Wednesday, 23 March 2016
Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Fiction
Source: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tundra Books (Random House Canada)
First Published: May 12, 2015
First Line: "I have always wanted a sister."
Book Description from GoodReads: Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.
Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.
Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.
They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.
My Review: I've seen this book floating around the library where I work for some time now and it's been on my TBR (To Be Read) list for awhile. So long, in fact, that I couldn't remember what it was about. But it wasn't until this past weekend that it was finally my turn to read it.
I read this book in half a day. Simply put, I loved it. Like, 'gushing in utter book geek delight' kind of love. I may have swooned.
This isn't a book about rainbows and unicorns of happiness. It has a lot of depth and covers many serious issues that teens face. It is a story about two families ripped apart by divorce, illness and death who slowly put themselves back together as one big family with humour, hope and a lot of bumps along the way.
A lot of my feeling towards the book stems from the characters. They were quite varied and showcased different friendships, familial bonds and issues. This family is broken for various reasons and Nielsen shines a spotlight on the fact that families come in all shapes and sizes and you can make it work. While the book focuses on teens Ashley and Stewart I love that Nielsen also looks at different adult relationships as this group of people try to build a new modern family. All of the relationships felt like they were dealt with in a realistic way and I loved that.
The book is told via two points of view - thirteen year old Stewart who is uber smart but not exactly high on the social scale and Ashley his fourteen year old 'sort of stepsister' who gives Mean Girl Regina George a run for her money. These two couldn't be more different and struggle as they learn to live with each other at home and at school.
A few of the characters, like Ashley, give off a rather strong odour of cliché which you'd think would diminish my rating but I began to see the different layers in her and I still loved her. She's a total self-absorbed Mean Girl with a mouth on her which would make her easy to hate but she a lot of comedy to the book because she's not exactly the sharpest eye liner in the drawer. For example, her struggles to use correct words
Ashley - "I am counting the days 'till I can become unconstipated!" (er, um how about 'emancipated'?)
Ashley - "'Joie de beaver" that's French for just basically loving life"
and consistently getting the names of Stewart's cat and friend wrong bring levity that had me giggling throughout the book.
Stewart is an awkward sweetheart who is still dealing with the loss of his mother. The only thing that kind of made me pause was the fact that he seems younger than his 13 years. Sure he's loveably awkward and always stands up for the greater good but for a teen of thirteen his actions and words seemed like a much younger child - more in line with a 9 or 10 year old. But I quickly got over that issue because Stewart is an old soul trying to make the best of things and really is the catalyst to bring this new family together.
Throughout this book the message is - beneath it all we're all the same. We all have struggles, concerns and worries. We all want to fit in and be loved. This book is about so many things - fitting in, life changes being thrown at you, standing up for yourself, being yourself, loss, love and family in all its many and varied forms. It's funny, touching and an incredibly easy read that will leave you missing the characters after you've turned the last page. Another book that gave me all these bookishly good 'feels' is Wonder by R.J Palacio. I highly recommend both of those books to tweens, teens and adults.
Note to Parents: There is a disturbing scene towards the end of the book. While it could be a great discussion point for parents to have with their kids it may be a little much for sensitive or younger readers. I'd recommend a parent read the book first before giving it to a tween reader. There are also some swear words/derogatory names in one scene as well. Don't let these issues stop you from reading the book. Both were important scenes which highlighted some real concerns for today's teens.
My Rating: 5/5 stars