Tag Archives: group homes

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon

The Burn Journals

“The only problem with seeing people you know is that they know you.”
-Brent

This is my second attempt at reviewing this book, so hopefully it doesn’t get deleted like the last one. The Burn Journals is a true memoir of Brent Runyon, who doused himself in gasoline and lit a match when he was only fourteen. He spent almost a year in treatment for his injuries and depression, and over this time learns to accept himself.

The thing I really love about this book is that you can tell he wrote it straight out of his fourteen-year-old mind. The language he uses, his sentence structure, everything is an indicator that he is not at all an adult yet. It isn’t told in the “this happened to me” way; it’s told in the present tense, to emphasize his youth. Even his thoughts and actions point toward childhood, and I think it’s brilliant. Also, the things Brent Runyon included in the story that he could have easily removed to save himself embarrassment are the greatest parts of the book, since it shows you how real everything was.

The Burn Journals is definitely a painful and depressing story, and its subject matter of attempted suicide and recovery is very strong. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, even those who are considering suicide. Actually, I think it’s the perfect book for someone who struggles with depression or suicidal behavior, because it shows the repercussions suicide has on everyone around you, and that everyone can get better with proper treatment and time.

Sorry it took me a while to get this review up, but I should have another one either today or tomorrow. Thanks for reading!

-J

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Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Impulse

“Love means holding on to someone just as hard as you can because if you don’t, one blink and they might disappear forever.”
-Tony

Sometimes life just gets too hard. Sometimes everything piles up until it feels like you’ve been left with one option: to end it all. That’s what Conner, Tony, and Vanessa thought, at least– but after failing at each of their suicide attempts, they end up in Aspen Springs for recovery. Now they’ve been given a second chance at life… Will they take it or opt out once again?

I know I start a lot of reviews like this, but I really love this book. The re-read for this review was probably the third or fourth, and I never get sick of it. Although I’m in love with all of Ellen Hopkins’s books, this one is definitely my favorite. It’s the first I ever read by her and what made me fall in love with her writing style and writing, period. It’s a little strange to read at first, but if you give it a chance you’ll adapt quickly and end up loving her too.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, books are always more exciting with multiple narrators. This adds to my love for this book, but I don’t think that is the main reason I like it so much. I’ve always been really into books about mental hospital/group home sort of things, as you may know by my numerous reviews about the subject, and the entire book is about this. Plus, it deals with some really important issues and “taboos,” in such a way that I strongly believe everyone should read this book at least once– especially for those who judge by reputation or first impressions, this book should be a real eye-opener.

And, like I say about all of Ellen Hopkins’s books, it’s powerful. I cry just as much now as I did the first time I read it. It really changed my opinion and views on certain things, but I won’t talk about that… spoilers and all.

What I will talk about before I go, though, is the sequel, Perfect. I don’t own it, I haven’t read it, and I haven’t seen it in any bookstores yet, but I really want to read it. From what I’ve heard, it’s three completely different narrators– two of which I remember as Cara, Conner’s twin sister, and Kendra, Conner’s ex-girlfriend who made a brief appearance in Impulse, but I don’t remember the other at all. I think it sounds like it’ll be incredible, and as soon as I find and read it, you’ll be the first to know.

Once again, I forgot to write this review, so the review for the book I’m about halfway done with now (a big surprise, I bet, but I will say it’s a classic) will most likely be up tomorrow. Thanks for reading, and see you then!

-J

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It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

It's Kind of a Funny Story

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself. That’s above and beyond everything else, and it’s not a mental complaint– it’s a physical thing, like it’s physically hard to open your mouth and make the words come out. They don’t come out smooth and in conjunction with your brain the way normal people’s words do; they come out in chunks as if from a crushed-ice dispenser; you stumble on them as they gather behind your lower lip. So you just keep quiet.”
-Craig

After nearly committing suicide one night, depressed teenager Craig Gilner decides to check himself into the hospital. He is given a few days to stay in the adult psychiatric ward, where he meets a schizophrenic, some drug addicts, and a girl who scarred her face with scissors. (I don’t want to say too much else for fear of spoiling anything, so I’ll just awkwardly stop this summary here.)

Once again, I’ve forgotten to write a review. It’s been a few days since I’ve finished this incredible book, but I can still recall it rather well. No matter how messed up he is, Craig is relatable to everyone in some way. His thoughts and opinions generally make sense, even if they’re a little far-fetched. He’s a really good guy, despite the bad decisions he may make, and I think we can all relate to that somehow.

It’s rare that I truly find a book funny. Sure, I have a sense of humor, but finding an actual laugh-out-loud-funny is an unusual thing for me. This book was one of the few exceptions so far. Similar to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, It’s Kind of a Funny Story pokes fun at the mentality of the people in the ward without being offensive or rude, and I admire Ned Vizzini and Ken Kesey for being able to do that.

Now, just today I found out that this book has a film adaption. How I didn’t know beats me, especially because the cast includes people like Zach Galifinakis, Jim Gaffigan, and Emma Roberts. As of now, all I know is I need to see this movie.

And since I took so long for this review, the next review will most likely be up tomorrow. One more book to go and I’ll be book-hunting again, so please leave me some recommendations! 🙂

-J

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Go Ask Alice by Beatrice Sparks

Go Ask Alice

“I guess I’ll never measure up to anyone’s expectations. I surely don’t measure up to what I’d like to be.”
-Unknown

First, I’d like to apologize for taking so long on this– I’d completely forgotten to write a review once I’d finished the book, and just now remembered it hadn’t been posted.

About five months ago, I posted a review of Jay’s Journal, which was mainly written by the same author as Go Ask Alice, although both have the author’s name listed as “Anonymous” on the front covers. And the explanation for that is simple: there’s a lot of controversy over whether these diaries are real or just made up by Beatrice Sparks, who is listed as the “editor”, or a little of both. And although I don’t want to make this a rant post, that’s probably what’s going to happen. So if that’s not what you came here for, leave now or face extreme disappointment.

Alright, so. Go Ask Alice is about a fifteen-year old girl in the 70s who writes in her diary about normal teenage problems, but eventually becomes involved with drugs. (When I say drugs, I mean LSD, although there are a few mentions of other drugs.) Pretty simple, pretty straightforward, deals with a lot of common young adult novel topics.

Now I’m going to do some comparisons between this book and Jay’s Journal, which I’ll link the review to here in case you’re interested. There are a few things they have in common that emphasize the fact that they’re not true, if even a little: tripe repetition of words or phrases (“I do! I do! I do!”), vocabulary that no normal teen uses, and nearly identical writing style. Other than the subject matter and the character of Jay’s use of poems in his entries, they could easily have been narrated by the same character. In my opinion, Go Ask Alice is wholly fiction, and Jay’s Journal is mostly fiction. I’d like to include a few passages from the books’ Wikipedia articles to show you:

From the Jay’s Journal article:

Jay’s Journal is a book presented as an autobiographical account of a depressed teenage boy who becomes involved with a Satanic group. After participating in several occult rituals, “Jay” believes he is being haunted by a demon named Raul. The book is based on “true” events of 16-year-old Alden Barrett from Pleasant Grove, Utah, who committed suicide in 1971.

Some critics have challenged the authenticity of the story, noting that the editor of this book, Beatrice Sparks, has filled the same role on many other “actual, anonymous diaries of teenagers” that explore such sensational themes as drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, and prostitution. These books, the most well-known of which is Go Ask Alice, serve as cautionary tales.

According to a book written by Barrett’s brother Scott (A Place in the Sun: The Truth Behind Jay’s Journal), and interviews with the family, Sparks used roughly 25 entries of 212 total from Barrett’s actual journal. The other entries were fictional, based on case histories from other teenagers Sparks worked with, and interviews of friends and acquaintances of Barrett.

A rock opera titled A Place in the Sun was created and performed by Utah country band Grain in 1997. According to some family members, it was a more accurate portrayal and showed Sparks’ alleged exploitation of the story.

And, from the Go Ask Alice article’s Authorship section:

Go Ask Alice was originally promoted as nonfiction and was published under the byline “Anonymous.” However, not long after its publication, Beatrice Sparks, a psychologist, began making media appearances presenting herself as the book’s editor.

Searches at the U.S. Copyright Office show that Sparks is the sole copyright holder for Go Ask Alice. Furthermore, she is listed on the copyright record as the book’s author — not as the editor, compiler, or executor, which would be more usual for someone publishing the diary of a deceased person. (According to the book itself, the sole copyright is owned by Prentice-Hall.)

In an October 1979, essay by Alleen Pace Nilsen for School Library Journal, Nilsen surmised that Sparks partially based Go Ask Alice on the diary of one of her patients, but that she had added various fictional incidents. Sparks told Nilson that she could not produce the original diary, because she had destroyed part of it after transcribing it and the rest was locked away in the publisher’s vault. Nilsen wrote, “The question of how much of Go Ask Alice was written by the real Alice and how much by Beatrice Sparks can only be conjectured.”

Sparks’ second “diary” project, Jay’s Journal, gave rise to a controversy that cast further doubt on Go Ask Alice’s veracity. Jay’s Journal was allegedly the diary of a boy who committed suicide after becoming involved with the occult. Again, Sparks claimed to have based it on the diary of a patient. However, the family of the boy in question, Alden Barrett, disowned the book. They claimed that Sparks had used only a handful of the actual diary entries, and had invented the great majority of the book, including the entire occult angle. This led many to speculate that “Alice’s” diary—if indeed it existed—had received similar treatment. No one claiming to have known the real “Alice” has ever come forward.

And a final section I’d like to share:

In an article on the Urban Legends Reference Pages (snopes.com), urban folklore expert Barbara Mikkelson points out that even before the revelations about Go Ask Alice‘s authorship, there was ample internal evidence that the book was not an actual diary. The lengthy, detailed passages about the harmful effects of illicit drugs and the relatively small amount of space dedicated to relationships and social gossip seem uncharacteristic of a teenaged girl’s diary. In addition, the article mentions the disclaimer in the book’s copyright notice page, which states: “This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.”

There are some errors of consistency. On page 16, the author has not “had time to write for two days”. In the same paragraph she refers to the last entry as “yesterday” when she says, “I’ve apologized to every room about the way I felt last night” even though according to her first sentence she would have felt that way two nights ago, not “last night”. On pages 79–80, the text describes the girl living with a friend in Coos Bay, Oregon, where she enthuses over the Diggers’ Free Store and the Psychedelic Shop – both establishments were actually in San Francisco. Another error is on page 2 where the author writes “It’s my birthday. I’m 15.” Later in the book on page 46 in August the author writes “After all I’ve just turned 15 and I can’t stop life and get off” meaning she did not turn 15 eleven months ago.

Well, that’s mostly all I have to say about that. I don’t think I would’ve complained so much about the validity of the book if it weren’t for my hatred of it– I found it an extremely boring, hit-and-miss novel, but the hits were so few they were nearly nonexistent. It’s a really popular book, however, so you may like it– who knows. Maybe I’m just one of those people who despises a bestseller. But, if you do decide to read it and completely agree with me, don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

-J

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Right Behind You by Gail Giles

Right Behind You

“I figured out that I can’t forget.  I can’t really forgive.  But I can live.  Live with it.  Like you live with a scar or a limp or whatever.  You always know it’s there.  It reminds you never to let yourself do anything so stupid and horrible and wrong again.  I step out of my rut, step again, and keep stepping.”
-Kip McFarland/Wade Madison

Nine-year old Kip McFarland set seven-year old Bobby Clarke on fire, and three days later Bobby died. Kip spent the next few years in a mental institution, trying to overcome his past and forgive himself for what he did. Now Kip is changing his name and moving across the country, where he will try to rebuild his life. But will his past let him go, or will it always come back to haunt him?

I know I’ve said this before, probably in my review for What Happened to Cass McBride? but I’m going to say it again anyway. Gail Giles is an incredible writer. And after reading three of her books, I think it’s safe to say she’s become one of my favorite authors. And if you’re interested in teen violence/crime novels, please be sure to check into her works.

Now, the actual story. Right Behind You is great in every way, shape, and form. The characters are lovable and fun, the kind of characters that you wish were real people. The main story is truthful and addictive, and you can almost feel your heart skip when someone says or does something that will have real consequences. You understand all of the characters’ motives, whether you agree with them or not, and you can identify it to real life oddly well.

Since I’m running out of unread books, after Aimee and Deadline are done I’ll start rereading. Some titles you have probably heard of (Thirteen Reasons Why, The Outsiders, the Divergent books), while others will probably be totally unfamiliar to you (Crash Into Me, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Rosebush). Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy the reviews I’ll be posting and keep reading!

-J

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After by Amy Efaw

After

“She can paint a pretty picture, but this story has a twist. The paintbrush is a razor, and the canvas is her wrist.”
-Karma

Devon Davenport is a sophmore in high school who attempted to murder her newborn daughter immediately after giving birth. After is her story of life in a juvenille detention center while awaiting her trial, and the trial itself. Suspenseful, surprising, and all-around incredible, After is definitely a book you won’t want to miss out on.

Another of my favorites. This book is amazing, and now I can see why it’s so popular in the YA fiction world. No matter how crazy it gets, the characters are occasionally relatable in some way. No matter how much you are prejudiced about the characters, you’ll end up liking them at least a little bit.

Once again, this is one of those books where I can’t say too much due to spoilers. But this book is awesome, and I advise you to go read it as soon as possible.

-J

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Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern

Get Well Soon

“I hardly think it wise to put the idea of flying into the heads of impressionable teenagers who are already battling the challenges of lunacy.”
-Anna Bloom

It’s so difficult to write a review of a book with the kind of storyline that giving away tiny details could ruin the entire plot. So, all I’ll say is that the main character, Anna Bloom, is in a mental hospital, trying to make sense of everything and deal with the problems from both her old and new lives.

At first, I thought this would be just another mental hospital story. I still liked it; it was just kind of a “what else is new?” book. But at a certain point, where Anna notices something different about one of the patients (that’s the best I can do, sorry!), I started to get really into it. I wanted to know everything about this kid. The suspense was nearly killing me, especially because nothing regarding it is revealed until almost the end of the book. I read half the book in one sitting, I was so desperate to know. And when the truth came out, I was impressed. The signs were subtle but there, and I was a little surprised I didn’t pick up on it sooner.

Although I liked most of the characters (which doesn’t happen often), I have to say my favorite is Matt O. I don’t know what it is about him, but I just want to be friends with this kid. It was a little weird how many shared interests Anna and I had, too. (Imagine reading a book while listening to a band you really like and wearing one of your favorite shirts and pair of shoes. Now, imagine the narrator start talking about that band, describing your shirt to you, and mentioning the shoes you’re wearing. Then, a while later, the narrator mentions that she really likes to do one of your favorite passtimes. Wouldn’t you freak out too?)

And, a quick note before I leave: Since tomorrow is my birthday, I don’t know if I’ll get around to reading or not. If I do, great; if I don’t, you guys will probably have to wait an extra day until I post again. And since I’m basing what book I’m reading next over whether I get to read tomorrow, that may mean waiting up to four or five days for another review. 😦

Have a great weekend, guys. See you later!

-J

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One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

“I had to keep on acting deaf if I wanted to hear at all.”
-Chief Bromden

When I brought this book to school to read, a few people came up to me and said, “I watched that movie; it was awesome!” Hearing so many people say that, I was excited to read the book. Usually if the movie’s good, the book is even better, right? I haven’t watched the movie yet, but I can say I enjoyed the book.

The novel is narrated by Chief Bromden, a Native American who pretends to be deaf and mute, allowing him to hear the hospital’s secrets. He tells the story of McMurphy, a troublemaking gambler who transfers into the hospital near the beginning of the book. (I don’t know what else I can say about this book without giving away any key plot points or spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that.)

This is the kind of book that just makes you want to keep reading. The reasoning behind the fact that it took me five days to finish isn’t because I disliked the book; it’s just really long (nearly 300 pages, with extremely small font) and I’ve been busy over the past week. That’s all. And though I could complain that the book was too long or dragged on at parts, I won’t focus on that at all, since those are pretty much the only flaws I could find within the book.

However, there is one flaw I’m going to complain about a little bit. This book was written in the sixties, so obviously the writing style is a little different from the current YA books I’ve been reading. Also, it’s more of an adult book, so the tone is going to be different as well. That being said, I still believe it should have been clearer at some points. After reading a book, I’ll usually go onto Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I actually missed a lot in this one. Maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I think Ken Kesey should have been a little clearer in some of the major plot points.

Well, that’s about all. I’m off to watch the movie now, which, judging by how many people told me it was great, I’m very excited to see. See you in a few days!

-J

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The Dream Where the Losers Go by Beth Goobie

The Dream Where the Losers Go

“…What’s real is real. You don’t need to hold on to the echo.”
-Elwin “Lick” Serkowski

After cutting her wrists as a suicide attempt, Skey Mitchell was taken to a group home to recover mentally. She spends her time there slipping into her dream world full of dark tunnels and cave wall markings, enjoying the one place where she can escape from her thoughts. Then she finds a boy in her dream, wandering the same tunnels. No longer alone in her escape from reality, Skey tries to help the boy as she deals with her problems outside of the dream as well.

This was so difficult for me to read. I hated every character in the book, even the “good guys”, which made it hard for me to feel bad for the characters after something unexpected happens. I saw every “twist” coming from a mile away, too, making the book just plain boring.

The summaries make it sound like the tunnel dreams are the main plot of the book, but really they aren’t. I tried my best to give a good summary without any spoilers, so I probably made it sound the same way, but the main plot is actually about Skey’s trouble going back to school after being in the group home for so long. I guess it doesn’t really matter, though, because either way the book was dreadful.

-J

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Break by Hannah Moskowitz

Break

“Break a body, grow a better body. The worse you’re hurt, the stronger you get.”
-Jonah McNabb

First thing’s first: I didn’t just finish this book today. I read and finished this book on Thursday (February 14), but couldn’t post a review since I’ve been having some trouble with WordPress on my laptop. This is the first day it’s actually worked for me since then, and I don’t know when or if it’ll stop working again. So if I don’t post for a while again, that’s most likely why. If that happens, I’ll be sure to post the real date I finished the book (more for me than you, since I’m trying to keep track of how many books I read this year, and I’ll post that list in my Pages soon).

Break is about a kid named Jonah who is trying to break every bone in his body. His home life is too much to handle, and since broken bones grow back stronger than they were before, he believes he will be strong enough to face his problems after his bones heal. But when his self-destructive behaviors begin to hurt everyone around him rather than help, will he give them up in favor of an alternative source of strength?

Judging by the fact that I read this book in less than a day, it’s needless to say how much I enjoyed it. Although some of Jonah’s bone-breaking methods were a little gruesome to read, it was really interesting to read about all of the different ways to break he thinks of. Also, for this being Hannah Moskowitz’s first book, I have to say she did an awesome job.

The overall plot was great, especially since you can understand Jonah’s reasoning for what he does to an extent. I know it would be unbelievably hard for me in his position, but I know I’d never hurt himself in the ways he thinks up. Thinking about the part with the pool makes even me shudder, and I’m a horror film addict. Gore and pain should be something I’m used to, but that was just too much to handle. I could almost actually feel his pain.

I thought the ending was a little abrupt, but leading up to the very end was great. The trouble he accidentally causes in the hospital is a great sort of twist, and I really enjoyed it. I think this will be another book that I’ll end up reading over and over again.

-J

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