Friday, August 30, 2013

Fangirl Friday: Promise Me Something by Sara Kocek

Fangirl Friday is a feature here on the blog where I talk about kickass reads and what I like about them. And this time, I'm also including a giveaway courtesy of the author and the awesome people at Albert Whitman Teen. Stay tuned for more info at the end of this post! 


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ARC from Albert Whitman Teen in exchange for an honest review. e-Books are made available via Open Road Media.

Pub Date: September 1, 2013

Dannie says: Promise me you'll read this one because it's just so good. 

Book Blurb:

As if starting high school weren't bad enough, Reyna Fey has to do so at a new school without her best friends. Reyna's plan is to keep her head down, help her father recover from the car accident that almost took his life, and maybe even make some friends. And then Olive Barton notices her. Olive is not exactly the kind of new friend Reyna has in mind. The boys make fun of her, the girls want to fight her, and Olive seems to welcome the challenge. There's something about Olive that Reyna can't help but like. But when Reyna learns Olive's secret, she must decide whether it's better to be good friends with an outcast or fake friends with the popular kids. . . .before she loses Olive forever.

Just for starters let me say that despite having to be up at 7AM with the one-year-old, once I started reading this around midnight, I didn't put it down until I finished. The next morning hurt.

Worth it.

What I liked:

Tim, for starters. He ended up being one of my favorite characters. I would have loved to see Reyna become friends with him earlier in the book. As is, it felt like she was using him to a certain extent, and I would have liked to see their relationship grow more gradually.

I liked and wanted more denouement where Reyna's feelings of guilt were concerned. I think survivor's guilt and self-blame is a huge factor when teens' friends attempt or commit suicide. And I would have liked more "on-screen" resolution as far as that went. But that's the therapist in me more than the reader.

I also dug the way the subject matter was handled. I felt that Reyna's reactions to the sexual identity issues that came into play were very authentic and courageous on the author's part, though I did not always follow her thought process.

What I loved:

First and foremost, the characters. I loved Reyna's journey as far as identifying the values and characteristics she wanted in people she called friends. I liked that none of the characters were cookie-cutter-cliches. Even the minor players were multi-faceted. I especially felt that Reyna was a very tangible and sympathetic MC, and I enjoyed reading her story.

As a mom and a therapist, I felt that Kocek did a great job of confronting the realities of suicidal ideation in one's friends without crossing the line into preaching. And I think it's super important that the book addressed the legal consequences of some of Olive's choices. That's not something I've seen done much in YA and I was glad to see it here. And while I wasn't surprised at the plot twists, I think that's writer and adult bias that won't apply to much of Kocek's target audience.

Finally, I loved that Reyna's values were portrayed in a way that was fair and allowed her to be a character either side of the aisle could rally behind. I think when we see conservative/moderate teens in YA, they tend to be portrayed in an extremist way that isn't an accurate reflection of these youth. And I loved that part of Reyna's journey included a though exploration of her own belief system.


I felt like it was too convenient for Levi's parents to be gay. I also think his perspective would have made more impact were that not the case. Instead, it almost seems like the only people who empathize with gay kids in this read are other gay teens and teens with gay parents. That probably was true about five to ten years ago, but that's not my experience with the teens I see at work.

I wasn't crazy about the way things were resolved between Reyna and her parents. My reading left the impression that Reyna's dad and would-be-stepmom were right about everything and Reyna's feelings were invalid, which I found to be both unrealistic and inaccurate. For me, the better ending would have been one without resolution. Sometimes our parents do things we don't understand, things that feel really unfair, and we don't have to agree with them or apologize for our feelings. We just have to learn how to deal.

I wanted more resolution where the besties were concerned. Not externally with the girls themselves so much as within Reyna. It felt, for me, like a loose end.

I wanted to be in Reyna's head a little more where the sexual identity issues were concerned. Like I said before, I loved that we saw a character arc that included her questioning and identifying her own moral code. But I feel like, particularly in a late Middle Grade or young YA book, that sexual identity is a major developmental issue, and I would have liked to see Reyna's cognitive dissonance regarding the conflict between her faith and her friends' sexual identity. Despite Olive confronting her on the matter, I didn't feel like we experienced Reyna's thought process enough there.

Short story long:

I really loved this book. I think the perspective is original, the characters are complex and engaging, and the plot has some great twists and turns. The pace is just right, and the social concerns are handled in a way that is both age-appropriate and pertinent to today's young readers. Good stuff, people! Add it to your Goodreads and pre-order now via the links below.

Tomorrow you can check out another review and giveaway over at The Random Thoughts of Crazy Mandy and an interview with Sara at Starry-Eyed Heart Book Blog. You can find the entire roster of blogs included in the Sara Squared Book Tour HERE. And don't forget to enter the rafflecopter drawing to win an autographed copy of this kickass read! (Sorry international peeps--USA and Canada only for the raffle on this one.)

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