Groundhog Day, Teenage Style

When I was young, I would hear my mother and her friends recounting their high school days. And not in a ‘remember the good old days of high school’ kind of way. Anybody who says high school was the best four years of their lives is obviously drug addled and should not be trusted. But the one thing I would hear over and over was “If I could go back knowing what I know now…..”

A few years after high school I would start saying the same thing. 22 years after graduating high school, I still have nightmares that I’m back in school but I’m 39. I can’t remember my locker combination, I haven’t done any homework for three months, and I’m starting to get that ‘I’m not going to graduate’ panic. Then I realize “I’m 39 years old. I don’t need my algebra book. These people can’t tell me when or if I’m going to graduate.” And then I wake up relieved and go to work where it’s a different kind of high school experience, but this time I get paid for it.

I love YA books and I don’t really know how to explain it. If anything, I’d rather have credit card debt than be 17 again. But there are times while reading a young adult novel that I’ll think: If I had to do it all over again, go back knowing what I know now, I could really incite a riot. I’d tell that smug AP English teacher who didn’t think I was a good writer to shove it. I’d tell the misogynistic vice principal that he wasn’t General Patton. I’d tell that one girl….well, I’d tell her everything she needed to know.

In Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall Samantha Kingston gets a do-over but not in a good way.

Samantha is a part of the most popular girls clique in high school. She’s gorgeous, has a beautiful boyfriend, and is in the prime of her life. Samantha used to be a nerd who loved to ride horses (which I don’t really understand how that makes her a nerd but whatever) but then focused on becoming popular. Her group of friends aren’t the nicest people but they’re her best friends and she would do anything for them. On Friday, February 12th, Samantha and her gang go to a house party and Samantha plans to go all the way with her boyfriend for the first time. Do people still say ‘all the way?’ Losing your virginity sounds kind of like you set it down on a shelf at Target and then walked away only to go try and find it an hour later.

Anyway, everyone is at this party and they are so drunk my own liver was starting to ache. Samantha and her friends have been drinking for hours and they decide it’s time to motor. The four of them get into a car (I know. How stupid can they be? They’ve been drinking and they get behind the wheel.) It’s icy out, they’re all feeling pretty good, the radio’s blasting and then they get into a car crash. Samantha, sitting in the passenger seat, is supposed to die.

She wakes up the next morning thinking the entire thing was a nightmare. Until the day starts playing out exactly as it did the day before, people say the same things they said before, and her classes are exactly the same as the day before. Samantha’s feeling really off but decides to go with it. She goes to the same party that night and everything happens again. She wakes up the next morning to the same day. She’s officially freaked out.

And this keeps happening.

Until she figures out she needs to start making changes. She starts off with little things and they don’t make a difference. And then she realizes she’s going to have to go big and make changes that will affect everyone.

What starts off as a seemingly regular YA book turns out to be a look inside (and you guys know how much I hate delving inside and inspecting my feelings too much) to see what we’d do not only to save others but also the sacrifices we thought we’d never have to face.

You Call Me Crazy Like It’s a Bad Thing

When you’re a kid, making friends is effortless. You’d eyeball one another on the playground for exactly 3 seconds and then say “Hey, I like that you can spin 12 times on the tire swing without hurling” and they would say back “I like your side ponytail even though Melissa said it looked stupid.”

“Melissa smells like onions.”

“Yeah, I heard her mom tried to give her up for adoption like, five times but there were no takers.”

“Explains a lot.”

Sigh. It was so much easier back then. I bet Melissa still smells like onions. She just seemed the type.

But when you get older it’s harder to make friends. It’s like something happens between the ages of 10 and 25. Some kind of guard goes up. I’ve been at the library almost twenty years and I work with my best friend Kathy. We actually never formally met. Seventeen years ago she would see me writing at a table before I started my shift and we’d do that “I want to talk to you but we’re at that point where we only know each other’s first name and have spent three months vaguely smiling at one another when we passed each other.” And then she saw me reading a book or I saw her reading a book and the rest is history. Now I can text her without any self-doubt (or evidently self-control): “Hey, is it normal that I want to throat-punch the kid in that book you recommended to me?”

furiouslyhappyI want to be best friends with Jenny Lawson. I probably said that when I wrote a post about her first book but it bears repeating. It goes double now that I’ve read her second memoir Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things.

This is Jenny’s disclaimer on her own book:

“This is a funny book about living with mental illness. It sounds like a terrible combination, but personally I’m mentally ill and some of the most hysterical people I know are as well. So if you didn’t like the book then maybe you’re just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.”

How could I not fall a little in love with her and want to go to her house and raid her kitchen and watch stupid TV shows or just spend hours texting back and forth because we both have this thing where we don’t like to leave the house and even if we like people we’d rather not be around them sometimes?

In Furiously Happy, she divulges things people like me want to know (because I’m going through them too.) Here are some of my favorite chapter titles:

“I Found a Kindred Soul and He Has a Very Healthy Coat.”

Jenny goes to pick up a prescription through a drug store drive-through. While waiting for the pharmacist to ring up her prescription she notices a box of dog biscuits sitting next to the register. This sends her on a mental quest to find out what the hell that box of dog biscuits is doing there, opened. Maybe someone returned them because they were stale? And then she realizes dogs wouldn’t really care if they were stale biscuits. Spoiler alert: she watches as the pharmacist reaches into the box and eats a handful. While she questions whether she’s high right that moment and seeing things, she debates whether or not to say anything. “But I didn’t, because I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to accuse the man giving you drugs of eating dog food.”

Good call.

“How Many Carbs Are in a Foot?”

Jenny thinks she must be one of the last people on Earth who hasn’t tried kale or quinoa but she’s still gun-shy from the time Victor made what she thought was rice that had gone bad. Victor explains to her that it’s risotto and Jenny says “The stuff Gordon Ramsay is always yelling about? This is very disappointing.” She argues that she would eat a human foot if it was smothered in enough cheese and butter but Victor argues she wouldn’t because she can’t even finish the damn risotto. She can’t tell if that was a dare from him but she’s lactose intolerant anyway. “Everyone else at the dinner party would be tucking into their cheesy-butter foot, and I’d have to eat my foot parboiled and plain.  That’s my struggle. And it’s very real.”

“The Fear”

Jenny can make just about anything funny (see cheesy foot) and still get a serious thought out there. She’s no stranger to self-harm and even prefaces this chapter with a  trigger-warning for those who might read it and have their own dark thoughts start flooding in. Jenny has engaged in self-harm for years, from picking at her cuticles until they bleed freely to pulling her hair out by the roots. She writes about being labeled as broken when she is diagnosed with a ‘personality disorder.’ She tells her psychiatrist that she isn’t broken. “I just…I just hurt…inside. And when I tear at the outside it makes me feel less torn up on the inside. I don’t want to die. Really, I don’t. It’s not a lie. I’m not suicidal. I just feel like sometimes I can’t keep myself from hurting me. It’s like there’s someone else inside of me who needs to physically peel those bad thoughts out of my head and there’s no other way to get in there. The physical pain distracts me from the mental pain.” I want to give Jenny Lawson an award for this, the biggest YES! SOMEBODY GETS IT award for saying all of this out loud and at the same time acknowledging self-harm (in any form) is not a teenager’s domain.

“It’s Like Your Pants Are Bragging at Me.”

I don’t know why, but a lot of women’s clothing does not have pockets. This might explain why I buy my jeans in the men’s section. Either that or there’s a whole underlying issue I should talk to someone about. But I NEED pockets. Jenny’s husband Victor says women don’t need pockets because they have purses. Jenny has to explain to him “No. We are forced into purses because we don’t have pockets. Imagine if I ripped all of your pockets off of your sweet pocket-pants right now and you had to carry them around with you everywhere. You have like…seven pockets in those pants. Imagine carrying seven pockets with you at the carnival. You can’t. You’d need a purse. Then you’d get on the Zipper and it’d be fine for a minute until your purse popped open and all your stuff was being poltergeisted around the cage at you like you were a kitten in a dryer full of batteries, and then your phone gave you a black eye. This is all based on real life, by the way.” All I can say is I started slow clapping when she used poltergeisted as a verb. Victor, as usual, is flabbergasted and says “Pocket-pants don’t exist. They’re called cargo pants.” Potato tomato, dude.

“Voodoo Vagina.”

What book wouldn’t be complete without a vagina in there somewhere? Jenny’s friend Kim mailed her a home-made, educational (well, thank God it was educational) felted vagina. Kim makes them with babies inside them (felted ones, not real ones although that would be fascinating to see) to teach her children about where babies come from. Jenny studies the felted vagina and starts to wonder if the pubic hair on it is real and if it is, she needs to scour her hands immediately. She starts to think yeah, this is how voodoo dolls are made, adding human hair makes it become a voodoo doll. So technically the felt vagina with the seemingly real pubic hair is a voodoo vagina. Jenny left the vagina on her desk to go get her camera to take a picture and when she returned the vagina was gone. The cat was happily ripping it to pieces. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t real pubic hair but doll hair you can buy from a hobby shop.

What a time to be alive.

So, Jenny Lawson calls herself crazy repeatedly through the book and I’ve taken up the call as well. She explains that calling yourself crazy isn’t a demeaning mental illness or making fun of other people with mental illness. We ARE mentally ill and technically we ARE crazy. Just take a look at my therapist’s notes. She probably wrote CRAY CRAY with a bunch of arrows pointing at it the first time I talked to her. So embrace mental illness. Don’t let anyone make you feel less because you know your brain is sometimes like a test pattern at three in the morning on that one TV channel that comes in clear for 45 minutes a day. And if anyone throws you the side eye for calling yourself crazy, just tell them it’s okay. Jenny Lawson said you could.

How it Ends

I can’t imagine being 15 and waking up one morning to find my parents descending on me a with rope in their hands, tying me up, throwing me into a car and driving me to a mental institution. I remember my mom sneaking into my room to check that I was still breathing (this seems to be a thing moms do) and being a little brat and holding my breath to freak her out. But she was checking on me because she was (is) my protector. For Cassie O’Malley there is no one but herself to look to for protection, both physically and mentally.

firsttimeTold in an alternating Now and Then voice, Kerry Kletter’s The First Time She Drowned introduces us to Cassie who has spent the past 2 1/2 years in a mental institution against her will. When she was 15 she woke up to her parents tying her hands and putting her into a car to involuntarily take her to a mental institution. Now at 18 Cassie is a legal adult and wants a normal life. She’s made friends during those 2 1/2 years, especial with James who is her best friend and whom she doesn’t want to leave behind. But she believes she’s prepared for the real world.

In an odd twist, Cassie’s mother has paid for a year of college. Her mother, her father, and her two brothers barely visited her while she was institutionalized and before you start thinking “Oh God, not another crazy teen in a mental ward that is going to teach me about love, heartbreak, and how to hang myself with that package of gummy worms that the kid down the hall gets in a care package every month from his mother” this is not that kind of book. Not too far into the novel you start to figure out that it’s Cassie’s mother who is at the heart of the abuse and the accusations of mental instability. Think of a mother character from a Gillian Flynn book, just with only one or two attempts at killing a child.

Cassie begins her first week at college in her solitary room, unsure how to make friends. She has pneumonia and spends the week drifting in and out of consciousness. Finally, she drags herself out of her room and to the door of a girl she noticed on her first day and collapses. Of course, they become best friends. Someone passing out in your doorway kind of bonds them to you. Or you get a restraining order. But Cassie sometimes overthinks the friendship and the things Zoey does are alien to her.

Thinking she’s going to experience a normal college life, Cassie dives right in and quickly realizes she is so not ready. Her mother, who she hasn’t really seen in the 2 1/2 years she was in the institution, pops in and out of her life, confiding the weirdest and most inappropriate things to her daughter. Not inappropriate like “When your father and I went to Hawaii and he wanted to scuba diving I was all for it. Then that morning he had diarrhea like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve never seen so many panicked fish. Our instructor got a few pictures of it and I’m thinking about using it as our Christmas card this year.” Reading further, there are many “aha!” moments where you discover the mother should have been put away for a couple of years.

If you like novels about crazy families (and I don’t mean kooky families but families that become a legend down the bloodline) read The First Time She Drowned. I never felt so normal and sane. Most terrifying five minutes of my life.

Somebody Told me You Had a Boyfriend Who Looked Like a Girlfriend

I’m slowly being educated about all the genders out there and my first teacher was Ruby Rose. I saw her picture on Facebook and didn’t think much more than “She’s a stunning looking woman.” Ruby Rose is an Australian model/actress, covered in tattoos, with the kind of “in your face” attitude that doesn’t repel but makes you want to pull a chair closer. I read an article where she described herself as “gender fluid” a term I had not come across. The word fluid is right up there with moist for me. I’ve been known to almost roll out of a moving car when someone uses the word moist. And they were just describing a cupcake. Damn it. Now I want a cupcake.

5 minutes later. Now I have frosting halfway up my nose. I’m a pretty girl.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Ruby Rose.

This is how she describes gender fluidity:

“Gender fluidity is not really feeling like you’re at one end of the spectrum or the other. For the most part, I don’t identify as any gender. I’m not a guy; I don’t really feel like a woman, but obviously I was born one. So, I’m somewhere in the middle, which-in my perfect imagination-is like having the best of both sexes.”

When I read her quote, a light bulb didn’t just go off in my head. The bulb burst and I’m still picking up pieces of glass. I’m not sure how many people understand this but I don’t wake up and think “I am Jennifer. I am female.” Most of the time I wake up and think “Didn’t I just fall asleep five minutes ago?” closely followed by something that sounds awfully close to a solemn prayer: “Please let me be a half-way decent human being today.” Not female. Not male. Just human.

jessKristin Elizabeth Clark’s Jess, Chunk, and The Road Trip to Infinity isn’t a book about gender fluidity but about a young man’s transition into womanhood. Jess and Chunk are starting their summer after high school graduation with a road trip from California to Chicago. The last time Jess saw her father her name was Jeremy. Her mother and father went through a nasty divorce after her father started an affair with his wife’s best friend. Not only was the divorce painful for Jess but she lost a friend and a mentor in Jan, her mom’s now ex-best friend, who encouraged her artistic dreams. When Jess finally came out to her father and said she wanted to transition, he told her she was going through a phase and asked her if maybe she was just gay and not wanting to become a woman. Last I checked there was a pretty big difference between being gay and feeling like you were born into the wrong body.

At 17 when she wanted to begin taking hormones she needed both parent’s signatures. Her father refused. She stopped speaking to him. Now at 18, she’s been taking hormones for a couple of months and she’s beginning to look on the outside like she feels on the inside. She got an invitation to her father’s wedding to Jan and replied she wasn’t interested in going. But then she begins to think. About revenge. She decides she’s going to show up at the wedding in a gorgeous dress. Her presence will say “This is not a phase. This is who I am. I didn’t need your support or approval to get where I am.” But of course, you know deep down she wants her father’s love, support and approval. Who wouldn’t when going through something so huge? I lost my mom at the grocery store last week and nearly had a panic attack. (Not the same thing, I know. But we all need our parents at some point in our lives no matter how old we get.)

Chunk (real name Christophe) has been Jess’s best friend forever and has been pretty damn supportive of his friend’s journey. His mother is a smothering but well-intentioned psychiatrist who oozed love and understanding when Jess came out as gay, but she doesn’t know about Jess transitioning. Chunk is…well, he’s overweight. He’s a hefty dude. And he’s kind of a geek who was picked on a lot in high school. He’s looking forward to the road trip for different reasons, mainly because he’s been chatting up a girl online and wants to meet with her. The road trip doesn’t get a magical start. It’s hot out, Chunk keeps getting texts from someone, and Jess is worried if she’s at a point where she passes all the way as a girl or if she’ll still get questioning glances when they stop to gas up. She spends a lot of time with her hood pulled up over her head.

During the long drive, she has plenty of time to think about how angry her mother had been during the divorce and how she now seems to have found peace, a peace that Jess doesn’t feel. The texts to Chunk’s phone keep coming and Jess is confused by her feelings of jealousy. Chunk’s her best friend. Why should she be mad at him or the girl texting him? And what’s with him not chowing down on gas station junk food like they planned? He stocked up on granola bars at their last pit stop. The car is filled with more silence than talking and time and again they snap at each other. The closer they get to Chicago, the more nervous Jess gets and she starts to think twice about just showing up and crashing the wedding as a girl.

The tipping point comes in a Podunk Midwestern town when they pick up a hitchhiker named Annabelle, a girl who’s a couple years older than them and is in college, on her way to her grandma’s. She smokes, is super smart, and Jess wants her boots. Chunk is acting weird and Jess is feeling insecure about her femininity. But Annabelle ends up teaching them a couple of pretty good eye-opening lessons.

But the road trip is far from over and Jess and Chunk have to face what they really mean to each other. And Jess has to face the idea that she may have been a terrible friend during a time when Chunk needed her most.

Jess, Chunk, and the Road Trip to Infinity made me want to go on a road trip with my best friend, even though I’m more interested in gas station junk food than the journey itself. It’s hard enough being a teenager, hard enough being a gay teenager but try being a teenager trying to get to a place you want to be with an outside that matches your insides. This was a great buddy road trip book that taught me even if you think you know yourself and your best friend, there’s always something new to learn and to accept.

How to Disappear Completely

I used to feel weird that I’ve always had a fascination (obsession) with the darker side of life. I thought there was something wrong with me (Oh shut up! I’m well aware there’s something wrong with me) until I heard that Stephen King used to keep a scrap-book of murder and other mayhem folks are wont to get up to. He had the same worry that I did: that people would think he was nuckin futs by being interested in the unsavory until he figured out it wasn’t an obsession so much as it was a lesson on how to spot maniacs and how to avoid them. I don’t keep a scrap-book of heinous images and the evil that people can do to one another. But I squirrel everything away in my head in storage boxes and occasionally rifle through those packed and dusty boxes the way a raccoon cleans something in water.

James Renner is a fantastic novelist. I came across his novel The Great Forgetting while I was working at the library one day. Then I read his first novel The Man from Primrose Lane. When I get passionate (again, obsessed) with something, I google the hell out of it. I googled James Renner (well that sounded downright filthy) and read that he has a keen interest in true crime that stemmed from his childhood. As a young boy a girl named Amy Mihaljevich was kidnapped and murdered not far from where he lived. The crime has gone unsolved for years. I know what you’re thinking: a novelist who can also write nonfiction? That’s like watching Madonna make attempt after attempt at an acting career. But James Renner wields a deft hand when writing both fiction and nonfiction.

truecrimeaddictRenner’s nonfiction book True Crime Addict opens on a seemingly ordinary Monday. Monday, February 9th, 2004 to be exact. Maura Murray, a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts, wrote an email to her professors saying that there had been a death in her family and she wasn’t going to be able to attend her classes that day.

There had not been a death in her family.

Say what? Tell me more.

Maura emptied her bank account, went to a liquor store, bought booze, and then headed north into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This was pretty bizarre behavior but many people would knowingly nod their head with a faint smile and remember their own college days of drinking and not knowing whose floor (or bed) they woke up in. At 7:30 that night, Maura Murray crashed into a snow bank hard enough to make the car inoperable. A man who heard the crash came out of his house to inspect what was going on. Maura seemed fine (later he would say he could smell liquor on her) and he went back to his house to call 911. By the time the police arrived, Maura was gone, never to be seen or heard from again.

Most of us leave our mark on things every day without realizing it: a hair stuck to the driver’s headrest, CCTV footage of you from the convenience store where you stopped for bottled water and a bag of Cornuts. Voice mail messages about nothing in particular. We also have to accept that time is a trickster. Both time and memory are tricksters. How can a seemingly ordinary girl be there one minute and then (poof!) be gone?

The police noted a crack in Maura’s windshield, red stains on the car door that looked to be wine (I still want to know why they think it was wine. My first thought would be “My God! Look at all this blood on the door!” But duh. They would have taken samples of it to see if it was human blood). The driver and passenger’s airbags had deployed, an empty beer bottle and a damaged box of Franzia wine was on the rear seat. They found two different Mapquest printouts for Burlington, Vermont and another to Stowe, Vermont. There was also a book about mountain climbing. Her debit and credit cards were left behind as was her cell phone.

In the beginning, the police didn’t see her disappearance as foul play because she had made preparations as if she was headed somewhere by emptying out her bank account, buying booze, and emailing her teachers. But Maura’s family felt something sinister had happened and didn’t buy the idea that she had wanted to disappear.

Maura’s father arrived in the town she disappeared from and you know what? Her dad gave me bad vibes. Not bad vibes as in “He killed her” but something felt off about the guy. Maura’s boyfriend and her father held a press conference and after it the police stated that Maura was now “listed as endangered and possibly suicidal.” How’d they go from “She’s just a missing young woman” to “Oh, she is a danger to herself and suicidal?” An enormous search was then launched to find her.

This is when the crackpots came out of the woodwork as they always do when something horrible happens. Maybe some of them meant well, but some were just mentally unstable. A man gave Maura’s father a rusty knife and told him it belonged to his brother who had a criminal past. There were various Maura sightings that never panned out. At the beginning of March, Maura’s father went home and returned every weekend to help with the search. The police believed there were two scenarios for Maura’s disappearance: She could have crashed into the snow bank and then caught a ride with someone or someone could have abducted her.

Twelve years went by without a Maura sighting or any clues to point to what happened to her. I’m sure after twelve years of worrying and waiting her parents would have moved on from hoping she was still alive to wanting her body found so they could have some peace of mind. The lives of everyone involved with Maura Murray ground to a halt. People began to be haunted by what had happened to her after she crashed her car. Before she disappeared she got into trouble with credit fraud, using a “discarded” credit card to buy $79 worth of delivery pizza. Those charges had been dismissed. If she was cleared, why was she running away? I think that something so awful happened that the only thing she could think to do was put miles between herself and that awful thing.

On the anniversary of her disappearance a man with the screen name 112dirtbag posted a video on YouTube. It shows a man laughing maniacally into a camera. At first the guy looks like someone’s grandpa who’s relaxing with his model train set in the basement of his house. But this grandpa has rotted teeth and glasses coated in greasy thumbprints. He still looks like somebody’s grandpa but the kind that keeps dead bodies in corners of the basement. His laughter is a light chuckle at first and then it becomes creepier and more ominous as time goes on. It’s the laugh of someone at 3 A.M. locked away in a windowless room of an asylum. The name 112dirtbag wouldn’t make sense to a lot of people unless they followed the investigation closely. Maura’s father had said that she’d probably been kidnapped by “some dirt bag on Route 112.” The disturbing old guy was taunting Maura’s loved ones, almost telling them that he might either know what happened to Maura or he IS what happened to Maura.

As with many deaths (be it a celebrity or not) each anniversary causes loved ones to play the “What if” game. “What if Maura hadn’t crashed her car that night?” “What if Maura had taken some time off school?”  “What if she had talked to someone about the things going on in her life?”

But Maura Murray will never have children and what will be remembered of her is a car crashed into a snow bank and abandoned by its driver. She will be forever linked to a goblin uploading hyena-like laughter onto the Internet, hinting that he knows what happened to Maura but he’ll never tell. She will be that vanished girl none of us ever get to know.

She will be the girl who disappeared forever.

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Libby

holdinguptheuniverseA few years ago I was having lunch with two co-workers. They each agreed that they would take one year off of their lives if they could be skinny. Not thin but skinny. There’s a great distinction if you listen closely. No lightweight myself, I said if I traded a year off my life for anything it would be to become a bestselling novelist. That was when I was in my twenties. Now at the end of my 30s I’d trade a year of my life just to be a happy human being. Or human. Ba-dum-hiss. I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.

Jennifer Niven’s book Holding Up the Universe is a novel that absolutely does not fit the YA cliché of “Our eyes met across a crowded room and I knew he saw me for who I really am.” That crap never happens in real life. I meet eyes with someone across a crowded room and my first thought is usually ‘What the !@ck are you looking at?’ Well, that’s my first thought, quickly followed by ‘I’d better get out of that guy’s line of sight so he can see the beautiful creature who must be standing right behind me.’

In Holding Up the Universe, Libby is a self-proclaimed fat girl but she is NOT who she used to be: “America’s Fattest Teen” the teen who was over 600 pounds and had to be cut out of her house. Being surrounded by firefighters who cut a wall in the side of her house to get her out was her wake up call. My wake up call came in the voice of the demon from The Exorcist: ‘You’re almost 40! What have you done with your life? Nothing!’ Oh to have a demon possess me. Hop on in pal. You’re going to find one unhappy person with obsessive thoughts that’ll keep you awake all night.

After her mother’s death, Libby and her father are on their own. He homeschools her and she tries to start a new life. And then she decides she wants to go to public high school. And she prays no one remembers her as “America’s Fattest Teen.” I tell you, I wish I had even a quarter of this girl’s self-esteem. My mom once told me that when I walk into a room and feel nervous as hell I needed to walk in like I owned the damn place. Libby walks into every room with over the top confidence, even when classmates make cow noises around her.

Enter Jack, a cocky high school jock with an afro full of charm. But he has a secret. He can’t recognize faces. He has a condition called prosopagnosia. He’s literally face blind. And he’s the only one who knows about it. He becomes adept at recognizing a physical marker about a person: the way they wear their hair or the way their voice sounds. His own two brothers could come up to him on the street and he wouldn’t know who they were.

Jack can only keep his secret safe for so long before people get suspicious. He meets Libby because one of his friends decides to pull a mega cruel joke called ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ You latch onto an overweight person and whoever stays on the longest wins. Wins at being the world’s biggest asshole. But it wasn’t Libby the boy latched onto but another heavyset girl. When Libby finds out about it she chases down the boy. Everyone is amazed at how fast she can run. She vaulted a fence to go after him. That’s my kind of girl! I once vaulted a baby gate to chase my brother. It didn’t end well.

Libby confronts the group of boys involved in the ‘Fat Girl Rodeo.’ Not to be outdone by his douchey friends, Jack whispers to Libby “I’m sorry” before launching himself onto her. When Libby manages to pry him off she punches him in the mouth and down he goes. They both get detention and spend the next few weeks reluctantly getting to know each other. Jack starts to look forward to seeing Libby and this confuses him. He has a gorgeous girlfriend. At least he thinks he does. He doesn’t recognize her when she comes up to him.

Libby is beginning to have feelings for Jack. You want to know what absofreakinloutely rocks about Libby? Her first thought isn’t ‘He wouldn’t be caught dead dating a fat girl.’ She’s more upset about how she feels about Jack. And Jack is worried that she might not like him. It looks like Jack and Libby will become a couple but is she confident enough?

One secret she doesn’t tell anyone is that she can dance. I mean dance. Not the white girl shuffle I do when I’m ‘dancing.’ It’s full on the stars and the galaxies are aligned and dance she must. It’s Jennifer Beals dancing in Flashdance (yes, I know Jennifer Beals didn’t do her own dancing in Flashdance but that was the first movie that came to mind and I’ll probably think of a better one at 2 in the morning.) Better than Lady Gaga in 13 inch stilettos.

Libby has made her choice. Instead of trying to become invisible and stay beneath the radar, she flaunts her confidence, even after nasty notes are shoved into her locker. She refuses to back down and run away with her tail between her legs.

Fat, skinny, short, tall, weird, boring, Trump supporters-everyone should read this book and learn how it’s done when you’re the girl who had to get cut out of her own house.

3 Minutes, 4 Seconds

thecallI would die in the Grey Land. If you placed a bet on me, you’d lose all you money. I’d hear the trumpets declaring the game is on and the monsters are hunting me down and I WOULD DIE. Not because I’m weak. Not because I’m not a fighter. I’d die because I’m naked and about to do battle with monsters while naked. If I tried to run I’d catch a boob in the face and knock myself out.

Don’t worry. I promise this will make sense. I think.

In Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call a dark supernatural barrier surrounds Ireland. Planes have dropped from the sky and all life has ground to a halt in the last 25 years. The Sidhe (pronounced “She”) are deadly beautiful creatures that were banished to the Grey Land: a creepy world parallel to ours where there are grotesque living things in the trees and fields of human heads crying out in agony (the place sounds like one big Hieronymus Bosch painting). Seeking revenge for being shoved out of our world, the Sidhe instituted the Call. After the age of 10, all children are assigned to survival colleges where they learn how to fight, protect themselves, and how to kill. They’re even taught that the deceptive beauty of the Sidhe can get them killed. Whenever I imagine the Sidhe in my head all I can see is meth-addled elves straight out of a Tolkien world that are beautiful until you scrape a layer away and find all kinds of ugliness underneath.

In this new world, teenagers have to grow up fast. There’s no time to cultivate relationships or have feelings for anyone and God help you if you get knocked up because that’s not going to save you from the Call. Once called you’ll have 3 minutes and 4 seconds to survive the hunt. In the Grey Land, those few minutes translate into a full day where the Sidhe try to hunt you down and kill you in spectacular ways. It’s rare that anyone survives over there and when they do they come back like wounded war vets with zombie faces. The Sidhe have a sick sense of humor.  Sometimes they’ll show “mercy” and send a teen back alive but with the head of a dog or their backs twisted to the front or limbs swapped around.

Nessa is 14. Her brother had been called years ago and died in the Grey Land. Nessa has twisted legs and walks with the help of crutches. Most of her classmates and teachers think she should have died at birth or been killed because with legs like hers there’s no way she’ll survive. But Nessa is almost supernaturally fast, adapting her disability to become more of a warrior than most of her classmates.

No one knows when they’ll get the Call. You could be sitting down to breakfast in the cafeteria at a table with your friends and all of a sudden Jimmy’s gone, leaving a pile of clothes behind. That’s when the countdown begins, everyone studying their watches and stating the time with nervous voices. I figure the teens go over to the Grey Land naked because there are two times when we’re most vulnerable: while we’re asleep and while we’re naked. And if you sleep naked, you’re doubly vulnerable. When I’m home alone taking a shower and hear a noise all I can think is “Great. I’m going to have to fight someone naked. Maybe I can flash them and make them vomit and make my getaway.”

Nessa trains twice as hard as her classmates because of her legs. She absolutely refuses to think of dying in the Grey Land. Her one weakness is having feelings for a classmate named Anto who is a pacifist and guaranteed to die when he gets the Call. But she’s in love with him and he loves her. What are they going to do? She sees no future with him. The only future she’s talked herself into is the one where she survives the Call and returns to the college as an instructor.

But something is happening at the survival colleges all over Ireland. Whole schools are being wiped out by a mysterious presence and soon that mysterious presence sets its eyes on Nessa’s College.

If you like books about survival and kicking some monster ass, this is your book. If you like books where people have to fight naked, this is your book. If you believe in a parallel world where you are hunted down like a fox with some crazy hounds on your tail, you’ll like this book.

I still think I’d die two seconds after the Call. I can barely run bare foot let alone in my floppy birthday suit.