A Danger to Herself and Others by Alyssa Sheinmel

I’m very claustrophobic. Like, if my boyfriend pulls a blanket over my head, I lash out. It’s not pretty. But I’m also not one of those readers who feel claustrophobic when reading a book set in a small space. Well, I guess I should say, I wasn’t one of those readers before I read this.

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Title: A Danger to Herself and Others {352 pages}

Genre: YA Mystery/Suspense

Publication Date: February 5, 2019

Summary:

Four walls. One window. No way to escape. Hannah knows there’s been a mistake. She didn’t need to be institutionalized. What happened to her roommate at her summer program was an accident. As soon as the doctors and judge figure out that she isn’t a danger to herself or others, she can go home to start her senior year. In the meantime, she is going to use her persuasive skills to get the staff on her side.

Then Lucy arrives. Lucy has her own baggage. And she may be the only person who can get Hannah to confront the dangerous games and secrets that landed her in confinement in the first place.

Review:

When I read the summary of this book, I was immediately interested. I thought that this would be a thriller that would leave me breathless. It did, but not in the way that a thriller would.

Hannah begins her story in a institution, pacing her tiny room while she wonders when her parents are going to take her out of there since she very obviously does not belong. Sure, her roommate fell out of a window and Hannah was the only one there, but that doesn’t mean Hannah pushed her. So she’s stuck in this institution with no way out, but then Lucy arrive and Hannah knows that she’s her out. Hannah can use her to show the doctors what a great friend she can be, and then they’ll send her right home. It’s the prefect plan, except for one thing: Lucy is the key to everything that will unravel Hannah.

It’s so difficult to talk about this book without giving away anything. I guess let’s lay down the basics: this is about mental health, Hannah is very troubled, and none of the horrifying situations that happen in this book are her fault. As her story unfolds, we learn about a rich Upper East side girl, the kind of girl that Gossip Girl had been made about. Her parents traveled all over the world, taking Hannah with them and leaving her for hours at a time in her own hotel room. She’s always had best friends, girls that she can mold into anyone she wants, and she’s never been the type to take no for a first – or even second – answer. Hannah is strong-willed and brilliant. Hannah is also beginning to understand herself better.

****SKIP TO THE END IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED****

When writing about the things that the brain does – and can do – to us, there’s this fine line of creating believable situations that will remain believable once the twist comes. In this case, once Hannah learns about her diagnosis, the reader goes back through the book to see the hints, like we’re trying to pick it apart so we can point to a black hole and tell the author that Hannah couldn’t have created these friends because look right here! But then you notice the fact that Lucy never speaks to anyone else. The doctor seems to ignore her completely when she walks into the room. Lucy escapes the hospital with little fanfare and makes it back inside. Even Jonah, who we only learn about through Hannah’s memories, doesn’t seem to interact with anyone other than her, even when he’s with his supposed girlfriend. Hannah has created a world so whole and real that there are no black holes that we can point to.

This was beautifully written, and not just the prose. Alyssa Sheinmel approached this topic with care, and never once did it seem like she was being unnecessary cruel to Hannah or her illness. She wove the story about Hannah and her illness, creating situations that seemed real and honest, while still remaining faithful to mental health. Hannah was not a cliché. She was the kind of teenager that we might encounter at Starbucks or see at school. But she’s sick, and that doesn’t always show outwardly. Does that make her different? Yes, but it doesn’t make her the kind of monster that others thought she was.

Basically, if you’re ready to cry and want to figure out a mystery at the same time, A Danger to Herself and Others is for you.

You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman

I’m always a sucker for YA books told in or around schools. Mostly because I loved school when I was younger and reading about it makes me yearn for the days when my biggest worry was a paper due by the end of the week. I wish I could say that this book made me remember the less stressful days of being a kid, but…yeah, no. My heart rate was through the roof reading about Ariel Stone.

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Title: You Asked for Perfect {288 pages}

Genre: YA Fiction

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Summary:

Senior Ariel Stone is the perfect college applicant: first chair violin, dedicated community volunteer, and expected valedictorian. He works hard – really hard – to make his life look effortless. A failed Calculus quiz is not part of that plan. Not when he’s number one. Not when his peers can smell weakness like a freshman’s body spray.

Figuring a few all-nighters will preserve his class rank, Ariel throws himself into studying. His friends will understand if he skips a few plans, and he can sleep when he graduates. Except Ariel’s grade continues to slide. Reluctantly, he gets a tutor. Amir and Ariel have never gotten along, but Amir excels in Calculus, and Ariel is out of options.

Ariel may not like Calc, but he might like Amir. Except adding a new relationship to his long list of commitments may just push him past his limit.

Review:

I’m going to be the first to admit that I was not an ambitious student. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and so I kind of dabbled in everything, not really concentrating on college prep courses or AP classes. Most high school characters in books today are in mostly AP classes or are dealing with a thousand tests to get into a high-ranking college, but they were all put to shame by one Ariel Stone.

On paper, Ariel is perfection. His grades are impeccable, he’s extra-curriculars are extraordinary {I’m giving Ariel my perfection}, and he does all this while appearing effortlessly unstressed. But it’s all an act. When he fails one test, everything suddenly spirals out of control, and Ariel throws himself deeper into studying. When he realizes that studying all night a few times a week (four times a week is a few, right?}, he decides to get a tutor. And so enters Amir. Beautiful, beautiful Amir who had me – and, really, Ariel – at hello. Amir and Ariel learn to work together in order to get Amir’s life back on track, but how much can one teenager take on before he’s pushed to the breaking point?

This book will make you absolutely paranoid that you have a million things to do and aren’t doing them because you’re reading this book. I would honestly get up a few times during a reading session and look around the house, wondering what I hadn’t done, because there couldn’t be something that didn’t need attention in my house. This is Ariel’s life. He is in a constant state of paranoia, because he doesn’t just want to become valedictorian and get into a good school, he needs to. His parents are always bragging about him and where he’s going to go, and how he’s the perfect son. Ariel knows that he can’t let them down, so he pushes himself to the very limit until he breaks. It’s hard to read sometimes. I kept flipping the pages, knowing that I was getting closer and closer to a breaking point and then…I did. And when I did, it was not what I was expecting, because it was even more heartbreaking.

Adults put so much pressure on children, and we explain it by saying that it’s in their best interest. I work with tiny kids, and whenever parents come to ask if their three-year-old can be in activities that will keep them busy for hours each day after school, I know my job is to sign them up. Still, I can’t stop myself from pointing out their child’s age and suggesting – oh so gently – that maybe they should wait a little while before signing up their toddler for private piano lessons.

So even though I didn’t live through Ariel’s story, I felt it so hard.

When we stepped away from the stressful nature of high school – those rare moments – we got a glimpse of Ariel and Amir being just teenagers. They hang out, listen to music, act like kids. Ariel helps his friends in a band. Amir takes pictures of his sister’s soccer games. They’re sweet and good and normal. But even their personal lives are tainted by the stress they feel from school and the outside world. But still. They’re absolutely adorable, and that’s what we should focus on. For right now. Before we have to get started on that to-do list that never ends.

You Asked for Perfect is beautiful and sweet and completely real. Laura Silverman has this amazing voice that makes me wonder if she’s secretly a teenager. Her characters are real and flawed, and they live their lives in a way that is so effortlessly honest.

She also wrote Rachel, Ariel’s little sister, and someone who can write Rachel can never go wrong. I love Rachel with my whole heart and I will fight anyone for her.