Thoughts & Prayers – Bryan Bliss – Greenwillow Books – Published 29 September 2020
Claire, Eleanor, and Brezzen have little in common. Except for the fact that a year ago, they all hid under the same staircase and heard the shots that took the lives of some of their classmates and a teacher.
Now, each one copes with the trauma as best as they can as the world around them keeps moving. Thoughts and Prayers is a story about gun violence, but more importantly it is the story of what happens after the reporters leave and the news cycle moves on to the next tragedy. It is the story of three unforgettable teens who feel forgotten.
Thank goodness for this book. It is beautiful, insightful, reflective, powerful and conveys so much with such a simple, non-preachy style. Three teenagers. Three separate stories. And yet their lives crossed for just a few moments on one fateful day under a school staircase.
Claire, Eleanor and Brezzen survived the school shooting that killed a teacher and fellow classmates. They have each continued their lives, coping with the trauma and fallout in their own ways.
Thoughts & Prayers starts with Claire and her story. Part one starts with Claire and her brother having made a new life after moving towns. Claire is about to start at a new school. Each morning, she and her brother escape to a local skating park after hours – it’s the only time Claire can move without thinking about everyone around her and constantly scanning the environment. She meets three guys at the park, Leg, God and Dark. They seem like they could become friends, they are supportive of her need for space, cope with her panic attacks. But as she spends more time with them, there seems to be something wrong, a little off, with Dark and Claire knows the risks of not speaking up. Claire has an intriguing story and it brings such a powerful message of how hard it is to do the right thing – to even know what the right thing is. She risks everything to speak out, just as she would risk everything by staying silent. Her story is also about the debilitating panic, fear and gamut of emotions that can occur after experiencing such a traumatic event.
Once and for All – Sarah Dessen – Viking Books – Published 6 June 2017
Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.
A summer of weddings, a girl with a damaged heart, an annoying guy, and a bet – what could go wrong? Once and For All is a delightful new novel with Sarah Dessen’s trademark mix of romance, summer, and starting over.
Louna works for her mother’s wedding planning business. Every week she witnesses the pinnacle of true love. Or at least that’s what it should be. But Louna herself knows how badly love can end, leaving her cynical and sure that romance doesn’t come around all that often. Then she meets Ambrose, a serial dater who enjoys the first few perfect moments of a relationship but never commits to more than a day or two. Ambrose drives Louna nuts with his eternally cheerful and haphazard ways. So she is shocked when her mother employs him to help with the summer weddings. But Louna finds herself enjoying spending time with Ambrose (sometimes, when he isn’t making her crazy) and, even stranger, finds herself making a bet with him – she will agree to start dating again and he will try to commit to a relationship that lasts for seven weeks.
This book was described as sugar and effervescent champagne. But I didn’t get that feeling at all. Yes, there are weddings, flirting, and summer days, but it was far more somber than I was expecting. And yet it perfectly fit the Sarah Dessen mould – sweet romance and a light story, tempered with sad tragedy or hard circumstances with which the character must wrestle. I found Louna’s story to be far sadder than I expected. When it says that her last relationship, her first taste of a true and epic love, ended badly, they mean badly. The reader slowly pieces together what happened and how it changed Louna. Meanwhile, we get to know Ambrose. At first, Louna can’t stand him. But as they work together they build a sweet friendship.