Friday, July 5, 2013

Fangirl Friday: Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Fangirl Friday is--get this--when I fangirl out over books I've read that I think you'll love, too.

A REALLY AWESOME MESS by Trish Cook & Brendan Halpin

ARC from Egmont USA

Pub Date: July 23, 2013

Dannie says: Not a mess. Just awesome. 

Book Blurb:

A hint of Recovery Road, a sample of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and a cut of Juno. A Really Awesome Mess is a laugh-out-loud, gut-wrenching/heart-warming story of two teenagers struggling to find love and themselves.

Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.

Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin's summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents' divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.

Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog-- and Emmy definitely doesn't. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.

Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.

Books related to mental illness auto-rocket to the top of my TBR list because they combine two of my top interests--reading and screwed up kids. But up until now, the majority I've read left me bitter and ranty. With mental illness among adolescents on the rise and school districts around the country cutting funding for support services, I think the YA industry has done these kids hella disservice by portraying treatment and therapists as a joke or, even worse, as a scam. Sure there are shady places that claim they help kids, but in my experience, they're in the minority. I've been more than a little discomforted to see books for written teens portraying therapy in such a negative way. 

So, straight up, I was a hardcore skeptic going into this read. I was wary and defensive and I went into the read expecting to be disappointed. On authenticity alone, this book is AMAZING, you guys. It presents residential treatment for teens the way it really is, and I can say that as someone who spent years working in the trenches. I loved that the main characters were truly flawed without being stereotypical. 

Beyond that, Cook and Halpin are an all-star team when it comes to authentic teen voice, witty dialogue, and all around good storytelling. I read this from start to finish in less than 24 hours while juggling a one-year-old and a major revision deadline.

If I had to nitpick, I'd say that I felt the storyline strayed a little more than I like from the main characters at times, but really that's a nitpick. The therapist in me would have liked more emotional growth out of Justin's character, but at the same time I think that goes back to his authenticity. Therapy and change are hard, and the reality is not everyone proceeds at the same pace. I think if Justin had a more perfect character arc the story would have been less believable. I guess I'm saying in that respect I'm disappointed in a good way? 

I read a couple crits on Goodreads that argued that the ending is unrealistic, but having worked in treatment, I can sincerely say it's not. These things absolutely do happen because teens are good at being teens. No disbelief to suspend there as far as I'm concerned. And that's all I'll say because I'm a stickler about spoilers. 

As for me, I'm giving this one 5 big shiny gold stars. Pre-order online or pick it up at your local indie bookstore when it arrives on July 23rd. 

Has anyone read this yet? What did you think? 

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