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The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Emma Saylor is one hundred percent okay with her clean, orderly, maybe a little predictable life with her dad and Nana in Lakeview.  Change makes her nervous anyway (maybe not quite as nervous as driving, which, new license or no, she is absolutely never doing, no matter how much her dad pushes her into it), and she likes everything to be organized, tidy, and exactly where it’s supposed to be.  Maybe it’s because she lost her mom to addiction when she was a kid, and her dad is all about careful and cautious (and clean teeth, but then, he’s a dentist), but Emma likes it when she knows she can be sure where everything – and everyone – is going to be.

So when her plans to stay with her best friend while her dad is on his honeymoon trip fall through at the last minute, Emma is more than a little frazzled.  But after the roller coaster ride that was life with her mom, she wants her dad to be happy, and she really like Tracy, her new stepmom, which means going to stay with her mom’s mom, Mimi, and her cousins, all of whom she last saw when she was four years old, at the lake is going to have to be okay.  Even if they’re virtually strangers.  Emma’s sure she’ll be fine  – after all, her mom told her tons of stories about the lake right up until she died.

When Emma gets to the lake, she finds a whole new world – one where she’s Saylor, not Emma.  One where everyone knows her, but she doesn’t know them.  One where everyone remembers her mom, and isn’t afraid to talk about her.  One that’s messy, and chaotic, and a little wild, and overflowing with family and new friends and love.  Full of cousins, childhood best friends that might maybe turn into more, hotel housekeeping trials and tribulations, boats and docks, crash courses behind the wheel, impromptu proms, invisible lines between the two sides of the lake and the people that occupy them, and nothing, nothing, nothing that’s predictable.

Is it really summer without a Sarah Dessen novel?  Nope!  The queen of summer is back with a fabulous new novel, one that’ll have you grabbing your towel, flip flops, a bottle of sunscreen, a big thermos of sun tea and hitting the dock to sink into this delicious novel of family, first love, and figuring out where you come from – and where you’re going.  Tuck The Rest of the Story into your beach bag this summer – and then indulge in a good re-read of some of Sarah Dessen’s other delicious novels!

Last Things by Jacqueline West

Anders Thorson lives for the music.  It’s everything to him – his blood, his breath, his bones, his life.  He, together with his band, Last Things, is spectacularly, eerily talented.  Only a few weeks away from graduation in their small northern Minnesota town, they’re right on the edge of fame and everything that comes with it.  Last Things can be found onstage at the Crow’s Nest, way out in the woods outside of town, every Friday and Saturday night, and so can everyone else in Greenwood, screaming for more.  Everyone, including Thea Malcolm, almost-invisible town odd girl, niece of a rumored witch, and Anders’s most loyal follower.

Anders has always been talented.  He and his buddies Jezz on bass and Patrick on drums have been performing at the Crow’s Nest for a few years – moving from Talent Night appearances to Tuesdays, then Thursdays, then weekends – and the band was definitely starting to get good before that weird night in the woods.  Before Anders got Yvonne, his beloved electric guitar, and before new songs started coming out of him – no, flowing through him – like floodwaters.  He’s always practiced, and practiced, and practiced.  But he’s not sure if he’s earned it yet, all the fame, and the screaming, and the fans, and the attention of gorgeous Frankie Lynde.  Really paid for what was given to him.  And until he knows the music is really his, Anders isn’t ready to take the next step forward, into the future that waits for him and the guys after graduation.

Thea Malcolm is always waiting.  Watching.  Following.  Waiting and watching and following Anders, and the woods, and all the dark things that wait there, crouching in the shadows, looking for the cracks to slither through.  She knows they’re coming, but she isn’t sure yet how, and when, or where.  Or what they’ll take along the way.  So until she does, Thea will keep watch, following Anders into the music and into the woods – and into the darkness.  She wants only one thing – to keep Anders safe.  But what does that really mean?  And what does Anders want for himself?

A dark, deliciously creepy driving bass line of a book, rock star author Jacqueline West’s newest novel completely freaked me out in all the best ways.  A superb mix of metal and music culture, small town and high school politics, and more than a splash of creeping horror, this had me reading frantically through the night to get to the end with all the lights on – inside and out.  I’ll never drive down a dark, wooded road the same way again – and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for any flashes of blonde girls on bikes in the woods in my rear view mirror.  If you love Stranger Things, Brenna Yovanoff’s novels, or local music with some serious edge, don’t miss Last Things!  And pick up some salt and river rocks on your way home.

Shakespeare in Love

April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of the Bard, I’ve been going on a Shakespeare-inspired YA lit tour!  You can check out the whole list I’ve gathered here (I haven’t read them all yet, but there’s a whole lot of April left!), but in the meantime, here are two fun, contemporary reads both set in one of my favorite fictional worlds – high school theater.

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Megan Harper is pretty sure she’s the real life version of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before Juliet.  Every guy she dates (and there have been more than a few) finds the perfect girl… right after he dates her.  She can’t even really be mad, because, really, how can you get upset about true love?  Anyway, Megan has a lot of other stuff going for her – like the fact that she’s a shoe-in for the Southern Oregon Theater Institute’s directing program when she goes to college next year, as long as she can check off that pesky acting requirement.  Which should be no problem – next up for her high school’s theater department is Romeo and Juliet, and Megan’s got her eye on the role of Lady Montague.  Easy peasy.  Until she gets cast as Juliet.

Not only has Megan never acted before, but she’s cast opposite her ex-boyfriend, Tyler, who broke up with her for her best friend Madeleine (again, not mad, because they are nauseatingly perfect together).  She doesn’t know anything about what it’s like to be anyone’s Juliet.  And her drama department is taking R & J to the Shakespeare festival in Ashland this fall, where reps will be evaluating their performances – hers, and her good friend Tyler’s, who’s got his eye on Julliard and is sure his Mercutio monalogue will give him the edge he needs.  No pressure. At all.

Enter a super cute stagehand, Will, and his aspiring playwright friend, Owen, plus more than a few changes at home, and cue the drama, comedy, and a very crooked path to true love.  Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka’s debut novel is fun, flirty, vivacious, and full of so-bad-they’re-good Shakespearean puns – and also just happens to have a ton of heart.  Fans of romantic comedies, don’t miss Always Never Yours!

When Claudia finds herself in the bathroom accidentally listening to the break-up of her private prep school’s It Couple, the last thing she wants to do is draw attention to herself (this is basically true all of the time, but especially so in this moment).  She gets caught anyway (thanks, phone), and finds herself in Big Trouble with kind-of-scary-especially-when-newly-single Iris.  Not a great start to senior year.

So, when Claudia and Iris end up as Brit Lit partners, it’s not an ideal situation.  Especially when they totally bomb the assignment – due to a basic inability to work together (um, Iris).  For a chance to earn extra credit, they can audition for the school play – a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This sounds great to Claudia – there is no possible way she’ll be cast – until she realizes that everyone who auditions who doesn’t get a part is assigned to the stage crew.  Which is how she ends up in the costume department, and Iris lands the role of First Fairy, and they’re stuck together for the duration.

Still, it’s not all bad.  Del, in charge of costume design, is pretty cool.  Gideon Prewitt, funny, sweet, larger than life, new friend and maybe more, is playing Oberon.  And it turns out that Claudia is actually pretty good at interpreting Shakespeare, which leads to some unexpected connections – including with Iris, who might not be quite as terrifying as everyone thinks.

Family and friendships, mistakes and misconception, love and a little Shakespeare all combine to make Foolish Hearts another winner on the YA shelves!