Book Review: The Year They Fell by David Kreizman

The Year They Fell
David Kreizman

I was in the mood for a Young Adult book so I picked up The Year They Fell by David Kreizman at the library. It’s a teenage drama about five former friends whose lives suddenly change the day their parents head off to an island vacation. The plane crashes and there are no survivors.

Josie, Jack, Archie, Harrison and Dayana were great friends in preschool, but that was a long time ago. Now about to start senior year of high school, their lives are vastly different. Twins Josie and Jack hang with the fast crowd, but Archie, Harrison and Dayana are awkward outsiders to that world.

Josie and Jack may seem perfect, but they have their demons. Josie, queen of the social scene, has a terrible secret. Jack is a hulking football star with a violent temper. The others also struggle. Archie clings to his sketch pad and wonders how he fits into his adoptive white family. Harrison’s dad abandoned him and his mom and he suffers from major anxiety. Dayana’s parents aren’t getting along and she pops pills to cope. In addition, past dynamics from years ago interfere with their current relationships.

As the former friends awkwardly circle each other, Harrison launches an investigation. Soon the group must confront painful details about their parents’ lives. Harrison determines the crash might not be an accident and tries to convince the others with his extensive research.

I enjoyed this fast read, set in River Bank, New Jersey, a town I hadn’t heard of, but was surprised to find in a familiar part of the Jersey shore. In addition to the tragedy, the author packs a lot of major developments and problems into these high schoolers! Probably not realistic and that is my one gripe with the story. The high school setting and dialogue seemed true to life, but I hope no sample set of high schoolers has this many things to deal with.

In addition to suffering tragic loss, Kreizman introduces important themes into his story, including love, friendship, sexual identity, family relationships, fitting in, anxiety, sexual abuse, and drug addiction. While these are all important, I think the story would have been better if the author focused on fewer issues. As a result, the story reads more like a soap opera. Pretty interesting because Kreizman used to write for television soap operas and even spent time as a writer for the WWE. I laughed when I read that because those plots are really over the top!

Despite these comments, I’d still recommend The Year They Fell as an engaging story with modern themes and plenty of teen angst. I also love the cover and think the title is great because it makes potential readers wonder what the story will be.

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What’s That Book? The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson



Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

Author:  Lindsey Lee Johnson

Genre: Adult Literary Fiction

Rating:  ****

What’s it about?  Debut novel (2017) about privileged high schoolers from a wealthy suburb of San Francisco.  The story centers around eight high school kids and a new English teacher who tries to connect with them.

It has been three years since the suicide of their eighth grade classmate, Tristan Bloch, and while they have moved on, each is saddled by complex feelings of guilt.  Abigail is a super achiever, Ryan a heartthrob baseball player.  Emma is driven to dance, Nick is an unscrupulous moneymaker, and Elisabeth is a stunning beauty.  Dave must meet his parents’ expectations and Damon has landed in rehab.  And the biggest burden of grief falls on Callie, who reinvents and loses herself in a numbing transformation.

While these may sound like typical advantaged and spoiled teenagers, Johnson does a terrific job developing her characters and defining their painful adolescence, showing that money cannot fix feelings, families or relationships.  Johnson also points to the superficial and damaging effects of social media and its often destructive role in friendships.  She gives the reader a sometimes shocking look into the secret lives of teenagers.

As the friends move through their junior and senior years, a series of dangerous developments threatens to break some and free others, with an imperfect but satisfying finish.

The story is loaded with excellent imagery, one of Johnson’s strongest points, adding that extra layer of quality writing that I love to see.

How did you hear about it?  I saw an online book review and wanted to read it.  I enjoy reading about high school kids because of all the changes they face in a compressed period of time.

Closing comments:  I like books about groups of friends and how their relationships change over time.  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is an excellent story about seeming stereotypes with unique, realistic and modern problems.  Johnson also gives her characters the universal teenage challenge of both fitting in and being comfortable in their own skin.  It reminds me of the 1985 movie, St. Elmo’s Fire (even though those friends are recent college grads) and one of my favorite books, The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer.

Contributor:  Ginette

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Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

reconstructing amelia
Reconstructing Amelia

Kimberly McCreight


“If you think you know what your teenagers are doing on social media, you’d better think again.”  That’s what Kate Baron might have said in the end, long after her daughter Amelia’s shocking death and the investigation that followed.  Kate’s discoveries of the cyber circles in which Amelia had become entangled reveal a world Kate could have never imagined, full of cliques, vicious gossip, exclusive clubs and secret initiations.

Reconstructing Amelia is Kimberly McCreight’s debut novel about the secret life of teenagers at Grace Hall, an elite private school in Brooklyn.  Her story begins on the day of Amelia’s death and continues through the months that follow while Kate tries to understand what happened to the girl she thought she knew.

Kate already knows that something is wrong when she’s called out of an important meeting at work to retrieve her daughter.  Amelia, a gifted high school student and talented athlete, has been suspended for cheating, effective immediately.  As she rushes to the school to pick up her daughter, Kate braces herself for a meeting with Amelia and the headmaster.  But there will be no meeting because Amelia, she is carefully told, has fallen off the roof of the building.

Amelia’s death is ruled an “impulsive suicide” and, just as Kate begins to face her new reality, she receives an anonymous text:  “Amelia didn’t jump.”

Kate knows in her heart these words are true and, with the help of a police detective, she immerses herself in her daughter’s secret internet life.  They pore over emails, Facebook posts, and text messages and try to piece together the events that led to Amelia’s death.  In addition, a snarky gossip blog and a pile of hate notes hint at bullying and secret clubs.  But who is responsible?

In some ways, Reconstructing Amelia is a coming-of age-story, for both mother and daughter.  In the weeks before her death, Amelia faces many decisions about friendship, love and fitting into a world she is just beginning to understand.  And in the months after her death, Kate must make peace with her own decisions and move forward.

McCreight builds a suspenseful story on an interesting premise and I enjoyed reading this fast-paced story because of its many twists and turns.  Readers may become frustrated, however, with partially-developed leads and an overabundance of questionable character motives that muddle up the storyline without purpose.  Equally frustrating are a good number of typos and grammar errors, taking away from the reading experience.

That said, I liked the book for its ideas and pace, making it a light, entertaining read.

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We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

we are not ourselves.jpg
We Are Not Ourselves

Matthew Thomas


We Are Not Ourselves is a look inside a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a story about how a husband, wife and son cope with the overwhelming challenges they face and with a heartbreaking illness that grinds to its inevitable finish.

By the time she meets Ed Leary, Eileen Tumulty has already decided what she wants out of life and that is to escape from the Woodside, Queens neighborhood where she grew up. As the daughter of hard-working, but hard-drinking Irish parents in a loveless marriage, Eileen spent most of her childhood propping up her mother and running the household.

Once married, Eileen’s dreams of an elegant home seem within reach. She is a successful nurse. Ed is a brilliant research scientist and she can already envision where his career path will take them. A baby boy, Connell, completes the picture. What Eileen doesn’t foresee is Ed’s resistance to change. He’s happy where he is, first as a tireless and hyper-focused researcher and then as a professor at a community college, intent on making his mark right there.

This is a story in itself, full of complicated family dynamics and marital conflict, but when Ed is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the Leary family changes into something else. Once again, the burden falls on Eileen to step up and make key family decisions, including the most important one, how long to keep Ed at home.

I was drawn into We Are Not Ourselves because of this story set-up. Thomas has a simple, sometimes clipped, but often elegant writing style. He includes a lot of side characters and scenes, however, which plump the book up to its hefty 623 pages. It’s hard not to question these digressions, including a good deal of baseball references, most appreciated by fans, but extraneous to others. Side plots, such as Connell’s stint as a doorman and Eileen’s visits to a series of cult-like therapy sessions, have only loose connections to the plot. In addition, a long rant about the American healthcare system seems contrived and preachy.

Despite its length, the main characters, especially Eileen and Connell, remain undeveloped, which makes it hard to identify with them. Because the reader knows little else about Eileen’s emotions, her drive for a better life merely comes across as selfish, cold and judgmental. Connell is equally self-absorbed and unable to do his part. It’s tempting to give him the teenager’s pass for being irresponsible, but there’s just not enough in his character to warrant it. Thomas leaves a frustrating gap between all three characters and when he does bring them together, their emotional connections are hard to believe.

Ed is the center of the story and is the most developed character. Even before his diagnosis, it’s easier to sympathize with him when Eileen tries to push him around. That also makes it easy to dislike her and Connell. Maybe that’s the whole point of the book’s construction, to force the reader to focus on Ed. And perhaps that’s why Eileen and Connell are such flat characters. I guess I just wanted to like someone in the story. The only one who came close was Ed.

Criticism aside, I did enjoy the book and there were many moving sections and telling dialogue, where only a few words make a great point, one of Thomas’s obvious talents. Here’s a great example.

When Ed receives his diagnosis, right away, Eileen says they need to get a second opinion. Ed’s response says it all, revealing a keen sense of self-awareness:

We don’t need a second opinion. He’s the second opinion.

Another favorite scene is when Ed and Eileen are at Macy’s. Ed is intent on buying her a dress for Christmas. He wants to surprise her, but Eileen has to help. His ability to communicate has already begun to crumble, but he puts his words just right:

‘I like you in blue,’ he said. The simplicity of the declaration put an ache in her chest. He directed no animosity at her for having rescued him in the transaction. He seemed to feel only a naked desire to please. He was being stripped of pride, of ego, ruined, destroyed. He was also being softened.

Scenes in the nursing home are equally moving, giving the reader insight into the meaning of Ed’s limited words, some of them heartbreaking. I think this is the strongest part of the book. And the most beautiful part of the book is Ed’s letter to Connell. While a reminder that there are no guarantees in life is nothing new, Ed has the best advice for his son:

What matters most right now is that you hear how much I want you to live your life and enjoy it. I don’t want you to be held back by what’s happened to me.

A good message and Connell will try to take it to heart.

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What’s That Book? Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements

Things Not Seen

Title: Things Not Seen

Author: Andrew Clements

Genre: Young Adult

Rating: 4 stars

What’s it about? Things Not Seen is about fifteen-year-old Bobby Phillips, who wakes up one morning to discover that he is invisible.

Bobby is thrust into independence when his parents are hurt in a car accident and he must stay alone while they recover. Keeping his condition secret, he travels through the city of Chicago unnoticed and, along the way, forms an unlikely friendship with a girl he meets in the University library. He and his family learn a great deal about themselves and their relationships as they try to understand and reverse what has happened to make Bobby invisible.

How did you hear about it? I saw it on a middle school summer reading list and I liked the twist of someone being invisible. I also liked the cover because it made me wonder what was happening in the picture.

Closing comments: I liked this coming-of-age story. It has a science-fiction spin that makes it modern and, surprisingly realistic!

Contributor:  Ginette

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Short story review from Best American Short Stories 1994: “Hammam” by Carol Anshaw

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from the 1994 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Tobias Wolff.

Carol Anshaw

Rating: 5 out of 5.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading short fiction so much is because of the way authors make the reader jump right into a story and then a little bit later, jump back out. “Hammam” is a good example of this technique and I’m left wondering what will become of the three characters Carol Anshaw has sketched for me.

Carmen has been dating Rob for a few months and now she’s on a trip to Paris with him. Rob, a troubleshooter for a chain of hair salons, is on the trip to check on the Paris franchises. Accompanying them is Heather, Rob’s passive-aggressive and closed-up teenage daughter, who is taking time off from school because of an “ailment” that Carmen suspects is an eating disorder.

Before Rob leaves for a meeting, he asks Carmen to spend the afternoon with Heather. “Don’t make it look as though we’ve talked, as though you’re chaperoning. Just…if you could pretend to be interested. Whatever it is.” Carmen groans to herself, knowing they won’t be going to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre, that Heather will be choosing something different and edgy from her Hip Pocket Guide to Paris.

Heather picks a hammam, a Turkish steam bath, “probably the worst idea…out of all the terrible ideas in her guidebook” and Carmen, who is painfully modest, wonders how she will manage with just a small towel in a bath full of strangers.

Something different happens, however. Carmen’s apprehension fades when she sees Heather’s shockingly bony frame which has been hidden under a defensive arrangement of black leather and jeans. As they move through the sauna rooms, Carmen watches Heather disappear in the steam and for a few moments they are lost from the world in the depths of the hammam. A strange connection between them results, something Carmen views as a beginning.

It’s a loose bond that seems forgotten at dinner, however, where Heather’s food issues are most obvious. An awkward conflict results and Rob must take sides. Despite Rob’s efforts to keep the three of them together, the dinner and the story end with a big question mark.

Anshaw provides just enough character details to leave them on the edge of a situation and now it’s up to the reader to finish the story. I like that!

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What’s up next? When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde

When I Found You

It’s been a busy day today, and the activity is not over yet!   But when all the dust settles, I’m looking forward to starting When I Found You, by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The story is about a middle-aged man, Nathan, who is out duck hunting and finds a newborn baby boy. Nathan and his wife are childless and he hopes to adopt the boy, but the baby’s grandmother emerges and takes custody. Nathan makes the grandmother promise she will one day introduce the boy to Nathan as the man who rescued him, and life goes on.

Fifteen years pass and things haven’t gone well for the grandmother and the boy, who is now a difficult teenager.  At her wit’s end, she brings her delinquent grandson to Nathan’s doorstep, and hands him over. Nathan vows to never give up on the boy, but years of hard times are ahead, including a life-changing trauma.

Catherine Ryan Hyde (photo from
Catherine Ryan Hyde (photo from

Catherine Ryan Hyde is a prolific writer of novels and short stories.  She is the author of 28 published and forthcoming books, including Pay It Forward, which was adapted into a movie in 2000, and stars Haley Joel Osment, Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey.

Be sure to check out the Catherine Ryan Hyde website for more information about the author and a link to her blog.

Additional information is available on Hyde’s Amazon Author page:

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The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

the interestings picThe Interestings
Meg Wolitzer


What kind of book deserves a five-star rating? What it comes down to for me is how great I feel while I’m reading it, how deeply I relate to the characters, to the ideas they express and to the way these characters serve as symbols that represent multiple layers of themes.

Meg Wolitzer does all the things I love in The Interestings, a story that spans forty years and follows the lives of six talented teenagers who meet in 1974 at a summer camp for the arts. In the book, Wolitzer poses this central question: What is to be done with talent? And this story is how each of her characters struggles to balance talent with relationships, careers, family and happiness.

Wolitzer touches on many themes, particularly the complicated relationship between talent, success, money and happiness. At Spirit-in-the-Woods camp, Jules Jacobson is a newcomer to this precocious group. She soon discovers the niche of comedic acting. Ash Wolf is beautiful, a more serious actress. Her brother, Goodman, is big, handsome and charismatic, an aspiring architect, but he’s lazy. Cathy Kiplinger is a talented dancer. Jonah Bay is a gifted musician, the son of a famous folksinger. And at the core of these friends is Ethan Figman, awkward, heavy and unattractive. He’s a brilliant cartoonist who has a keen sense of what others are feeling and continues in that role throughout his life.

As the friends enter the adult world in New York, they start to understand that talent can only get them so far, that money and connections can be equally important. Some make it, some change course, some struggle desperately. Ethan’s Figland cartoon propels him to unimagined levels of success and the other characters watch with jaw-dropped amazement. But this isn’t just a story about six kids and their arty careers. It’s also a story about family, marriage, envy, depression, friendship and big secrets that threaten the ruin of everything they’ve built. It’s about work and the big machine of business. It’s about New York and “its unyielding surfaces.”

I’ll leave out the plot developments so you can enjoy The Interestings as much as I have. Instead, I’ll tell you why, in addition to what’s above, this is such a great read:

  • It’s extremely well-organized, with great early details that come into play much later.
  • It’s not a historical novel, but there are just enough historical references to anchor you to a certain period of time.
  • The social and political commentary is present, but not overbearing. I like knowing what the author thinks.
  • Many of the characters reach dramatic life-changing epiphanies and that really moved me.
  • There is a great payback scene that exceeded my expectations!
  • I love Ethan Figman, the way he thinks, feels and cares about his friends.
  • I also love the comparison between the marriages, how the roles change as situations shift.

Here are my favorite quotes from The Interestings:

This is Ethan talking to Jonah about the meaning of work and life:

Don’t be guided by some rigid philosophy. Make things. Play your guitar. Build robots. This is all we’ve really got, isn’t it? What else is there but basically building things until the day we die?

Here is a description of Ethan when he reaches his own epiphany:

Ethan had imagined his life was nearly perfect except for the flawed son; but the flaw was in the father.

This describes Jules as she thinks about how Ethan is her soulmate:

But she knew, you didn’t have to marry your soulmate, and you didn’t even have to marry an Interesting. You didn’t always need to be the dazzler, the firecracker…you could cease to be obsessed with the idea of being interesting…the definition could change; it had changed, for her.

And finally (warning – mild spoiler!), Jules and Dennis and how he comes back strong:

He willed the marriage back, and pulled his wife toward him. Dennis was present, still present, and this, she thought as she stayed landed against him, was no small talent.

This is my kind of book and I was so glad to finally read it. Have you already read The Interestings? Do you agree with me? I’ve read a lot of reviews and not all of them are positive. I’d love to hear what you think!

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Short story review from The American Tradition in Literature: “The Fastest Runner on Sixty-first Street” by James T. Farrell

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from The American Tradition in Literature, Fourth Edition.

“The Fastest Runner on Sixty-first Street”
James T. Farrell

I was looking for something different to read and found this short story in The American Tradition in Literature, a college anthology. Written in 1950, it’s the story of Morty Aiken, a fourteen-year-old boy, growing up in Chicago. He is well-known in his part of the city for his swift running and ice skating. He runs and moves for the sheer joy of feeling his body travel faster than anyone else. Morty enjoys the fame and popularity that comes with this athletic ability and has big dreams of being a star athlete in high school and college.

Morty’s speed earns him the respect of his gang of boys, but Morty is nearly oblivious to the racial tensions in his neighborhood and in the city. He can only think of running. The author introduces this tension first within Morty’s group of friends, who pick on Tony Rabuksi, a tough, but slow-witted Polish boy, calling him a “dirty Polack” and worse. The tensions shift when Morty and Tony become friends. With Morty’s speed and Tony’s size and strength, the two boys chase down and beat up boys who have been making fun of Tony. Tony gains acceptance and the two boys think they have accomplished something.

The hatred among the boys doesn’t stop, however; it only expands to the surrounding blocks, and fuels the idea of chasing down and beating up the boys in the black neighborhoods. Morty gets caught up in this mentality, full of pride at being the fastest, and blind to the meaning of what they are doing. It is this mistake that leads to a tragic but almost predictable ending.

Farrell has a simple, matter-of-fact style. These plain statements allow the reader to pick out the characters’ mistakes and the irony of their decisions. I enjoyed this style and think it enforces the impact of the story and the sad results of mob mentality.

James T. Farrell (1904 – 1979) was an American writer of fiction and poetry. Much of his writing is based on his experiences growing up and living in Chicago. One of his most famous works is the Studs Lonigan trilogy which was made into a film in 1960 and a television miniseries in 1979. Farrell was noted throughout his writing career for his ability to consistently write about the world of childhood and youth, and especially through a boy’s point of view.

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Snow Day Alert

Snow Day Alert

The call came in at 5:00 am,
I’ve answered quite a few,
It’s been a snowy winter,
I knew just what to do.

When I was once a girl in school,
We heard a different way,
A loud horn told our sleepy town,
There’d be no school that day.

Now I get an email,
And then an auto-call,
It’s posted on the website too,
The message goes to all.

And when I get that message,
My kids know what comes next.
I don’t go door-to-door upstairs.
I tell them with a text!

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