause would seem as if the scene had ended, but it would quickly become clear once the narration resumed that the same scene was still ongoing. This happens just a handful of times so it isn’t enough to impede the overall enjoyment of this production – particularly with Ahn’s masterful narration – it is just enough to notice.

Overall:

A moving book paired with an equally moving performance, Hand Me Down is a fabulous listen.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Print*
Indiebound: Print*
Audible.com

Source: Author.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

 

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The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu – Book Review

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu
Published by Hogarth, an imprint of Random House

From the Publisher:

Yael, Avishag, and Lea grow up together in a tiny, dusty Israeli village, attending a high school made up of caravan classrooms, passing notes to each other to alleviate the universal boredom of teenage life. When they are conscripted into the army, their lives change in unpredictable ways, influencing the women they become and the friendship that they struggle to sustain. Yael trains marksmen and flirts with boys. Avishag stands guard, watching refugees throw themselves at barbed-wire fences. Lea, posted at a checkpoint, imagines the stories behind the familiar faces that pass by her day after day. They gossip about boys and whisper of an ever more violent world just beyond view. They drill, constantly, for a moment that may never come. They live inside that single, intense second just before danger erupts.

The People of Forever are Not Afraid is a powerful book. The girls all have difficult lives, and their time in the Israeli Army don’t make things any easier. If anything, one gets the feeling that the army has them even more screwed up than they were as children, and these psychological issues are something that they will pass down to their own children. None of the girls are particularly likeable, and in going between the three of them we don’t get to know any one of them overly well, but their vulnerabilities still make them characters with whom the reader can empathize, even if he or she has experienced nothing like  seeing a coworker stabbed while guarding a checkpoint.

The style of The People of Forever are Not Afraid can be challenging at times – it is not always immediately apparent which girl is the focus of a specific chapter – but it is a worthwhile read, both for the foreign-to-many experience it chronicles and for how compelling it makes the lives of these young women. Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker – Book Review

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Published by Random House

Who among us hasn’t expressed a wish for more hours in a day? But have you ever stopped to wonder what would happen if you actually got that wish?

Julia is too young to have ever even harbored a wish for longer days when the fallacy of such a mindset becomes apparant. It seems like a normal Saturday morning, at least until the news reports start coming in that the orbit of the Earth slowed overnight. At first not too much changes, but as the Earth continues to slow, things become increasingly complicated. For one, gravity starts to have a great effect, first changing the rhythm of sports, then making movement more difficult for everyone. Secondly, people must decide whether to live by ‘clock time’ or the natural rhythms of the world. Both have their challenges: would you rather try to stay awake for 20 hours and sleep for another 20, or occasionally go entire days without seeing the sun and entire nights in bright sunlight?

The Age of Miracles is one of those books that you can pick up to read for a few minutes and accidentally get stuck in for 70 or more pages. It is a beautifully told story, and works perfectly as either a coming of age story or an apocalyptic one. Walker clearly did her homework on the impact of the Earth’s rotation slowing, many of the negative effects of this change are things that would never have occurred to me, but the science generally seems to make sense once Walker brings them up.

For Julia, a slow apocalypse does not fundamentally change the difficulties of growing up. She must still deal with the growing estrangement of her parents, teasing at school, and her first major crush. Although Julia’s story is about her coming of age, The Age of Miracles is aimed at an adult rather than young adult audience. It would, however, make a good cross-over for young adult audiences.

The Age of Miracles is an endlessly absorbing book with great writing and an even better story. Very highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer – Book Review

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Naomi is a young girl when her father has a heart attack at the Kennedy house museum. Terrified at the prospect of losing him, Naomi’s determination to become a doctor – specifically a heart surgeon – is solidified in the hours at the hospital that follow. Also thanks to her father, that path to medicine goes through college at Wellesly, due to his obsession with Rose Kennedy and what she might have been, had she attended Wellesly as she had dreamed. There is still more growing up to do before Wellesly, and a brief encounter with Teddy, a boy who would be her dearest friend, breaks Naomi’s heart when his mother moves him away and breaks off communication between the two of them. It is in her second year at Wellesley, when Naomi joins a Shakespeare society called the Shakes that Naomi finally begins to come into her own.

I have mixed feelings about An Uncommon Education. I cannot say it held my attention particularly well while reading it – at least until Naomi joined the Shakes – but it was one of those books that stayed with me after I finished it. I appreciate it more in hindsight than I did at the time. Naomi is a vulnerable and realistic character, whose coming of age is fraught with quiet drama and loss. An Uncommon Education does get off to a strong start, giving the reader a good feel for Naomi and her father and presenting an emotionally charged situation very early on with Namoi’s father’s heart attack. What really lost me was the section with Teddy. Their friendship was more than anything because they were both shy and lonely, without other friends, and in close physical proximity to one another, being neighbors. I understood better why Teddy’s mother disliked Naomi than why Naomi and Teddy were such good friends in the first place. And although Teddy’s story was somewhat tied back in later, I don’t feel that his storyline really added anything to An Uncommon Education. I would have been content to skip almost straight from Naomi’s father’s heart attack to her enrollment in Wellesly.

An Uncommon Education is Percer’s first book, and I think that she has great promise as a novelist, considering that she can write a book that stays with you, but I think that An Uncommon Education could have used some stronger editing and direction.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.the
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta – Book Review

If Jack’s In Love by Stephen Wetta
Published by Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Penguin

If there’s anything worse than being a 12-year old boy, it is being a brilliant 12-year old boy born into the family that the whole town shuns. Oh, and even worse than that is having your brother suspected in the disappearance of one of the town’s most popular young men, who just happens to be the older brother of the girl you have a crush on. Actually, life as Jack Witcher is just sort of crummy in general.

If Jack’s In Love is a wonderful coming-of-age story. Jack is a compelling young man with a very interesting voice. His character was consistent with that of a 12-year old, without falling into the trap of being particularly obnoxious in an effort on Wetta’s part to prove that Jack is indeed 12.

The storyline Wetta has created is very interesting, looking at the incidents between Jack’s brother Stan and the missing boy, wondering whether or not Stan really did something dire and irreversible. The real heart of the story, however, is Jack and his reactions to the world around him, his fight to be accepted without giving up who he is at heart.

There is much discussion these days about what constitutes a young adult book, and what an adult book. Many people would likely classify If Jack’s In Love immediately as young adult, due to the age of its main character. It seems, however, that Wetta is coming at this from a distinctly more adult point of view, while still staying true to Jack. Although there is certainly cross-over appeal for teenagers, If Jack’s In Love is a bildungsroman written for an adult audience – and a good one, at that.

Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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