Contemporary


running_leanRunning Lean
Diana L. Sharples
HarperCollins/Blink

Haunted by a cruel playground song, Stacey is determined never to be fat again. With her best friend Zoe, she embarks on a rigid diet, rejecting the high-calorie, deep-fried southern dishes her family seems to thrive on. But just when Stacey has it all under control, a fainting spell alerts her boyfriend Calvin that things aren’t as well-ordered as they seem. Stacey brushes off the event as “female problems” and hopes Calvin will just forget it.

Calvin just wants Stacey to be okay, and he’s willing to pay just about any price to make that so. He endeavors to support her, but his own emotions become increasingly strained as his bike – and through it his way of coping with life – begins to fall apart. Though Calvin wants to believe he can love and encourage Stacey through her insecurities, it becomes impossible to ignore the downward spiral her life is taking. Calvin isn’t sure he can push her into recovery without breaking her.

In her brave debut, Sharples captures the raw driving intensity of emotional insecurity and the terrible tension it places on a relationship, boldly describing a tragic teen issue. The reactions of Stacey’s friends and family, the helplessness Calvin wrestles with all felt very real and true to character and life. Though a message of hope is woven through its pages, the story Running Lean isn’t dominated by its spiritual messages. Rather, each character wrestles with thoughts about and feelings toward God in his or her own timing and way.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
Stacey and Calvin share kisses and hold hands, but both have made a commitment to abstinence until marriage. Things get a little hot and heavy between them as Stacey’s emotions spiral further out of control and Calvin tries to reassure her of his love by pressing her physical boundaries further than she’s comfortable with. Clothes stay on, and nothing much ultimately happens before Stacey stops Calvin. There are brief references to a past sexual abuse situation. While the scars of the experience, both physically and emotionally still manifest in the victim, not a lot of detail is given about the events.

Spiritual Content
Since his brother’s death, Calvin has had difficulty thinking about spiritual things. He’s grieving and angry and offers of prayer from his friends and family only frustrate him further. As his relationship with Stacey becomes more and more strained, Calvin begins to rethink his “okay on my own” religious stance and consider asking for God’s help with the situation, since he’s way past knowing what to do on his own.

Violence
None.

Drug Content
Stacey visits a party at which alcohol is present. She doesn’t drink anything, but others around her do.

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It's ComplicatedIt’s Complicated

Laura L. Smith

When Claire meets a girl looking for a third and fourth college roommate, she takes a chance and accepts. Sharing a room with Hannah and her friends will be awesome. Hannah is bubbly and bright. Palmer, Hannah’s bestie is looking for friends to fill the gap that will be left when she moves away from her long-time boyfriend. Despite her excitement about being on the college soccer team, Kat is thrilled at the possibility of friends off the field. But just as roomie preparations are finally in place, the unthinkable happens, and one of the girls is raped. How can she face her new friends now? Maybe she’s too soiled to fit in with them anymore.

As the four girls juggle classes, homework, living space and boy interest, they learn they have more in common than they initially thought. And they’ll need all their strengths if they are to band together and help each other through the heartaches and hardships of freshman year at college.

When it comes to dating and relationships issues, author Laura L. Smith doesn’t mess around. Hitting heavy topics like date rape and peer pressure, she remains frank but not intensely graphic. The rape victim asks real questions and endures a grieving process. As the characters face peer pressure, they respond with realistic emotional confliction and growth. The spiritual journey by comparison begins deep for each girl, but doesn’t seem to undergo the same beautiful blossoming as the emotional journey of the girls. Spiritual themes may have been strengthened if the girls began their journeys at more varied levels of spirituality. Over all, this first novel in the Status Updates Series is a warm, fun read about having great girl friends.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
One of the girls is raped. The scene is brief and only a few graphic details are given. The boyfriend of another girl pressures her to have sex with him. Sexual tension between the two runs high and in a couple scenes, he touches the edges of her underpants before she stops him.

Spiritual Content
Each of the girls is a Christian, but since only two girls have known each other prior to becoming roommates, they don’t at first recognize their shared faith. Once they realize they are four Christians together, they believe God has placed them in each other’s lives to help them work through the issues they each face, particularly issues in their relationships with boys.

Violence
See sexual content.

Drug Content
A boy from the soccer team smokes something outside a coffee shop which leaves him pretty stoned. He justifies this behavior by telling Kat it’s completely legal and nowhere near as bad as some things other players do. Kat isn’t swayed by this argument. There are other brief references to college parties which include alcohol, but no central characters participate.
Playlist Fiction Sampler

Get the first five chapters free!

Right now (today is the last day) on Amazon.com, Playlist Fiction is offering a summer sampler for free. It includes sample chapters of this book as well as two others I’ve reviewed: Glass Girl by Laura Anderson Kurk and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet by Stephanie Morrill. Click here to see the sampler. Enjoy!

The Fault In Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars

John Green

Sixteen-year-old Hazel has lived the roller coaster ride of a terminal cancer diagnosis for the last three years. Now, each breath comes with a price, and she cannot go anywhere without a small portable oxygen tank in tow. Meds prevent the tumors from growing, for now.

At a weekly support group, she listens to tales of other teens fiercely battling cancer. Listens but remains apart, until the unexpected entrance of Augustus Waters.

Augustus draws Hazel out of her self-imposed seclusion with his unflappable visionary nature. He is in many ways the opposite of the quiet, brooding Hazel, and her perfect foil. As the two begin to know each other, they swap favorite novels, and Augustus falls headfirst in love with Hazel’s pick, a novel about cancer called An Imperial Affliction. As the two discuss the book, its philosophical brilliance and painfully tantalizing unanswered questions, their bond deepens.

Terrified of causing the destructive grief that must result from falling in love with someone with a terminal diagnosis, Hazel pulls away from Augustus. He pursues her relentlessly, even spending his wish from a cancer organization to take Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the author of her favorite novel (seriously, what literary lover can resist this kind of wooing? Talk about big guns.)

Amsterdam is everything and nothing Hazel could have hoped for: her dreams dashed and come true at the same time. In response, she must decide how to live her life and what she believes about herself, others, and eternity in the face of faithlessness on the part of humanity and the universe.

John Green has proved his valor as a writer worthy of tackling the deep emotional and cosmic issues with earlier novels, but this novel may yet be his most incredible work. This novel tackles the big human questions about life, love, and loss, exploring at once what they mean and how one responds to them. All this and yet the story remains poignant and breathtaking and sometimes quite hilarious. And tragic. This is another one to read with tissues handy.

Also worthy of note: The Fault in Our Stars the movie will hit the big screen in 2014.

Language Content
Infrequent but extreme.

Sexual Content
Main characters watch a young couple kiss and briefly fondle over clothing. One scene (without graphic detail) implies that the characters have sex.

Spiritual Content
As the characters face the reality of their diagnoses, they wonder about and discuss what happens after death. Hazel does not believe in God or heaven. Augustus believes in a more nebulous Something beyond.

Violence
While this isn’t violent content, it is only fair to mention that there are some heavy descriptions of different medical treatments and their side effects as well as the dying process. These are critical elements to the story, but some sensitive readers may find them too intense.

Drug Content
Augustus has an unusual habit of hanging a cigarette from his mouth which he never lights, but instead revels in the metaphoric significance of this action. Gus and Hazel sip champagne over a fancy dinner. Hazel and Augustus undergo various cancer treatments involving different types of medications.

Me, an Old Pilot and a Three-Legged DogMe, an Old Pilot and a Three-Legged Dog

Rocky Morrisette

Just before her sixteenth birthday, Summer Rose is sent from her Salt Lake City home to live with her grandfather in the Alaskan wilderness. As she adjusts to the many beauties and dangers of her new surroundings, she learns about the destructive power of volcanic ash, the joy of a dip in a warm mountain spring, and the bitter unpredictability of the Alaskan weather and what that can mean for those trapped within it.

While Summer Rose maintains her can-do attitude throughout the novel, she often finds herself assisting older, more experienced men, like her uncle and grandfather. While they praise her efforts, they also spend a lot of time schooling her on history, science, politics and other topics. In one scene it is her beloved uncle who combs the knots out of her hair for her. Though Summer Rose is described as a physically well-developed sixteen-year-old girl, she often behaves as a much younger child, both in her temperament and emotional maturity. Her feelings are transitory and lack the complication and depth one would expect to see in a teen novel. Some of the pop culture references are also a little dated, referencing styles or movies from the 1980s or 1990s.

Despite the character issues, readers longing for a glimpse of the Alaskan frontier and tales of its splendor will enjoy the descriptions of its marvels.

Language Content
Infrequent but extreme.

Sexual Content
Summer Rose and her friends go on a hiking/sunbathing trek together. During the hike, many of the girls disrobe and continue hiking topless. At the springs, several remove all clothing. Later, an older man gropes Summer Rose while she’s trying to reach a pair of sunglasses. She doesn’t say anything about the experience to her grandfather or uncle, both of whom were waiting outside for her, but readers learn later, in kind of an “oh, by the way,” moment, that she called the police about it and filed a report while her grandfather was gone.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violence
Summer Rose helps her uncle treat several dogs injured in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption. The descriptions of injuries are pretty matter-of-fact, coming mostly from information her uncle relays to her.

Later, Summer Rose and her grandfather are trapped on the shore of a lake and must survive the night with various injuries and hypothermia. Apparently a bear attacks her grandfather’s faithful dog, but the attack happens off-scene, and isn’t discovered until much later.

Drug Content
None.

Glass GirlGlass Girl

Laura Anderson Kurk

On a day that began like any other, Meg’s brother Wyatt dies. Suddenly. Violently. Leaving Meg and her parents to creep around the shrapnel and gaping wounds of their grief. In a pitch to create some space for healing, Meg’s dad moves them all from their Pittsburgh home to the wilds of Chapin, Wyoming. In a new home scrubbed of memories, Meg tries to create a new life, one that does not include the story of her brother’s death and the pity which must come as a response. She lands a new part time job and falls in with new friends. When a rugged, handsome cowboy begins to pursue her, Meg puts on her best face, burying her tragic past and her mother’s spiraling depression beneath a determined exterior.

Henry is patient, but he senses something isn’t right and urges Meg to open up to him. But how can a perfect boy from a perfect family understand what Meg and her parents are going through? Meg’s parents’ marriage crumbles around her, but she fights to keep a brave face, biting back the angry words she wants to shout at her mother and keeping even Henry at a distance. Rumors about a relationship between Henry and a blond girl swirl through town, and dark-haired Meg isn’t sure what to think. As she wrestles with her grief and whether to trust Henry, more rumors swirl, and Meg must face her town and her sadness anew as word about Wyatt’s death spreads across Chapin.

Glass Girl is a beautiful story of a girl who has lost not only her brother but faces the terrible toll grief has taken on her family. Meg’s emotions are vivid and gripping, as are the relationships she has with each of her parents and friends. The rugged Wyoming countryside provides the perfect backdrop for both the tumultuous feel of the emotional story and the golden-hearted cowboy who teaches Meg about courage, compassion and mercy. This is a novel that demands to be finished once it is begun. Tissues are a must.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
References to teen couples making out. Main characters treat each other with honor and respect, but there’s definitely some high romantic tension.

Spiritual Content
After her brother’s unexpected death, Meg can’t follow a life of faith any longer. She can’t understand how God could exist and allow terrible things to happen. It is less painful to choose to believe He does not exist. Henry’s faith is fervent and rock-solid, though his actions often speak of his values and beliefs much more than his words could.

Violence
Meg’s brother Wyatt was violently killed. Meg suffers brief flashbacks to the event, but no gory details are given, though the scenes are intense.

Drug Content
Some teens indulge in alcoholic beverages at a party. Others smoke pot. Main characters do not condone or participate in these behaviors.

Victoria and the GhostVictoria and the Ghost

Janet K. Brown

4RV Publishing

As if her parents’ ugly divorce wasn’t bad enough, fifteen-year-old Victoria Peterson is yanked away from her whole world in Dallas and plopped down on a rundown farm in a teeny tiny north Texas town. No more good friends a few minutes away, no more fancy city life, and no more Mom nearby to dry her tears. Her older sister Marcy seems to be settling in fine, but the only friend Victoria has been able to find is as fickle as the Texas wind. Victoria retreats to the beautiful cemetery garden for solitude, but even there her peace is disturbed by strange happenings. A mysterious voice. Objects disappearing. Town rumor says a ghost inhabits the grave yard. As a Believer, Victoria isn’t sure what to make of that, but she can’t deny that something strange is occurring. As she meets others who’ve had similar experiences in the grave yard, she begins tenuous bonds with the townspeople.

Of course, it’s all temporary. Once Mom gets back from her month-long honeymoon, she’ll call wanting the girls to come and live with her. Then it’s back to the city and all her friends for Victoria. No more of this awful country stuff. As days tick past and the call doesn’t come, Victoria begins to wonder if her mother will come through at all. She’s always been Mom’s favorite. Why is it taking so long for her to reach her?

When Mom finally calls, she invites both the girls for a visit. When Marcy and Victoria arrive at their mother’s new mansion home, neither is prepared for the venomous surprise that awaits them in the form of their new step-sister, Crystal. Rude and manipulative, Crystal is determined to be queen of the castle, and she’s not leaving room for anyone else. Mom and her new husband Sam seem oblivious to Crystal’s conniving ways. Rejected and discouraged, Victoria returns to her dad’s farm. How will she ever get out of the country now?

A health crisis and a threatening letter send Victoria’s world deeper into a spiral. Only by banding together and accepting help from others can she ever hope to survive, especially with her mother being so distant. Victoria must learn to accept life and those around her as is, but how can she learn to trust anyone when she is let down at every turn?

Divorce is one of the most difficult events a child can be asked to overcome. As Victoria struggles to make sense of both her parents’ behavior, she often feels sad and unwanted and cannot understand why her parents act as they do. As she learns about forming new relationships with others, she reflects on the relationships with her parents and begins to see their behavior in a new way. Perhaps Dad is really grieving; maybe Mom feels rejected. She also learns the value of forgiveness and community. Author Janet K Brown draws readers in to the small Texas town, filled with western-style characters and close-knit community feel. In a few places, the narrative seems to zoom out, telling readers what Victoria really means or is experiencing, more often it feels true to the teen experience. Readers who’ve experienced a difficult move to a new place or been through a family divorce will enjoy this story and its messages of hope and healing.

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
None.

Spiritual Content
Characters discuss living a life of Christian love and forgiveness. Victoria wonders whether ghosts exist, a question echoed by others in her life. Characters conclude that God can do anything, even use a ghost for his purposes.

Violence
References to an arson plot. A boy shows up at a party looking like he’s been in a fight.

Drug Content
Some kids appear to be drinking alcohol at a party. They are not welcome, and the main character does not associate with them.

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The Revised Life of Ellie SweetThe Revised Life of Ellie Sweet

Stephanie Morrill

Playlist Fiction

Some girls have it all in high school: great friends, perfect hair, the hottest boyfriend. Not sixteen-year-old Ellie Sweet. Next to her gorgeous long-time friend Lucy, Ellie is practically invisible. Everything about Ellie is hidden, from the frizzy hair she tries desperately to control in a knot to her secret passion to finish her novel set in medieval Italy. By day she may be invisible, but by night, all her frustrations and hurts are rewritten into a world where she, Lady Gabrielle, is the star. Only there does the handsome boy of her dreams (Palmer by day, Rafe by night) see her for who she is.

But when the local bad-boy reveals Ellie’s secret crush to an entire classroom of students, Ellie has to know why. Chase’s stubborn refusal to explain only adds fuel to Ellie’s frustration and earns him a write-in as the villainous prince in her manuscript.

As Chase pursues Ellie with attentive gifts, she wrestles with the rumors surrounding him and his family. With two older brothers already in jail, Chase is hardly meet-the-parents material. But they can be friends, right? Palmer doesn’t seem to think that’s such a good idea for Ellie. In fact, he wants to date Ellie himself, but only in secret.

With Palmer professing adoration, and her finished manuscript receiving praise from within the writing world, Ellie is over the moon. When the details of her novel come out publicly, however, not everyone is thrilled with the part Ellie has written them into. As Ellie scrambles to undo the damage, she realizes once and for all who her real friends are and the value of being loved and valued for who one really is.

This is a novel that is easy to love, full of the joys and disappointments of high school and teen romance. Morrill writes witty narrative with perky humor and great emotional depth, drawing readers into the very heart of this tale about a girl who feels totally invisible and the boy who truly sees her. This is the perfect read for an aspiring writer and a highly encouraging story for anyone who has experienced feeling overlooked or undervalued. Fans of Morrill’s earlier series The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt will not be disappointed. (See the review of Me, Just Different, the first book in the series, here.)

Language Content
None.

Sexual Content
A couple kissing scenes. References to the fact that other characters have been sexually active.

Spiritual Content
Ellie desires to live a virtuous life and refuses to indulge in alcohol or sex, despite the fact that her friends have begun to do so. She struggles with the realization that her spiritual life has become somewhat rote and recognizes that there is more to being a Believer than following a bunch of rules, but this isn’t deeply explored.

Violence
References to a fist-fight that happened off-scene.

Drug Content
While at a party, a boy drinks too much alcohol and passes out. Ellie is asked to pick him up and get him home safely. Someone receives a DUI.

A Deeper Look: Notes from the Blogger

K L Giard

Ellie is the kind of girl I would have been friends with in high school. I loved her wit, and her awkward yet hilarious self-consciousness endeared me to her almost immediately. Beyond the lighthearted day-in-the-life antics of a young high school student lurks a brave look at the challenges of navigating relationships and realizing that those we are drawn to aren’t always the ones best for us. Tissues may be warranted, and the willing reader may find God speaking between the lines of this charming and candid story.

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