Once, In Lourdes by Sharon Solwitz

Welcome back! I should have mentioned yesterday that I’ve been reading some pretty intense books lately, and today is the beginning.

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Title: Once, In Lourdes {320 pgs.}

Genre: Young adult {ish}

Publication Date: May 30, 2017

Summary:

Four high school friends stand on the brink of adulthood—and on the high ledge above the sea at the local park in Lourdes, Michigan, they call the Haight—and make a pact. For the next two weeks, they will live for each other and for each day. And at the end of the two weeks, they will stand once again on the bluff and jump, sacrificing themselves on the altar of their friendship. Loyal Kate, beautiful Vera, witty C.J., and steady Saint—in a two-week span, their lives will change beyond their expectations, and what they gain and lose will determine whether they enter adulthood or hold fast to their pledge.

So. This book. It was…difficult. Not complex or hard to read, but…something along those lines.

I finished this book over the weekend and I’ve been sitting on it for awhile because I’ve been trying to figure out if I liked the characters or not. They were well-written and felt real, but that’s not what I mean. Did I like Kate? Did I like Vera? What about C.J. or Saint? Last night, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like any of the characters, but that may have been the point.

They weren’t perfect. They had flaws, and big flaws at that. But that’s what made them interesting and made me root for them. 

These teenagers have problems. That’s the understatement of the century. Kate is overweight and her father – and stepmother – are pushing her to lose twenty, thirty, forty pounds while bringing up her grade in her most hated subject. Vera’s mother has checked out, her overbearing father fluctuates drastically between love and violence, and her younger brother has take his love for Vera too far. C.J. is the stereotypical poor rich kid, a boy who doesn’t understand anything inside of him and tries everything he can to push down everything. Then Saint, poor Saint, the boy that they’re all in love with and who only wants to show everyone that he’s not like his father, but the violence constantly rises up inside him.

It’s no wonder that when Vera mentions jumping off a cliff in two weeks, they all jump at the chance.

The next two weeks pass in a blur of excitement and secrets. Everything that these kids have been trying to keep from each other comes pouring out in a gush of emotion. It’s difficult to sit back and watch them all implode by the stress and the unrequited love that is spurting through their veins. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away, so I’m giving you a warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Okay, did everyone leave? Good.

Vera is a rather heartbreaking character. Not because of her half-formed arm and hand, or because her father is a complete jerk who lives on power trips, but because of what she does to those around her. Her main reason for jumping off the cliff is because of her brother, Garth, whom she slept with one night, high on acid. Now Garth’s obsession with her has her at the breaking point, and she shoves him away constantly because she’s in love with Saint. Although she doesn’t really understand that at first. She teases him and uses him until there’s nothing left but for her to admit that she loves him.

Their love is the catalyst for the climax. C.J., only beginning to understand that he prefers boys over girls, shares one night with Saint, but that only fuels the fire. Kate, good, loyal Kate, loves Saint for his beautiful face and his equally beautiful soul. She knows nothing would ever happen between the two, but she still loves him with the fervor of a girl falling in love for the first time.

They’re all doomed, whether they know it or not.

I would put this under young adult, but I added the “ish” because there’s a lot of sexual scenarios, drug use, and destructive behavior. One of the characters is telling this story as memories from their past, so it’s adult-like in nature, but I think it’s a good representation of teenagers from the late 1960s: the wildness, the freedom, the wanting something more from what you have. Isn’t that what being a teenager at any time is like?

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Wow! It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? I wish I could say that I’ve been busy with really cool stuff, but that would be a big fat lie. My mornings have been dedicated to writing and job searching, and my nights have revolved around dinner, Fargo, and American Gods. I mean, that should count for something.

But that means I’m packing some books into this blog for the next two weeks. I have one today, and then two more this week. Next week, I’ll have two more for you, so get ready for some serious gushing and reflection because the books I’ve read have been kind of all over the board.

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Title: Hold Back the Stars {304 pgs.}

Genre: Futuristic Fiction

Publication Date: May 23, 2017

Summary:

A man and a woman revisit memories of their love affair on a utopian Earth while they are trapped in the vast void of space with only ninety minutes of oxygen left.

After the catastrophic destruction of the Middle East and the United States, Europe has become a utopia and, every three years, the European population must rotate into different multicultural communities, living as individuals responsible for their own actions. While living in this paradise, Max meets Carys and immediately feels a spark of attraction. He quickly realizes, however, that Carys is someone he might want to stay with long-term, which is impossible in this new world.

As their relationship plays out, the connections between their time on Earth and their present dilemma in space become clear. When their air ticks dangerously low, one is offered the chance of salvation—but who will take it?

This book was crazy. Let’s just preface this review with that.

Max and Carys live in a world where part of the world has been utterly destroyed by war and asteroids, space travel and chips in skin are the norm, and those in Europe rotate homes in order to understand as many cultures as possible. People speak more than five languages and they compete in games against Olympic athletes. Mostly, this system works, but when Max and Carys fall in love – disregarding the rule that says no one can enter a serious relationship until age 35 – they decide that they need to take drastic measures to be with one another.

The chapters bounce around, from Max and Carys now in space to their memories of how they met and how they came to be together. The romantic portion of the book – the past – makes you forget the space part, where you’re always met with how many minutes of air the two have left. It’s startling and breaks your heart each time you’re reminded that this isn’t a sweet, romantic story where the two characters will overcome their differences and get together at the end. No, the two characters are in space, with limited air, with no one around to help.

Out of the two, I was really drawn to Carys. She’s a perfectionist, and she tries to be the best in everything that she does. But she doesn’t really enjoy the restrictions and rules of this new world. From what I could understand, children are entered into the rotations at young ages in order to better acclimate themselves to this system. But Carys didn’t enter until she was eighteen, shunning this lifestyle and staying with her family in one place. She does what she does in order to survive, to be the best in her rotation, but she sticks to her ideals and tells Max that his family – a family that helped set up the rotation system – is wrong and that maybe people should be able to choose their own lives rather than have them chosen for them.

Carys is awesome.

But that doesn’t mean that Max is a pushover. No way. Max believes in the system and his family, but he knows that he loves Carys and is willing to do whatever he can in order to be with her. She opens up his eyes to the world around him and he breaks through the repetition of going to clubs and working at his family’s store. He changes drastically through the story, because he wants to, not because Carys bullies him into believing what she wants him to believe.

This is the reason why you cheer so hard for these two.

I sped through this book because I wanted to know what happened at the end, and I’ll be honest: I skipped toward the end at one point because I wanted to be sure that Max and Carys were okay. Let me give you a hint: DON’T DO THAT. I came to a part that needs context to be understood, and I was so freaking confused. But what you CAN DO is read this book, because it’s beautifully written and the characters are so real feeling.

Just, you know, bring tissues, okay? Just…because.