We Are All Made of Molecules

  • Author: Susin Nielsen
  • Publisher: Random House/Wendy Lamb Books               Pub date: May 2015
  • Intended for: Ages 12+
  • Perfect for: Anyone who likes a good character-driven story.

We Are All Molecules cover

My lovely sister-in-law Colleen gave me a galley of this book to read, for which I am very thankful. I’m so glad I picked up this book because I was immediately drawn into the story, and especially the characters.

Susin Nielsen is really good at creating characters. There is a sizable cast in We Are All Made of Molecules and Nielsen is adept at creating characters that are fleshed out enough so that we understand what they are all about, and readers grow to care for them all on an individual level, even when they aren’t the main characters. It’s her ability to create such realistic characters that make this story what it is.

Stewart is a gifted, late-blooming 13-year-old who is still filled with grief following the death of his mother a couple of years prior. Ashley is an uber popular 14-year-old who is still filled with anger following the divorce of her parents (due to her father coming out) a year or so prior.

The story is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoint of both Stewart and Ashley. Their lives intersect because Stewart and his father move into Ashley and her mother’s house due to the fact that the father and mother started dating a while ago and things are now serious.

So, that means Stewart has to leave behind the house he grew up in with his mother. And not only that, but Stewart had been attending a school for gifted kids and he is now starting at a normal high school (the one Ashley attends) in order to try and become more social, which he is doing in part because he thinks doing so would make his mother proud. But starting at a new high school is easier said than done because he is a small, nerdy-looking kid who has to try and fit in with kids who don’t just look older than he is, but actually are older because Stewart has been moved up a grade.

Ashley certainly doesn’t appreciate her life being interrupted by Stewart and his dad. Mostly because she doesn’t want to be associated with her geeky kinda step-brother. Also because said boy knows about Ashley’s dad being gay, which Ashley is trying desperately to keep a secret because she thinks her peers will make fun of her.

What I like about the characters in this story is that they have a lot of growth. Stewart is able to see that he can be courageous and have friends even though he is small in stature and interested in the more intellectual side of life. Ashley is able to see the people in her life for what they are, both good and bad. She also gains self-awareness, understanding that the way she treats people can in turn affect the way she is treated. Their growth feels very natural and the story unfolds at a great pace—I didn’t want to put the book down!

But while I liked the characters and the story a great deal, I will say that I wish things didn’t come to such a quick and pat ending. The emotions and situations both Stewart and Ashley have to deal with throughout the book are well written and not rushed, but then it feels like the ending just got slapped onto the story, like, “Here you go…we want everything to turn out well and to have everyone learn what they needed to learn.” That was a bit disappointing, but not enough to deter me from recommending it. The characters and writing are strong enough to support the book despite its (in my opinion) rather stuck-on ending.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

  • Author: 12 of them!
  • Editor: Stephanie Perkins
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin                      Pub date: 2014
  • Intended for: Ages 12+
  • Perfect for: Anyone who likes short stories. Anyone who likes holiday-themed stories. Anyone who likes a good, solid anthology.

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I’m happy to say that I got this book as a gift from my Secret Santa for Christmas. My Secret Santa turned out to be my sister-in-law Colleen. Yup, the Colleen who manages and buys for Atticus Bookstore in New Haven. As you may have heard me say in the past, she is really good at picking out books for people. So needless to say, she did a fantastic job picking out my Christmas gift.

To put it plainly, My True Love Gave to Me is a really lovely book. It is a collection of holiday-themed short stories written by 12 talented young adult authors: Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Jenny Han, Gayle Foreman, David Levithan, Kelly Link, Kiersten White, Stephanie Perkins, Myra McEntire, Matt de la Pena, and Laini Taylor. The stories definitely run on the romantic side, but romance isn’t the only theme in the stories—there is finding family, helping others, chance meetings, discovering the magic of the holiday season, and remembering to believe in holiday magic. And it’s not so much the theme of the stories that made the book such a good read—it was the writing. These authors sure know how to tell a great story, and the book was a good introduction to a few authors who I hadn’t read before.

I’m so glad I got the book for Christmas and that I read it between Christmas and New Year’s because I think it was the perfect time for it (although the weeks leading up to Christmas wouldn’t be so bad either.) Reading the stories left me with a really nice holiday feeling. I would stop every once in a while as I was reading and just close the cover and touch the book. It has a pretty cover, and both the cover and the pages have a nice feel to them—overall it’s a nice book to have in hand (as opposed to reading as an e-book).

And I must say that I’m particularly impressed with this anthology because usually in a collection of stories there are one or two (or more) that I just don’t care for, but there wasn’t a single bad one in this book. They were all interesting and tinged with holiday cheer. So quick…go read it now before it gets too far past the holidays. Or maybe even read it in July when you might need some off-season holiday spirit.

Year-end Wrap-up

What would the end of the year be without a list with numbers and superlatives? Let’s not think about that! Instead, here are my stats for the year:

Total books read: 106

Total children’s books read (including middle grade and YA): 78

Total adult books read: 28

Total picture books read: Countless!

Number of novels I started but didn’t finish for one reason or another: 21

 

As for my favorites…

Best of 2014 Collage 1

Favorite young adult novel: Buzz Kill by Beth Fantaskey (Just such a fun read.) A close second is 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith

Favorite middle grade novel: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Favorite graphic novel: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Favorite early chapter book: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

Favorite picture book: Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Favorite adult book: The Goldfinch by Donna Tart (Wow!)

Best of 2014 Collage 2

I would consider 2014 the year of the picture book. There were SO MANY fabulous picture books that came out this year. I am astounded by and appreciative of that fact. I reviewed some of my favorites on this blog, but there were so many more that were fun, beautiful, silly, and full of great thing for young readers. What a bounty of loveliness we had this year!

As far as young adult books were concerned, I hate to say it, but this year was a year of disappointments. I was looking forward to follow-up books from many authors whose previous books I loved and…the new books just really fell flat for me. And worse, it seemed like there were a large number of these disappointments. That was a huge bummer for me.

But on the sunny side, there were a number of wonderful surprises on the young adult front. There were a number of books that I didn’t know if I’d like that I ended up loving (Grasshopper Jungle, Half Bad, Summer on the Short Bus, I’m looking at you…).

There seemed to be a derth of middle grade books that didn’t have some magical/fantastical element (which aren’t my favorite) to them and therefore I read much fewer middle grade books than I would have liked to. I went out of my way looking for some middle grade books to read, but to no avail.

Early chapter books had a fabulous year in my opinion. The introduction of Dory Fantasmagory to the young readers mix still makes me smile and I can’t wait for the next book featuring this wonderful character. If you still haven’t checked out this book, I urge you to do it now. It’s like none other and is delightful through and through.

My Books to Read list is now up to five pages (from three), so it looks like 2015 will be another great year of books. I’m really looking forward to it!

Tell me…what books are you most looking forward to reading in the new year?