The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihan
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon)
Simon Peters and his boyfriend, Stephen, were caught in a passionate moment by Stephen's father. Stephen was shipped off to a gay conversion center and Simon's struggling in their conservative town. He'd leave, but he can't leave his twin brother, who has an unspecified disability. It's a particularly timely book, completely by accident, since Exodus International shut down and apologized.
I really enjoyed THE WAITING TREE until the end. It's a good contemporary that really gets small-town life and the struggle to escape it when you don't have many resources. But one bit of the ending is treated like a good thing, yet I have trouble seeing it as anything but terrible. THE WAITING TREE turns out well for most of the characters, but this is not a book where everyone gets what's coming to them. Some bad things happen to good people and some bad things never happen to bad people.
The End Games by T. Michael Martin
Available now from Balzer + Bray (HarperCollins)
The world changed on Halloween. That's when the dead started turning into Bellows (zombies) and attacking. Michael and his little brother Patrick are headed to the safe zone, guided by a mysterious Game Master. But the Game is changing, and the Bellows are getting smarter.
THE END GAMES was a book that kept shifting. The initial premise doesn't last very long, and after that the status quo changes again. I found the beginning and end more interesting than the middle. The end especially, because it shows the best that Michael isn't as smart as he thinks he is, but he's still clever and resourceful. And I love that all the characters are liars yet never quite believe that the others are lying. The weakest element is the perfunctory romance, although I do believe that the possibly last teenage girl and boy alive would hook up.
Dr. Bird's Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos
Available now from Houghton Mifflin BFC (Harcourt)
Evan Roskos's debut novel is a strange, brilliant creation. Walt Whitman-obsessed James Whitman has depression. He needs therapy, and not just from the imaginary bird therapist in his head. But his distant, angry parents are unlikely to help him seek medical attention and his older sister was recently kicked out.
DR. BIRD'S ADVICE FOR SAD POETS could be a very dreary, painful book. But it's quite funny and hopeful. James is a fairly normal teenage boy, albeit a little weird about the environment. I worried for him while reading the novel, but his story was most definitely not a tragedy slog. (The only uncomfortableness came from some bits that reminded me of a friend's attempted suicide.) It's a wonderful novel that deals with far more than teenage depression. Plus, it makes poetry fun.
Permanent Record by Leslie Stella
Available now from Skyscape (Amazon)
PERMANENT RECORD was already getting rave reviews when I read it, but I found it disappointing. I never really connected to the main character or story. Badi Hessamizadeh is starting over at private school following being kicked out of his previous school for destructive behavior. He quickly starts to make waves, especially by refusing to participate in the chocolate bar fundraiser.
I thought the parallels with THE CHOCOLATE WAR (which Badi is reading in school) were clever, but never really went anywhere. The book does develop a mystery, when a anonymous letters criticizing the sale start showing up in the school newspaper. Badi is desperate to clear his name. I suspected the actual culprit, but thought that it was a nice reveal. I also liked the friendship storyline, as Badi starts to connect to a couple of other outcasts who don't mind his depression, anxiety, and anger. But I just didn't empathize with him. He's got the flaws I normally like in protagonists, especially his self-absorbation, but no real motivation to work on his flaws.