Life-Changing Love, by Theresa Linden

Theresa Linden weaves three story lines throughout this second volume of her West Brothers trilogy. At the conclusion of volume one—Roland West, Loner—Roland finds a measure of happiness with his new friends, especially Caitlyn. He and she enjoy hanging out without the pressures of a “relationship.” When Roland tells Caitlyn that he’s not ready to be her boyfriend, Caitlyn thinks that his feelings for her have cooled. Can Ronald and Caitlyn find what they have lost?

Caitlyn’s friend, Zoe, the most popular girl at school, begins to show Caitlyn “how to become popular.” To demonstrate, Zoe attracts the attention of Jarret, Roland’s brother. She sees Jarret as handsome, confident and hot.  The real Jarret lives to dominate and control everyone in his life. Can Zoe find happiness with Jarret or has she stepped into emotional quicksand?

Because Jarret had made Roland’s life miserable, as a punishment, their father takes Jarret’s twin, Keefe, to Italy, instead of his other sons. Once out of Jarret’s reach, Keefe’s worldview amplifies. Can Keefe become his own person and find life-changing love?

Of all of Theresa Linden’s characters, Jarret West represents the ultimate Machiavellian as he schemes to bend the lives of Roland, Caitlyn, Keefe and especially Zoe so that he gets what he wants, regardless of the cost or damage. Jarret is an “evil genius” with an innate ability to interpret behaviors and engineer emotional responses that favor his devious ploys. Can love change the direction of Jarret’s life?

Caitlyn shows tremendous depth and strength, especially when Jarret attempts to manipulate and embarrass her. She comes to know her parents and the reasons for their concerns and the limitations they place on her.

Readers of volume one will welcome the return of Peter and Toby, the clear-sighted brothers who have Jarret’s number and give him all the grief they can.

As usual, Theresa Linden’s lively plots and palpable characters make for a compelling read. She shows imagination, intrigue, and originality in yet another novel. Volume three is on the way.

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Surviving High School, by Lele Pons with Melissa de la Cruz

Social media has become the message in several recent fictional works. The plot of Ngozi Adichie’sAmericanah, for instance, recounts the development of a commercially successful blogger, with some chapters take the form of blog posts. Surviving High School traces the spectacular journey of “Vine” impresario, Lele Pons. It serves as a verbal interpretation of her Vines—short, looping videos, like video tweets. Almost eleven million people follow Lele’s Vines. Her collection has set a world record for the number of “loops” or repeats.

Although Lele writes within the context of surviving the high school experience, she also unwraps a unique marketing strategy, adds a note of authenticity to young adult fiction, and shares her personal perspective on teen life in Miami with its over-the-top drama, anxiety, and elation.

She and co-author Melissa de la Cruz describe Surviving High School as a “fictional memoir” inspired by Lele’s life and her Vines. The story begins as Lele transfers to Miami High School as a junior. Any hopes for acceptance, let alone popularity, fade when her unconventional attire, her braces, and her lack of allies at school mark her as an outcast worthy of scorn. Nevertheless, Lele demonstrates remarkable buoyancy, because no one mocks her more completely than she does in her Vines. Bursting with creative energy, each day after school she writes, produces, acts in and publishes her videos online. As time passes, so many of her classmates watch her Vines that she gains the acceptance and popularity she craves.

To truly appreciate the book, view some of Lele’s Vines. The PG-rated slapstick and self-effacing content deliver moments of levity, naughty language, and sometimes a wry observation. For example, a chapter in her book describes the characteristics by which Latinas recognize each other—reggaeton (a kind of rough, monotone rapping in Spanish accompanied by dance moves), the telenovela slap, and loud cursing. Lele’s Vine, 3 Signs That Show a Person Is Latin, humorously demonstrates each feature.  After actress Cameron Diaz shared this particular Vine with her fans, thereby validating it, the number of Lele’s followers jumped from 6,000 to 600,000. Lele’s current followers number 10.9 million with 7 Billion views or “loops” of her Vines. Although she has achieved the popularity she sought, Lele has also learned the cost of celebrity and often pines for the days when she could merely hang out with her friends.

In June 2016, Lele Pons turns twenty. She works as a fashion model and aspires to become an actress. Her punishing physical comedy reminds me of Lucille Ball’s role in I Love Lucy. Should a studio revive Lucy, it might consider Lele as its star and rename the series, “I Love Lele.”

YA author and high school teen, Lele writes about herself and her friends. Clearly, Lele has something to teach older YA authors—whose stories are based on their own lost youth or the lives of their children—about the current iteration of teen life. Her writing and her Vines show today’s teens in action, with their language, values, and wardrobe. Although many of the videos feature pranks, others address issues of jealousy, relationships, and Lele’s observations on human behavior. Lele makes it a point to maintain a high personal moral standard, unlike characters in some YA novels. She also uses her celebrity to teach her followers kindness toward each other.

Surviving High School may entertain and subtly instruct YA readers, but it offers older readers and YA authors fresh insights to young adult characters and the role and value of Vines and other social media in marketing books.

 

Consider, by Kristy Acevedo

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Acevedo dazzles with her debut YA, sci-fi novel. Imaginative, insightful and exciting, Considerdraws the reader deeper and deeper through a one-way portal to another dimension—her clear and engaging style presents an open invitation to binge reading.

Today’s seventeen going on eighteen-year-old high schoolers suffer the usual teen maladies of terminal senioritis, hormonal imperatives, and family turmoil. Add to this traumatic brew anxiety disorder, a father’s PTSD, and an apparent alien visitation and you have the psyche of the protagonist, Alexandra Lucas.

Hundreds of vertices or interdimensional portals open around the world, each with a humanoid hologram that warns of an epoch-ending collision between Earth and an as yet undetected comet. The hologram offers a six month grace period where earthlings may escape imminent doom to a blissful parallel universe.

Conspiracy theorists, deniers, and interdenominational fundamentalists attack the notion of extraterrestrial migration while potential suicides, down-and-outers, and adventures line up at the vertices, ready to travel. Alex’s focus shifts from decisions about where she’ll apply to college and how far she should go with Dominick, her boyfriend to should she stay on Earth and how far she should go with Dominick.

Consider sails with Alex through the storms of her ramped-up anxiety disorder and her attempts to lead a normal life despite the impact of the hologram’s message on her family, friends, and the general population. The subtext of Consider explores the nature of anxiety disorder, the value of medications, counseling, nutrition and exercise—valuable information for readers of all ages. Might Alexandra’s life filled with panic attacks equip her for a time when the entire planet goes berserk?

The author’s imagination explores society’s diverse reactions to the vertices. Consider its implications for prison overcrowding, credit card collection agencies and hate groups bent on ridding the world of their victims. Acevedo describes a society that must reassess its values. How useful are money, school, and employment when there’s no tomorrow? She caps her novel with an astounding climax—worthy of The Twilight Zone— that blazes the trail into the sequel. Read Consider for clues about the setting of volume 2—Earth or beyond the vertex.

The End of the Hunt, by Thomas Flanagan

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As Ireland marks the centennial of the Easter Rising, Thomas Flanagan’s nearly two thousand page trilogy—The Year of the French, The Tenants of Time, and The End of the Hunt—immerses readers in Ireland’s struggles between 1798 and 1923, culminating with the creation of the Irish Free State.

The Year of the French describes the ill-fated attempt by the “Dublin Directorate,” a cadre of nationalistic philosophers and poets that attempted to bring a version of the French Revolution to Ireland. French soldiers joined the poorly armed Fenians of County Mayo against the landlords and the constabulary. After an initial Fenian success, the English army surrounded the rebels. They took the French soldiers as prisoners of war and bayoneted the surviving Irishmen.

The Tenants of Time tells of a later uprising, led by Irish-Americans who shared their military acumen developed during the American Civil War.

The third volume, The End of the Hunt—with a cast of thousands, including dozens of historical characters speaking in their own words—addresses timely and universal issues, including oppression, terrorism, and compromise. The story begins after the Easter Rising but reflects on the Rising’s leading characters and events: the survivors, those that died, and importantly the widows of the fallen Fenians. It tracks the careers of guerrilla operatives and their evolving relations with the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, progressing to their eventual choice of sides in the Irish Civil War.

Although the history of the period is a matter of record, Thomas Flanagan re-presents the facts in flesh and blood, with romance, adventure, glory and tragedy. He rotates the narration and point of view among six characters, exposing many facets of complex issues. One narrator may build suspense leading to a critical event. The next may look back at the consequences of the event, rather than the event itself. Early on, point-of-view characters work in concert. Later, some wish the others harm.

The brightest thread among the interwoven stories features a romance between a Castle Catholic widow, Janice Nugent, and Christopher Blake. Janice craves excitement through a relationship with Blake, a suave Fenian “gunman” with close ties to Michael Collins, a leading figure in the Irish Republican Army. This romantic tragedy forms the final knot in the skein of stories, and features prominently in the haunting conclusion to The End of the Hunt.

The Easter Rising of 1916 was neither the origin of the Irish struggle for independence nor its conclusion. The Irish had endured 700 years of occupation, humiliation and genocide, “but an enduring people were becoming a risen people … able to conquer because they could suffer the most.” Padraig Pearse at the burial of O’Donovan Rossa declared, “They have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”  Within months “a Republic was proclaimed by Pearse from the steps of the GPO [General Post Office in Dublin], and it was ratified by his blood and the blood of the other men who were shot with him at Kilmainham [Gaol]” .

The English suppression of the Easter Rising of 1916, and the execution of sixteen of its leaders, gave rise to a unique reaction: a “different kind of war and a different kind of enemy. … Fellows with a few thousand rifles bringing an empire to its knees, an imperial army no less … .”  Unfortunately, these same Irish patriots were later to “fall fighting each other, killing each other.”

If the British Empire began with the capture of Ireland, then its demise began with Ireland’s liberation. A living nation, Ireland would rise from the graves of its martyrs. Prime Minister Lloyd George—his own government caught between the Tories, the Irish Republican Army and the demands of the Empire embroiled in World War I—confirmed Irish sentiments when he said, “Lose Ireland and the rot begins.”

The Fenians made a nuisance of themselves. Small, guerilla units—“flying columns”—waged an ugly war, and sooner or later, they hoped, the English would get tired of it and make a deal. When they ambushed their first lorry filled with RIC (Irish policemen working for the English), the Tories called them a “murder gang” and advocated the reincarnation of  Cromwellian genocide.

To compound Lloyd George’s difficulties, the flying columns of the IRA, which today might be called terrorist cells, continued their hit-and-run, take-no-prisoners attacks. They burned houses of loyalists and 258 abandoned RIC police stations. A massive attack on the Custom House in Dublin destroyed centuries of stored records belonging to nine government departments, wiping out England’s bureaucratic control of Ireland.

Both sides agreed to a truce and a potential solution to the seven centuries of England’s control of Ireland. Neither Éamon de Valera nor Michael Collins, leaders of the two factions on the Irish side, liked what Lloyd George and Winston Churchill had to offer—the division of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, both still bound to the King of England. They realized that Ireland would get no more than England would give. The alternative was to continue the war, but against a much larger and better organized British military. They also realized that those who fought and the widows of those who died would accept nothing less than a Republic. Furthermore, should the government of Lloyd George and Winston Churchill fall, a Tory-controlled Parliament would bring fire and the sword into Ireland.

A compromise could give the Irish freedom to run their own affairs. To the Republicans (as in IRA), compromise betrayed the sacrifices made in the name of the Irish Republic, proclaimed on the steps of the GPO during the Easter Rising.

Mick Collins led the delegation to London and eventually compromised, accepting the Irish Free State. The Tories considered him nothing more than a gunman, although liberal Englishman and the newspapers had developed a crush on Collins, as if he were a Twentieth Century Scarlet Pimpernel, a master of disguise and intrigue, the brains behind the “flying columns.”

De Valera led the debate against the Free State. Although the Provisional Irish Parliament approved it, factions of the IRA rebelled, leading to the Irish Civil War.

Flanagan’s storytelling charms the reader, although at times strays into a maze of seemingly unrelated prose. Elsewhere, clarity prevails in both the narration and dialogue. In the heel of the hunt—the final chapters—the reader feels the pain of separation from a host of tragic, but all too haunting characters who must remain locked between the covers of the book.