1. Finding Audrey, by Sophie Kinsella:
This started off really well for me, but then went drastically downhill and was a bit of a letdown by the end. Finding Audrey follows 14-year-old Audrey as she learns to deal with a newfound diagnosis with social anxiety disorder. She finds most social situations impossible to maneuver and does not even attend school anymore; she stays home with her quirky family and wears big dark sunglasses even in the house because eye contact has become so unbearable for her. It has some great insight on anxiety and how situations that seem effortless to some are unthinkable to others. Audrey eventually takes a liking to Linus, her older brother Frank's video gaming partner, who makes her feel the most normal she has felt in awhile. However, Finding Audrey's main problem lies within; it doesn't really know what it wants to be about. Does it want to be about Audrey finding herself in the daunting sea of anxiety that is life, like the title suggests, or does it want to be about her, her problems and her incredibly annoying family? I call her family annoying because they take up a large chunk of the book for no good reason at all. A lot of chapters revolve around Audrey and Frank's close-minded mother yelling at him to get off the computer, which started off a little relatable at first but then just became so goddamn annoying I wanted to skip them altogether. Audrey's character also takes a weird turn about halfway through, and I figured it would be resolved by the end, but it wasn't. Audrey also alludes to what gave her this social anxiety; an incident at school that we only learn bits and pieces about, which seemed open-ended and not fully disclosed when the reader had a right to have it fully disclosed. In all honesty, Finding Audrey is good in theory, just not in execution. The story, as a whole, just goes nowhere. The book itself isn't really a story, it's just a series of events that happen with much potential but don't really link to each other whatsoever by the end, which left me feeling a bit like I wasted valuable reading time on it. 3/5 stars.
2. Shine, by Lauren Myracle:
It is difficult for me to formulate words about how much I love Shine. It has been quite a long time since I have suffered such emotional trauma at the hands of a hardcover. I was legitimately sad when it ended. I wanted to finish it, yet I didn't want it to end; the eternal book nerd struggle. Shine follows the story behind a hate-crime against a gay teenager, Patrick, in the backwoods small town of Black Creek, North Carolina. The story is narrated by Cat, once Patrick's best friend, who feels that she owes it to him and to herself to find out who attacked him. The descriptions just paint such a picture; it's so atmospheric, I feel like I know the American South like the back of my hand and I am not Southern nor have I ever even been there. A community riddled with conservatism, conformity and religion, and the intolerant values that go along with it. Underneath that, drugs, alcoholism and domestic violence are explored among the "rednecks" of Black Creek. Cat is just such an amazing character and narrator. Everyone told her to leave it alone and stop asking questions about who attacked Patrick, but she didn't. She powered through, and she learned a helluva lot of life lessons while doing it. Shine is a mystery, but at its core, it's a coming-of-age story. The loss of innocence and the barrier between kid and adult, all while trapped in the devastatingly scary place that is Black Creek. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed when I first read the resolution to the mystery; my mind had gone other places, but I think that's because I had begun to think of the storyline as a thriller; Shine is not a thriller. It's a tragic, heart-wrenching, character-driven mystery, and once I considered that, I found a new appreciation for the resolution to the mystery. Honestly, I don't really know what else to say about it other than it's officially one of my all-time favorite books that I will treasure, recommend and maybe even revisit if the opportunity presents itself. Stop what you're doing and go read it; I'll just stay here and cry about it forever. 5/5 stars. (Side note: I went to take Shine out of my library only to be told the book had been discarded and must've been misplaced back on the shelves when it really belonged on the shelf of used books for sale. Short story shorter, I bought the hardcover copy in great condition for a dollar, so now it's mine to gaze at on my shelf for ever and ever.)