Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell

On the surface, sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway is just another bright new student at Hawthorn Hill, a posh all-girls’ prep school north of London. Little do her classmates know that she recently ran away from home, where her father had spent years sexually abusing her. Nor does anyone know that she’s secretly cutting herself as a coping mechanism…until the day she goes too far and ends up in the hospital. 

Lesley spends the next two years in and out of psychiatric facilities, where she overcomes her traumatic memories and finds the support of a surrogate family. Eventually completing university and earning her degree, she is a social services success story—until she becomes unexpectedly pregnant in her early twenties. Despite the overwhelming odds she has overcome, the same team that saved her as an adolescent will now question whether Lesley is fit to be a mother. And so she embarks upon her biggest battle yet: the fight for her unborn baby.

I stared down at the smudgy tabletop, my eyes smarting, my chest cramping with the sudden pang of yearning to be more than a day-tipper in achievement country, to accomplish something concrete and easily validated rather than merely refrain from doing something fucked up.

Etched On Me had me it’s grips on me from the start of the book. It gives an unflinching look into issues such as mental health, self harm, sexual abuse, as well as the failures on the healthcare system and the bright spots, such as the character Gloria, trying to help from within the limits. The author is blatantly honest and the subject matter mentioned will take you on an emotional journey with the main character Lesley. The reader will genuinely root for her and pray that she makes it through her obstacles. You immediately want her to win in the beginning when she finally gets the courage to get help and escape from her abuser. She has to constantly deal with a part of herself that tells her she’s nothing. With every set back she experiences and every time she picks herself up you feel what she feels and her experiences become your own. This book leaves you emotionally raw and open will linger with you after you have read the very last page. I give this a 5/5 and absolutely recommend it for a read.

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Searching For Sky by Jillian Cantor

Sky and River have always lived on Island, the only world they’ve ever known. Until the day River spots a boat. Across Ocean, in a place called California, Sky is separated from River and forced to live with a grandmother she’s just met. Here the rules for survival are different. People rely on strange things like cars and cell phones. They keep secrets from one another. And without River, nothing makes sense. Sky yearns for her old life where she was strong and capable, not lost and confused. She must find River so they can return to Island, but the truth behind how they ended up there in the first place will come as the biggest shock of all.

“Sky,” River whispers in my hair now. I’m almost asleep, my mother and Helmut so close that I can almost touch them. River’s voice is hazing and raw, and I wonder if he’s almost asleep, too. “Hmmm,” I whisper back.
“I saw something today.”
“What?” I ask him. I am so full and tired that I can barely move my lips to make a sound. I think about my mother’s bracelet, the way the pink shes feel cool and smooth against the bars flesh of my arm. “A boat,” River says, just as I am on the cusp of dreaming. “I think I saw a boat.”

Searching for Sky was slow moving for me at first. In the beginning it actually reminded me of a watered down version of The Blue Lagoon if they had found civilization so it took a little while for me to really open up to the story. I’m pleased that I stuck with it because it was a really beautiful coming of age tale but there were quite a few things that feel short for me and the made the book a miss. Sky is the main character and her best friend and only person in her world is River. When they are “rescued” from their island they are thrust into a world that is so opposite from what they’ve known their entire lives. Sky is desperate to go back to her island and having a hard time adjusting to this new life with a new name (Megan) everyone insist on calling her. All she wants is for River and her to return home. As she begins to learn more about her mother and the reasons they ended up on the island her life takes a devastating turn. The things she learns and experience are so heartbreaking and you want nothing more than for her to find her way. I found myself taking the journey with her and felt her anger, frustrations, and sadness. I found myself going back and fourth as to what I wanted to happen for her. Her whole character is based on the fact that she lived on island with no contact from civilization and there was no real depth to her.  Her ability to showcase the culture shock that Sky experienced when going to California was hilarious as Sky leaned the proper way to use the bathroom but I felt like the author could have done more. As a reverse dystopia it feel really short me in that sense. I did like how the author gradually showed how Sky became more and more desensitized to her new surroundings and how she became stuck between being Sky and being Megan.

From the small amount that we eventually learn about River I was really sad for him. I think his story and experiences would’ve been more interesting to read and the book would’ve benefited from being told by both of their perspectives. Overall, it was an alright read for me. I think I ruined it by expecting too much from the story beforehand. I would it give it  2/5 rating. This is definitely a book for 12+ year olds. They would really get the most out of the story.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive.

In a perfect world mothers would all want their babies, and strangers would open up their homes to the unloved. In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”

Unwind was a read like nothing I’ve come across so far. It will stay with you and have you thinking long after the last page has been read. Before reading this book I didn’t think I would like it. I felt like the concept of unwinding was just so out there that there was no way the author would be able to make this believable.  What I thought was really amazing was that the author was able to build tension in the story without all the action scenes and plot twist after plot twist. The whole idea of unwinding and the fact that the reader doesn’t find out what the actual process consist of is enough tension by itself. The world building was so spot on that after I started reading I didn’t question whether or not it was possible because I was in too engrossed in the story. I really thought Shusterman was brilliant in raising questions on pro life and pro choice without taking a side or forcing the reader to pick a side. Instead he raised important questions like when does an unborn child have a soul? At conception or when it’s first loved by the parent? When giving up a child does the parent feel guilt or relief afterwards? The book wasn’t so much about death as it was the human consciousness. It also tackles issues such as religion, terrorism, politics, and ageism. The switching point of view between the characters made it hard to connect with them in the beginning but the collision course they end up on is so shocking and sets off a series of events that can possibly change their world. This book also contains one of the most disturbing scenes I have read in a YA even for one in the dystopian genre. I recommend this book as well as the sequel UnWholly which can both be found at Amazon.com. I give this a 5/5 rating.