January 12, 2016 Debuts: Young Adult

In a perfect world, sixteen-year-old Phoebe Martins’ life would be a book. Preferably one filled with magic and a hot paranormal love interest. Unfortunately, her life probably wouldn’t even qualify for a quiet contemporary.

Everything changes when Phoebe learns that Dev, the hottest guy in the clarinet section, might actually have a crush on her. So, Phoebe turns to the heroines in her favorite books for advice on a personality overhaul. Becoming as awesome as her book characters isn’t as easy as it sounds and when another girl nets Dev for herself right from under Phoebe’s nose, she’s crushed.

Then, to up the suckage, she gets assigned as his co-counselor at a sixth grade camp and has to spend an entire week tied to the hip with the one guy on the planet she wanted to avoid. Can she make it through the potential danger of romantic bonfires and nature walks without Dev figuring out she’s still not over him, or will her counseling career end in emotional disaster? Can she ever go back to her happy world of fictional boys after falling for the real thing?

The Distance From A to Z by Natalie Blitt

Epic Reads Impulse/HarperCollins

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

This full-length novel by debut author Natalie Blitt is a pitch-perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins and Miranda Kenneally that proves the age-old adage: opposites attract.

Seventeen-year-old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.

That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to wear baseball caps and jerseys every day.

But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between who she is and who he is is worth the risk.

Underwater by Marisa Reichardt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux/MacMillan

Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound

Morgan didn't mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive-first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then, herself. But Morgan can't move on. She can't even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she's underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school. When it seems Morgan can't hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside. 

Underwater is a powerful, hopeful debut novel about redemption, recovery, and finding the strength it takes to face your past and move on.

"A moving, reflective exploration of grief, trauma, and how individuals find their paths toward resilience."
-- Kirkus
"Debut author Reichardt doesn’t oversimplify: Morgan isn’t saved by love; rather, new neighbor Evan reminds her of life and what it’s like to have a friend... Morgan’s ability to face her past and future ebbs and flows, making her struggles entirely believable. As Evan, who has his own connection to the shooting, tells her, what he likes about Morgan is that she’s real, and that’s exactly what readers will appreciate about this book."
-- Publishers' Weekly starred review

My review: Marisa Reichardt's Underwater is a truly lovely book. It's the story of Morgan, a teenage girl who becomes agoraphobic due to PTSD in the aftermath a school shooting, and her journey toward healing. Morgan is a wonderful character, believable and sympathetic, and she is surrounded by characters who all feel every bit as real: her mother and adorable little brother, the cute new neighbor, her wonderful therapist, and more. I especially appreciated that the adults are drawn every bit as well as the teenagers; they are all complex, imperfect people with their own problems and their own lives.

What I loved most of all, however, is that the book deals with such a horrific topic in a way that is clear, smart, and sensitive. I hate that we live in a world where books about school shootings have to exist, but since we do, I'm grateful we have one like this: a story in which kindness, compassion, and empathy are shown to be so powerful, and strength, forgiveness, and healing in the aftermath are allowed to take so many different forms.

I received an ARC of UNDERWATER for review, and I can honestly say I am very much looking forward to owning a copy of the published book. This one is a keeper.