Review: ‘Every Little Thing in the World” by Nina de Gramont

Review: ‘Every Little Thing in the World” by Nina de GramontEvery Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2010-03-23
Format: Hardcover
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Sixteen-year-old Sydney Biggs is a “good kid.” Smart, pretty, self-aware. No one doubts that she’ll go far in life. But, lately her mother worries that Sydney is wandering down the wrong path and getting all caught up in petty teenage rebellion and shenanigans. When Sydney and her best friend Natalia “borrow” a car to go to a party and then get escorted home by the police, their parents pack them up and ship them off to a hard-love wilderness camp—to stop this behavior before it gets out of hand, before things go too far. The problem is, they already have.

Sydney—the “good kid”—is pregnant.

In the wilds of Canada, where the girls are to spend the next four weeks canoeing, camping and foraging for food, time is ticking, because Sydney isn't sure what she wants to do about her pregnancy. And she certainly isn't expecting the other heady issues that will confront her as she forges friendships with her adventure-mates, including a guy who makes it no secret that he is a major thug and a teen television heartthrob with a secret of his own, not to mention her own best friend -- who is very adamant about what Sydney should do.

All right, I’ll admit it. I’ve been eyeing this book for years, but I’ve bypassed it every time. Why? I figured that it would be your average teenage pregnancy story, and I thought I knew how it would end. I didn’t care to read a book that I feel as if I’ve read many times before.

I was wrong, as usual.

I started reading this book on a whim, and I just couldn’t put it down. As soon as the story opens, Sydney has already discovered she is pregnant, and the rest of the book details her journey to making her final decision about the pregnancy. Sydney’s honest and introspective voice as a narrator drew me in, and I just had to read on to discover how she was going to deal all of her problems.

One of the best parts about this book is how many layers there are too it — this is not just a story about teenage pregnancy. As in real life, Sydney has so many other problems, and the people around her do, too. She struggles to connect with her mom, who doesn’t seem to care about her like she used to; punishment for the way Sydney is ‘messing up her life’ seems to be all her mom cares about. Money is tight, and Sydney’s continued attendance at her private school is up in the air. Her relationship with her dad and his new family is as strained as ever. And her best friend Natalie is having her own identity crisis, worried about who really loves her and who she really loves.

This is the situation Sydney is in while she must navigate her way to a decision.

So when her dad decides to send her and Natalie to wilderness camp to ‘reconnect with nature’ and correct her behavior, Sydney is of two minds. On the one hand, she really wants to leave all her problems behind for a few weeks; on the other, time is running out for her to make a decision.

At camp, Sydney can escape a lot of her problems — but not all of them. She meets and begins to befriend fellow campers who have their own issues, all while hiding her own biggest problem.

Though she tries to forget about her pregnancy, Natalie won’t let her. Sydney’s evolving friendship with Natalie and their dialogue together over what to do about Sydney’s pregnancy forms part of the core of Every Little Thing in the WorldThough supportive at first about Sydney’s thoughts on abortion, something in Natalie’s own life changes that convinces her to change her mind. So while she must decide about her pregnancy, Sydney must also find a way to keep Natalie as a friend, no matter what she chooses to do.

I highly respect that Nina de Gramont has Sydney explore every option open to her in regards to her pregnancy. No option is painted as completely black and white, completely right or wrong. Instead Sydney explores the many shades of gray that exist, finding that no option is perfect and that every situation is unique. What Sydney needs to do is find out which option is right for her, and figure out what future she is to have for herself.

And I would be remiss in reviewing this book and talking about Sydney’s decision without mentioning Mick, one of the secondary characters she meets at camp. Mick arrives at camp through a program for disadvantaged kids, and he adds a whole different perspective to the story. While Sydney is trying to figure out her own shades of gray, Mick presents a different kind of life, where choices are not always available. He defends the decisions he’s had to make as necessary, and has lived with the consequences. Mick introduces even more moral ambiguity not the book.

All these heavy topics play out against the beautiful and unforgiving wilderness of Canada, which provides for the perfect backdrop to the book.  If I had to boil this story down to it’s essence, I would say it’s just about a girl trying to navigate her life, looking up at the stars and wondering what’s right, what’s wrong, and what she’s going to do. It’s a story that broadened my horizons, made my head spin thinking, and touched something deep within me, something emotional and deeply human.

And no cop-out ending here, folks. No one comes to save Sydney — she must decide things for herself. There is no one that makes Sydney’s choice for her or makes it easier, only the realities of life.

A beautiful novel that tackles a controversial subject, without presenting things as only right or wrong. Compelling and deeply thoughtful.

Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren Destefano

Review: ‘Perfect Ruin’ by Lauren DestefanoPerfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano
Series: The Internment Chronicles #1
Genres: Dystopian, Fantasy, Legends, Myths, Fables, Realistic Fantasy, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-10-01
Format: Hardcover
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On Internment, the floating island in the clouds where 16-year-old Morgan Stockhour lives, getting too close to the edge can lead to madness. Even though Morgan's older brother, Lex, was a Jumper, Morgan vows never to end up like him. She tries her best not to mind that her life is orderly and boring, and if she ever wonders about the ground, and why it is forbidden, she takes solace in her best friend Pen and her betrothed, Basil.

Then a murder, the first in a generation, rocks the city. With whispers swirling and fear on the wind, Morgan can no longer stop herself from investigating, especially when she meets Judas. He is the boy being blamed for the murder — betrothed to the victim — but Morgan is convinced of his innocence. Secrets lay at the heart of Internment, but nothing can prepare Morgan for what she will find — or who she will lose.

I. Loved. This. Book. Period.

But since I can’t just leave my review at that, I guess I have to continue.

Morgan lives in the floating city of Internment, which was said to have been raised into the air by the god of the sky to punish the humans whose demands of the gods never seemed to end. Life on Internment is safe, comfortable, and without jealousy or greed. A person may choose any path in life, but no one can approach ‘the edge’ or attempt to reach the ground. But for Morgan, Internment seems to get smaller everyday as her yearning to know about ‘the ground’ grows. When the first murder in a generation occurs, it sets off a spiraling series of events that opens Morgan’s eyes to the truth about the city that is her whole world.

I was enchanted by the city of Internment, which coincidentally reminds me of another floating city (I know, how many can there be?) called Laputa from Hayao Miyazaki’s film Castle in the Sky, which apparently has its own roots in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

The world building in Perfect Ruin is both spectacular and captivating. Internment, having existed separately from ‘the ground’, has over time developed its own religion, history, and culture that I absolutely loved reading about. Many of Internment’s practices also stem from its need to conserve space and resources, as the ‘island’ is quite small. I had no trouble reading on as I found out all about Internment’s customs, from assigning betrothals (engagements) at birth, the ‘birth queue’ that couples must join to be allowed to have a child, the ‘Festival of Lights’ (a sort of Christmas holiday) and so on.

None of the other elements of the book disappoint, either; the characters are the next-best thing about Perfect Ruin. Morgan is compassionate and always trying to take care of everyone else in her life, yet knows when she needs to rely on and confide in others. While she starts off as naive, she slowly becomes aware of the true nature of life on Internment and is anything but passive as she strives for justice. Her best friend Pen has her own distinct personality, beliefs, and problems, and her friendship with Morgan is believable and strong. Basil, her betrothed, knows Morgan perhaps better than she knows herself, and loves and supports her through all her troubles and fantasies about ‘the ground’. Even Lex, her older brother who is now blind and bitter after being a ‘Jumper’, is so dear to Morgan as he reminds her of herself and her own struggles. All in all, there is not a character that I didn’t like in this book, and they all add to the story.

As for the plot, I was never bored. Internment quickly becomes a less-than safe place, and crimes and mistrust abound. So many elements of the story begin to come together in the later parts of the book, and I enjoyed the many plot-twists. By the end I was an emotional ball of nerves, quickly flipping through the pages to find out what would happen. And with the way the book ended, there is no doubt that I will be reading the sequel.

Destefano’s artful and poetic writing was really just an added bonus to an already great book. Her beautiful prose added to my sense of wonder about Internment and gave the book a whimsical and dreamy tone.

A must read! I enjoyed the creative world-building. No part will disappoint!