Book Review: Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

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When I wake up, all my friends are dead.

Release date: March 12, 2019

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Price: $13.28 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

When a car crash sidelines Mickey just before softball season, she has to find a way to hold on to her spot as the catcher for a team expected to make a historic tournament run. Behind the plate is the only place she’s ever felt comfortable, and the painkillers she’s been prescribed can help her get there.

The pills do more than take away pain; they make her feel good.

With a new circle of friends—fellow injured athletes, others with just time to kill—Mickey finds peaceful acceptance, and people with whom words come easily, even if it is just the pills loosening her tongue.

But as the pressure to be Mickey Catalan heightens her need increases, and it becomes less about pain and more about want, something that could send her spiraling out of control.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ll admit it. I am a little biased when it comes to Mindy McGinnis. Ever since I read The Female of the Species, I’ve been hooked on her writing. I love that she’s willing to tackle difficult subjects like rape culture, mental illness, or in this case opioid addiction. McGinnis’ writing is raw, direct, and not for the faint of heart. Things get gritty in her novels, and Heroine is one of her grittiest yet.

What makes this novel stand out from her previous ones is that her protagonist Mickey could be any teenager in America right now. Mickey doesn’t fall into addiction because of befriending the wrong crowd, peer pressure, or any of the past reasons why teens often found themselves dabbling in drugs. No, Mickey becomes an addict due to a car accident that requires her to have a serious surgery and her doctor later prescribes OxyContin to her.

At first Mickey ups her dosage because she’s in too much pain but still wants to perform like she did because of her car accident in her Softball position. She feels like she not only owes to herself, but her teammates, coach, and parents to get well soon and return to being the unbeatable Mickey Catalan. Only thing is, she soon discovers that OxyContin not only does it make her not feel the pain but it also chases away all of her social anxiety. Soon, Mickey is relying on the drugs more for her emotional well being than a physical need.

As a reader, although from the very beginning we know that it’s going to end very tragically for Mickey and her friends, we’re lulled into a strange sense of security, almost like the writing itself works like a drug. We, like Mickey, believe that the drugs will only help her, but it’s a slippery slope from performing like she used to, to becoming a full-fledged addict who has violent withdrawals anytime she has to do without her dose. The withdrawals are as gritty as they could possibly get.

McGinnis is never preachy in her books, she merely lays out the story’s events in a way that chronicles what someone in that position would possibly go through. And that’s what makes it the most terrifying because anyone of us could be Mickey, and anyone of us could befall Mickey’s fate.

This is a raw book about a timely crisis (with overdoses being the nation’s leading cause of death in the United States right now), I think it’s a book that any teen or adult could benefit from reading. But let me warn you, this journey isn’t a pretty one at all. But a highly educational one.

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Book Review: The Quiet You Carry by Nikki Barthelmess

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None of us can understand what’s going on in another person’s life from the outside looking in. No one can really see the quiet you carry, unless you let them.

Release Date: March 5, 2019

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Price: $11.12 (paperback)

Publisher: North Star Editions

Plot Summary:

Victoria Parker knew her dad’s behavior toward her was a little unusual, but she convinced herself everything was fine—until she found herself locked out of the house at 3:00 a.m., surrounded by flashing police lights.

Now, dumped into a crowded, chaotic foster home, Victoria has to tiptoe around her domineering foster mother, get through senior year at a new school, and somehow salvage her college dreams . . . all while keeping her past hidden.

But some secrets won’t stay buried—especially when unwanted memories make Victoria freeze up at random moments and nightmares disrupt her sleep. Even worse, she can’t stop worrying about her stepsister Sarah, left behind with her father. All she wants is to move forward, but how do you focus on the future when the past won’t leave you alone?

Grade: A

Review:

From the acknowledgments, the reader soon learns that the author herself, much like her character Victoria, was put into Foster Care in Nevada (although unlike her character she was much younger, at 12 yrs. old). I think this is why she’s capable of giving one of the best and authentic novelizations about how the foster care system works and how the kids who end up in them are treated by their foster parents and social workers. Unlike other books that I’ve read about foster care, the protagonist Victoria doesn’t end up in it due to an unexpected death, but rather because her own father delivers a lie about her to cover up a very scary truth about himself and what he did to his daughter. Some of you may imagine what that ugly truth could possibly be, but I’d rather keep this review spoiler free, besides, Victoria doesn’t fully reveal all the details of that fateful night till almost halfway through the novel.

Victoria’s journey was very heartbreaking, but I loved how the friendships in this novel were top-notch. I’m kind of over novels or films always depicting female friendships as being petty and mean, and I love how Christina was so full of love for Victoria and stuck by her through thick and thin. Even her boyfriend, Kale, was a gem, who truly loved her despite the odds being against them. What I loved about this book is that all the characters were layered so even people you may have perceived as awful when you first encountered them, turned out to be better people, and those that seemed okay at first were revealed to not be so. Again, this book isn’t for the faint of heart because of the subject matter that is very trigger-worthy so tread lightly if you’re someone who’s easily triggered by the following topics: sexual assault, abuse, suicide, and self-harm, as those, are only a few things that are mentioned and played out throughout the novel.

But despite the dark winding tunnel that we find ourselves in with Victoria, there’s some light at the end. And that light, that hope, is what makes this novel absolutely stunning.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and North Star Editions for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Throwback Thursday: The Virgin Suicides

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I have a confession to make. As a teenager, I was utterly fascinated by films or literature that explored the themes of suicide. In fact, it was so much my focus that even my poetry reflected that. Now, perhaps at the time, I was guilty of glamorizing a horrific act, in part because at the time I saw it as a solution to my teenage depression and a manifestation of trying to get people to understand how serious my inner turmoil was (and not be blown off as simple teenage angst). This is why books and films like The Virgin Suicides hit home, especially when the youngest sibling, Cecilia tells the doctor after a suicide attempt gone wrong, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year old girl.” And that statement was the crux of both the film and novel.

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We, the audience, never know what it means to be a 13-year old girl, especially since the narrator of the story is an older male reflecting back on his youth and his fascination with the five beautiful sisters. The film was Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, and she did a stunning job at demonstrating the male gaze (cause after all the book is written by a male who’s trying to understand teenage girls). When we all know that the only way to truly understand a teenage girl is to have been a teenage girl yourself.

The film depicts how the neighborhood boys elevated the sisters (especially Lux played by the superb Kirsten Dunst) to an almost saintly level. They can’t understand why Cecilia wished to die, nor do they understand why sisters followed suit soon after in the most horrific ways.

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The Lisbon sisters are never allowed to simply be girls, which means that they, like other girls that have come before and after them, have always struggled with this dilemma where girls aren’t allowed to be real people. That they must fit into someone else’s idea of what they should be (their parents, society, etc.). and that ultimately, it’s that wanting to break free from that saintly ethereal mask that is pinned so aggressively upon them that breaks them in a way that no one will ever comprehend. When Lux tries to break out of her good-girl box and has sex with the school heartthrob Trip (Josh Harnett), the consequences are exceptionally dire, and ones that many teenage girls can relate to.

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What spurs the demise of the Lisbon sister isn’t their sadness, but rather they choose death because they see it as the only vehicle to freedom. They couldn’t be free to be themselves, they had to live up to the expectations that were thrust upon them, and in an act of rebellion, they eliminated themselves as a way to not conform. And sadly, that is something that many teenage girls relate to, and why teenage me only saw death as a means to escape as well.

Men that watch the film will never understand the motives for the girls’ suicides, as the boys in the movie never do. But the girls in the audience know why. Because obviously, the men in the audience have never been a 13-year old girl. But us girls have been and although we can’t condone the act, we do understand why.

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13 Things I’d Like to Tell My 13-Years-Old Self

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  1. Stop worrying about the size of your breasts. It really doesn’t matter, and besides, everyone is going to be too busy checking out your ass to notice the size of your boobs.
  2. Your hair won’t always be frizzy, in fact, serums and straightening irons will give you the most amazing hair, so don’t fret.
  3. That gross skin condition on your hands? It’ll go away by the time you’re 14. Don’t question the how or why that it occurred, it just did, and now you can enjoy having soft, non-peeling hands.
  4. Your quirky sense of style? Guess what? It’s going to be one of the things people will love about you later on in life, cause you defy trends and time.
  5. You know how you hate olives? Sometime around your twenties, you’re going to start loving them. This will be a lesson in giving things a second chance.
  6. Remember how obsessed you are with the movie Lost Boys since the age of 8? You’re going to become friends with one of the actors later on in life and it’ll be so surreal.
  7. You always hated Sundays, cause they’re boring. Newsflash, Sundays will never get better for you, so just kill the boredom with a movie or writing.
  8. Cherish the time you have with your cousin Melody, she won’t live past 34, and this will break your heart.
  9. Your idyllic life will shatter in so many ways that you never would’ve imagined possible. Somehow, you are strong and prevail.
  10. Stop wasting your time obsessing over that boy. He isn’t special. Really, he isn’t.
  11. Keep reading, writing, and studying. You will value your intelligence more than your books, so focus on being the smart girl, not the pretty one. Pretty girls will grow old. Smart girls are forever.
  12. You’re your own worst critic, so give yourself a break, you’re doing all right.
  13. Enjoy all those music videos on MTV while you can, someday there will be none for you to enjoy.White and Pink Strikeout Cosmetics Beauty Logo

Book Review: This Darkness Mine – Mindy McGinnis

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Mindy McGinnis has been delivering badass (sometimes unlikeable) but definitely strong female protagonists since her early works. This Darkness Mine is no different from her previous novels in that regard. Sasha Stone is the epitome of perfection: first chair clarinet player, straight-A student, and also comes equipped with a “perfect” boyfriend who’s handsome, well-dressed, and doesn’t pressure her into sex. All of this slowly begins to erode once bad-boy Isaac Harver enters the scene. Soon, she begins to feel feelings towards him that she never did and recalling events she’s never taken part of. Or has she?

Some light begins to shed when we find out that Sasha had a twin that she ultimately ended up absorbing whilst in the womb (known as Shanna). Unlike Sasha, this twin despises control and perfection and begins to wreck havoc into her life once she starts to take over Sasha’s psyche. But is Shanna real or merely a figment of Sasha’s imagination?

The book flirts with the notion of unreliable narrator, much like Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan did with Natalie Portman’s character. Is what is happening real or is it all just a sign of Sasha’s ultimate madness?

McGinnis breathes life into the “dead twin” Shanna, allowing her to be the personification of Freud’s ID (meaning being a person who only lives for their own passions and don’t allow their brain to control their emotions). Sasha on the other hand is Freud’s EGO end of this yin-yang duo, the brain and captain of the ship. But what happens when the emotion-driven Shanna takes reins of the situation and how will that effect Sasha’s “perfect” world?

This book isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s dark. It’s gritty. It’s gory. (Yes, I L-O-V-E-D it!). And just when you think you know where it’s leading you, you’re completely blindsided by yet again another improvised detour that will leave you questioning your own sanity and judgment. McGinnis delivers a punch to the gut with her sharp writing and often ruthless character interactions.

So take the plunge, cause it’s one hell of a crazy ride.

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Short Q & A With the Author:

When I started reading This Darkness Mine I realized that the book was based off of the short story that appeared in Among The Shadows, entitled Phantom Heart. When did you decide to further explore Sasha’s world and what was it about this character that compelled you to do that?

Great question, thanks for noticing! Yes, DARKNESS is based on my short, “Phantom Heart.” Originally, I had no intention of taking this any further. Then my fellow editors for Among The Shadows – Demitria Lunetta and Kate Karyus Quinn – insisted that there was a whole novel there. I wasn’t sure, but I pitched the idea to my editor at Harper Collins, who was like – Yes! Write it!

Sasha Stone is the typical overachiever. Do you think that her mental illness derives from expecting perfection out of herself and the pressures that come along with that, or does she suffer from multiple personality disorder?

I worked in a public school for 15 years, and I always thought it was interesting how black and white rules and programs were. Drugs are bad. Sex is bad. Smoking is bad. Period. In some ways, we’re telling the kids that even curiosity about our “darker” inclinations are plain wrong, and need to be smothered, not investigated. Perfection is impossible, yet many strive for it. I wondered what would happen if you took an already strained teen, trying to be the “good” kid, and had her repulsed even by any interest in doing “bad” things. Would she be able to accept that such urges can be normal? Or is that so far outside of what we’ve taught her is “good” that she has to come up with an alternative explanation?

For many years I’ve been very fascinated with the creepy phenomenon of Fetus in Fetu, where a twin ends up absorbing the other twin in the womb, and in some cases doctors have later found the missing twin inside of the living twin, usually mistaken for a tumor later on in life. When did you become interested in this strange phenomenon?

It’s actually not a rare event, it’s something that usually goes completely unnoticed. I can’t remember the first time I ever heard of it, because it is pretty pervasive in pop culture, but I did have a student years and years ago who had absorbed his twin. It’s something I collected in my lint trap of a brain, and it became paired in my mind with the mirror therapy that they use for phantom limb syndrome, which is how “Phantom Heart” came about.

In the novel, Sasha is a clarinet player. Were you ever in band in high school and how did that help with writing the novel from a musician’s point of view?

You bet!!! Trombone since 4th grade!!! I tell everyone this is my band geek book. I also took piano lessons throughout most of my childhood, so music has always been a part of my life as both a consumer and a producer. This was a chance to work that into a book.

This novel was exceptionally dark. It explored the trials of mental illness as well as what it means to be a successful girl. Which actress could you see in the role of Sasha if this were to be made into a movie?

Oh, I have no idea. I don’t ever do any fan casting.

(Editor note: I asked that question because I could totally see Emma Roberts portraying stone-cold crazy bitch Sasha to perfection.)

I often use music to get into a certain mood depending what scenes I’m writing. Since your novel was about a girl who was obsessed with music, did you use music as a way to aid you in the writing of this book? And which music/artist/or song did you listen to when immersing yourself into Sasha’s world?

I actually don’t listen to music when I’m writing because while it can be helpful to get you into one mood, it can also end up controlling you mood so that when you need to flip to something else when you change scenes it can be hard. Instead I have a white noise app that I keep on while I’m writing. It’s a back ground noise that lets my creativity be in control, not someone else’s.

Get your copy of This Darkness Mine here today!

Visit the author’s site http://mindymcginnis.com

By: Azzurra Nox