Book Review: This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp

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Reviewed by Cindy L. Rodriguez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK:

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

MY TWO CENTS: As a parent and teacher, both at a middle school and community college, the possibility of an on-campus tragedy is my worst nightmare that proves to be a school’s horrific reality on a too-regular basis. Author Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel chronicles a heart-wrenching 54 minutes of terror by dropout Tyler Browne, who returns to Opportunity High School the first day of a new semester to take revenge on the classmates he blames for his feelings of loss and abandonment. The story is told from four first-person perspectives: Claire, Tomás, Sylvia, and Autumn.

Claire, Tyler’s ex-girlfriend, is outside the school when the shooting begins. She’s a track star and JROTC member who runs for help with her best friend, Chris. Claire’s brother, Matt, is inside the auditorium. Claire agonizes over what she could have done to stop Tyler. Did she see any signs? Did she know this would happen? She also feels helpless being on the outside and wants to do something, anything, to help.

Tomás and Sylvia are fraternal twins and unspecified Latin@s. Tomás and his friend, Fareed, who is Afghan, is inside the school but not among those trapped in the auditorium. Before today, they were most known for pranks and picking on Tyler, but now they call for help and plan a way to free those inside the auditorium, all the while worried about loved ones inside and whether their efforts will help or cause more harm.

Autumn is a ballerina, Tyler’s sister, and Sylvia’s girlfriend. Autumn and Sylvia are locked inside the auditorium and targeted by Tyler. Autumn’s complex relationship with her brother and their abusive father in the wake of their mother’s death is revealed trough flashbacks. Tyler blames his loneliness on Autumn’s ambitious dance goals and her relationship with Sylvia.

The reader will get a fragmented picture of Tyler’s good and bad sides: protective brother, comforting boyfriend, rapist, killer. When something like this happens, we often ask why and hope to get answers, but the reasons are never enough. Nijkamp explains in our Q&A that she made the decision to have this story not be about the shooter, but about the victims, which is why we never get his first-person point of view.

For me, not really knowing Tyler added to the story’s intensity, leaving me feeling the kind of hurt, confusion, and uncertainty experienced by the fictional victims.

And since we’re a site dedicated to Latin@ Literature, let’s focus on Sylvia and Tomás for a moment. The two are loyal to friends, family, and each other, while having a typical sibling relationship that is sometimes loving, sometimes contentious. Sylvia is a Latin@ lesbian and a main character, which makes her one of the very few in the YA world. She is also accepted by her family when she comes out, as told in a flashback, which is refreshing because this counters the Latin@ families who reject a LGBTQIA+ member because of conservative religious or cultural beliefs. Coming out continues to be devastating for many LGBTQIA+ youth, unfortunately, but I appreciate that Nijkamp portrayed an accepting Latin@ family to show another possibility/reality.

This is Where it Ends, a gripping, heartbreaking thriller, released with Sourcebooks Fire on January 5, 2016. Click here for a discussion guide.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, check your local public library, your local bookstore or IndieBound. Also, check out GoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Marieke landscapeABOUT THE AUTHORMarieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016. She is the founder of DiversifYA and a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books. Find her on Twitter.

 

 

photo by Saryna A. Jones

Cindy L. Rodriguez is a former journalist turned public school teacher and fiction writer. She was born in Chicago; her father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is from Brazil. She has degrees from UConn and CCSU and has worked as a reporter at The Hartford Courant and researcher at The Boston Globe. She and her daughter live in Connecticut, where she teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Her debut contemporary YA novel, When Reason Breaks, released with Bloomsbury Children’s Books on 2/10/2015. She can also be found on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Q&A with Debut Author Marieke Nijkamp about This Is Where It Ends

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By Cindy L. Rodriguez

This Is Where It Ends, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel, captures 54 harrowing minutes of a high school shooting through the perspectives of four students who have personal connections to the shooter. They are alternately hurt, betrayed, confused, and guilt-ridden about their possible roles in the tragedy and what they could have done to stop it. Two of the main characters are Tomás and Sylvia, unspecified Latin@ twins. Sylvia is trapped in the auditorium with the shooter, while Tomás is among those outside and trying to help. Author Marieke Nijkamp joins us today to answer a few questions about her intense debut.

CINDY: What inspired you to write about a U.S.-based school shooting? What kind of research did you do to capture the intensity of this kind of tragedy?

MARIEKE: A lot of it—from before I started drafting through final edits. I read firsthand accounts of shootings, I listened to 911 calls, I plowed through hundreds of pages of investigative reports, I talked to people, I kept up with news and social media feeds as active shooter situations emerged, I familiarized myself with the psychology of being held at gunpoint. As much as possible, I immersed myself in what we know about school shootings (which is both a lot and not a lot at all). And I tried to translate that to the book.

Even now, when shootings happen, my first instinct is to drop whatever I’m doing and absorb what is happening, listen to people as they share their experiences.

CINDY: Using present tense and limiting the time frame to 54 minutes puts the reader in the moment. As a writer, what made you decide to tell this story as it unfolds?

MARIEKE: When I set out to tell this story, I wanted to tell the story of a school shooting. Not the lead up, not the aftershocks, but the shooting itself. So I knew early on I wanted that limited timeframe, because I wanted, as much as possible, to recreate the experience and the feeling that, from one moment to the next, your entire life can be upended.

It presented some challenges while writing – not just because of the timeframe, but also because most of the action takes place in the same building and even the same room. But I’m a plotter at heart. And I spreadsheeted to my heart’s content.

CINDY: The novel alternates first-person perspectives, but the one person we don’t hear from directly is Tyler. He causes the tragedy, and we find out about him through the other characters, but we never get inside his head. As a reader, I found this powerful because whenever something like this happens, we want the shooter to explain why, but no answer to that question is ever enough. For me, seeing the story through everyone else reinforced this idea, but I’m curious about why you chose not to give Tyler one of the first-person POVs?

MARIEKE: For me, that was actually one of the main reasons to not include Tyler’s point of view. Because, like you say, we are all looking for answers, and they’re never enough. Besides which, we don’t have a singular profile of a shooter, beyond some general elements (most shooters are white, male, and often though not always dealing with loss, grief, resentment). I didn’t want to recreate a profile based on one interpretation, because it’s always going to be exactly that: one interpretation.

Beyond that though, for all that Tyler is a central character in this story, it’s not his. It’s Tomás and Fareed’s story. It’s Sylvia and Autumn’s story. It’s Claire story. To me, the story always belong to them, to the victims and the survivors.

CINDY: Because of your work with DiversifYA and We Need Diverse Books, I wasn’t surprised by your novel’s diverse cast of characters, including an interracial/ethnic lesbian couple (sooooo few depictions of such couples, so *applause*). Although, since it’s set in a small, fictional Alabama town, you could have resorted to creating a less diverse cast of characters. Why was it important to include so much diversity? 

MARIEKE: You know, I never get asked why Claire is straight, white, non-disabled. And that is as much a choice as all the others are.

The thing is, when I set out to write THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, I wanted to be as respectful and as true to life as possible. When I did take poetic license, I did so by keeping in mind the adage I talked about with many other WNDB team members: first, do no harm.

To me, that didn’t just mean doing the academic research; it meant reflecting life as I know it and as so many friends and so many of my teen readers do. School shootings do not just affect non-marginalized, affluent teens. And even if Opportunity were 95% white and straight, that doesn’t erase the other 5%. Why should they not be the heart of the story?

CINDY: As you begin your debut year, do you have any advice for pre-published writers?

MARIEKE: I’ve come to learn that no advice fits all, but to aspiring authors, I’d say: tell your stories, the stories your most passionate about, in your own way. To pre-published writers anticipating their debut: be  grateful to be on this journey, and be mindful to enjoy it. It’s a wild ride and it’s a wonderful one, too. And it’s so, so worth it.

 

Marieke landscapeABOUT THE AUTHORMarieke Nijkamp was born and raised in the Netherlands. A lifelong student of stories, language, and ideas, she is more or less proficient in about a dozen languages and holds degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, geek. Her debut young adult novel This Is Where It Ends, a contemporary story that follows four teens over the course of the fifty-four minutes of a school shooting, will be published by Sourcebooks Fire in January 2016. She is the founder of DiversifYA and a senior VP of We Need Diverse Books. Find her on Twitter.

Book Review: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

 

19542841By Cecilia Cackley

DESCRIPTION: The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s new-found happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

MY TWO CENTS: Aaron Soto is an easy character to root for in this ever-so-slightly sci-fi story of relationships and sexuality. Aaron seems to fit into his world pretty easily at the start of the book. Although he lives with an overworked mother, a disinterested brother, and the ghost of his father who committed suicide in their one-bedroom apartment, Aaron spends much the first half of the novel playing aggressive games of manhunt with his friends and having romantic moments with his girlfriend. But the smiley-faced scar on Aaron’s wrist is a visible reminder the pain that underlies these seemingly normal moments, and when a major twist occurs later in the novel, various truths are revealed and show the tangle Aaron’s gotten himself into. There are no easy answers for anyone, and scars both visible and invisible are explored in this thought-provoking debut, which has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal. This will appeal to fans of A.S. King, John Corey Whaley and Aaron Hartzler.

TEACHING TIPS: Lots for a literature group or book club to unpack here! Aaron makes lots of decisions that teens can discuss and decide whether or not they would choose differently. The concept of Leteo is one that provokes strong opinions and could be combined with research into brain science and psychology, including the recent news that MIT researchers found a drug that erases traumatic memories in mice and could be developed for human use. Memory erasing could move from sci-fi to non-fiction in the coming years, which would be a worthy topic for discussion and debate in classrooms.

                                                       Photo by Margot Wood.

Photo by Margot Wood

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx and is tall for no reason. He was a bookseller before shifting to children’s publishing where he worked at a literary development company, a creative writing website for teens, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. He lives in New York City.

Resources: http://www.hypable.com/cover-reveal-more-happy-than-not-plus-an-interview-with-author-adam-silvera/

 

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT More Happy Than Not visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

12000020By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM THE PUBLISHER: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

MY TWO CENTS: This book is a four-time award winner–and well deserved! What a moving book. Even days after I finished it, I would still think of Ari and Dante and their friendship, which grows into deeper feelings–how much they influenced each other’s lives over the course of a year, with events tenderly captured by Sáenz. The romantic type of love is not the only one Sáenz touches upon; familial love is also an important topic in the book. Both Dante’s and Ari’s relationships with their families are as complicated as their relationship with each other.

The story is set in 1987 and told from the point of view of Ari–despite this, the reader gains a full picture of Dante. We learn of Dante’s sweet quirks (like his distaste of wearing shoes) and his passion for literature and art. When Dante and Ari meet, Ari is cut off from others. His parents won’t talk about the details of his older brother’s incarceration, and his father is still fighting his demons stemming from his time fighting in Vietnam. He has no real friends. Dante’s openness and delight in the simple pleasures in life helps Ari break out of his self-enforced wall, ostensibly to hide his confusing emotions.

Sáenz packs in so much emotion in such simple and spare dialogue that conveys so much. There are no superfluous words; Sáenz’s writing is lean and packs a powerful emotional punch.

TEACHING TIPS: I would recommend this book to anyone – whether teenager or adult – who ever felt different. And that it’s OK to be that way. This is a universal tale. But besides being just a beautiful love story, the book’s themes include dealing with the feelings that come with an incarcerated sibling, a parent with emotional scars from war, and the challenges that come with being gay, male, and Mexican American. This book is for anyone who feels as if there’s not enough compassion in the world.

If librarians and teachers want to try a writing exercise inspired by this book, I would ask teens who have read the book if they can attempt to reproduce Sáenz’s succinct writing style. You can tell them it’s kind of like writing dialogue on Twitter or that it’s very close to poetry. Ask them to communicate as much as they can with as few words as possible.

AUTHOR (DESCRIPTION FROM INDIEBOUND): Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an American Book Award–winning author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpré Award winner, and won the Lambda Literary Award for Children’s/Young Adult Fiction. Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe visit your local library or bookstore. Also, check out WorldCat.orgIndieBound.orgGoodreadsAmazon, and Barnes & Noble.

 

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.

Book Review: Hostage (The Change #2) by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith

 

23899848By Eileen Fontenot

DESCRIPTION FROM GOODREADS: Welcome back to Las Anclas, a frontier town in the post-apocalyptic Wild West. In Las Anclas, the skull-faced sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can speed up time, and the squirrels can teleport sandwiches out of your hands.

In book one, Stranger, teenage prospector Ross Juarez stumbled into town half-dead, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble — including an invasion by Voske, the king of Gold Point. The town defeated Voske’s army, with the deciding blow struck by Ross, but at a great cost.

In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.

MY TWO CENTS: Even more gripping than the first of this series, Hostage takes us right back to the aftermath of Voske’s attack on our intrepid band of superhuman teens, which caused the death of a much-respected adult leader. We are introduced to a new player in this book, the daughter of Voske, the series’ main antagonist. The authors do a tremendous job of telling us about Kerry, who is smart, capable and raised to assess challengers and exploit their weaknesses.

Just as I began to dislike this new character, the authors begin chapters from her point of view. We see her life under her parents’ restrictive rule, and her love for her boyfriend, Santiago, softens her image. I came to root for Kerry, for her to find her own way in life and to make positive choices in her life, rather than negative ones. We also get to see how things are run in Gold Point, part of Voske’s kingdom. And it’s not pretty.

One of the main themes of this book was trust. Characters were thrust into various life-or-death situations, with only another to depend upon. And sometimes this other person wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy individual. Tracing the elaborate, yet tenuous, agreements made between unlikely partners became a bit of a challenge. I also liked the message that it’s OK to follow your own path, especially when you disagree with the way your family is behaving.

And because there are still several mysteries to be solved in the last couple of books, and a character I hope makes a big resurgence, I look forward to future volumes. The authors plan to release two more books in this series, and I can’t wait to see how these characters grow and change with each other. I read this on my Kindle, but Manija Brown says a paper copy of Hostage will be released in March, according to GoodReads.

RECOMMENDATIONS: As a young adult librarian, I would suggest this series to teens who love post-apocalyptic fantasy worlds who also want to see themselves reflected in the characters. The series is incredibly diverse; the main characters are all people of color and LGBT characters are also well represented. The authors are wonderful showing readers the depth of their familial connections through details dropped in throughout the action, which is plentiful.

For a book club pick, I would ask participants to discuss the role trust played in these characters’ choices. Teens could also talk about who they trust in their own lives and why. What would they share with their closest friends and family? What would make them lose trust in their loved ones?

AUTHORS:

Paraphrased From Goodreads: Rachel Manija Brown is the author of all sorts of stories in all sorts of genres. She has produced a memoir, All the Fishes Come Home to Roost: An American Misfit in India, and she has also written television, plays, video games, and a comic strip meant to be silk-screened on to a scarf. In her other identity, she is a trauma/PTSD therapist. She writes urban fantasy for adults under the name of Lia Silver.

From cahreviews.blogspot.com: Sherwood Smith began her publishing career in 1986, writing mostly for young adults and children. Smith studied in Austria for a year, earning a master’s in history. She worked many jobs, from bartender to the film industry, then turned to teaching for twenty years, working with children from second grade to high school. To date she’s published over forty books, nominated for several awards, including the Nebula, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and an Anne Lindbergh Honor Book.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Hostage (The Change #2) visit your local public library, your local bookstore, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com or goodreads.com.

Eileenfontenot headshot Fontenot is a recent graduate of Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston. She works at a public library and is interested in community service and working toward social justice. A sci-fi/fantasy fan, Eileen was formerly a newspaper writer and editor.