Thursday, May 29, 2014

The New Reading Rainbow: For Progress or For Profit?

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Yesterday I learned of a new Kickstarter project to bring back Reading Rainbow, that beloved PBS show forever in the hearts of kids from the 80s and 90s. Bring back Reading Rainbow?? The theme song hasn’t left my head since 1992! What amazing things this Internet can do!

My initial reaction was, and I quote myself:

TAKE IT. TAKE ALL OF MY MONEY. TAKE ALL OF MY MONEY AND FIX THE WORLD WITH BOOKS.

Adapting this amazing message, outdated by 20th-century technology, for the 21st-century world? This sounds like brilliance. Take a look at the Kickstarter project video and see for yourself:


The mission of the new Reading Rainbow, as outlined in the above video, is three-fold:

  • Develop a web-enabled Reading Rainbow for the home
  • Create a classroom version with the tools our teachers need
  • Subsidize the cost so that the schools most in need can use Reading Rainbow FOR FREE
Initially, I hopped right on board and decided to download the existing Reading Rainbow iPad app onto my mom’s iPad for my 3-year old nephew to browse to browse for myself. And while the platform is engaging and the books plentiful, my enthusiasm suddenly dropped with the presence of one very exclusive word…

SUBSCRIPTION.

And I discovered that the Reading Rainbow app is actually highly restricted unless you pay $9.99 a month. Suddenly, LeVar’s claim that a web-enabled Reading Rainbow will expand access because “not everyone can afford a tablet” sounds almost fraudulent. Who, of that target audience you’re addressing in your promotional video, the ones that “can’t afford a tablet,” can then justify a $10-a-month service fee?

Based on the goals listed above, it seems this cost will still exist on a web-version; but clever marketing, counting on nostalgic sentiment and employing selective omission, hopes you overlook this very basic fact: Reading Rainbow is no longer a free universal resource as it was during its days on public television; it’s a for-profit enterprise. Through Kickstarter, we’re funding the creation of material that will be sold for profit, somewhat under the guise this material will help every child everywhere, NO MATTER THEIR SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS. And when the aid to “schools most in need” covers only about 1,500 classrooms (as listed in the project description), the universality seems to come up short.

I support the enthusiasm for stories, books, and independent exploration Reading Rainbow has always shared to encourage kids to find interest in reading. However, I feel a bit conflicted by the new Reading Rainbow’s tagline of “Every Child…Everywhere.” Perhaps if the subscription model was directed at institutions, specifically, instead of individuals, it would feel more genuine—schools or libraries could then provide this resource to their students and users for free, just as is the case with hundreds of other for-profit database resources. Or perhaps it’d seem more forthright if the video and accompanying information clearly stated that all these resources aren’t available without paying a subscription fee. Instead, I feel like the intent is admirable, but the access is still limited to the haves rather than have-nots who need it the most.

What do you think about the NEW Reading Rainbow? Bridging the technology and literacy gaps is one of the biggest challenges facing schools and libraries. Can Reading Rainbow help?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fiction | A Youthful Journey of Religious and Self Discovery

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Ayad Akhtar’s American Dervish is the first book in a while that just left me floored. This one grabbed me and didn’t let go, and it hasn’t left my head for days. Formulating the words to articulately and (somewhat) succinctly share it with you was just about as difficult as it’s been to wrap my head around all that its pages hold. So hold on tight, because here we go…

Hayat Shah is our young narrator, in college and crushing hard on a classmate from his Islamic History class. We quickly learn from this class that Hayat is not a religious Muslim, but he also knows the Quran well enough to skip the assigned readings. Here we discover that Hayat is not religious by choice; he was once, but he’s given that all up. And the rest of the story tells us why.

When Hayat was a pre-teen in the late 1970s, his mother’s best friend Mina comes from Pakistan to live with his family in their midwestern American home. Mina was escaping the tyranny of an ex-husband who, by Pakistan’s laws, had full right to take custody of their son without Mina’s consent. Hayat’s own parents aren’t particularly religious—his mother constantly decries the treatment of women by Muslim men, and his father considers the vast majority of Muslims in America major hypocrites. It’s Mina who introduces Hayat to the words of the Quran and what it means to be Muslim—an enlightenment that becomes an obsession in Hayat’s middle school years. As his religious identity develops alongside his own self image, Hayat is forced to reconcile what’s right and wrong according to several very different sets of rules.

In a note from the author, included in the book’s reading guide, Akhtar says his intention is to write about being a Muslim American, not just a Muslim in America—a perspective he finds necessary and important in today’s world. To do so, he has created these incredibly flawed characters that represent the complexities of just what that means. Hayat has a father who drinks and has affairs; a mother who praises Jews and condemns Muslim men; neighbors who spout hate and violence towards non-Muslims; and an aunt that seems to be the biggest contradiction of all—who seems on the verge of happiness following a modern, American-ized lifestyle but is held back by religious conviction.

Through Hayat, Akhtar demonstrates how culture and religion can be both “alienating and comforting.” As would happen in any religion, Hayat experiences the complexities that arise from individual interpretation. And as his own religious identity is developing, it’s confusing and difficult to reconcile the flaws he sees in people with his growing sense of faith.

Having read through reviews and comments on Goodreads, I am surprised to see how divided this book’s reader audience has proven to be. Some simply found it a readalike to The Kite Runner, to which, except for its Muslim subject matter, it shares few commonalities. Some found the characters too symbolic, too much of caricatures embodying certain ideals. And several found it to do little more than perpetuate stereotypes about Islam.

Here’s where I disagree: American Dervish isn’t just a generalized statement about modern Islam; Hayat is what adds dimension. His story is too personal, too individual to simply make this a story about religious issues, be they stereotypes or not. This story is about one person’s own coming-of-age experience and his changing perspective. It’s about how there can be a disconnect between opinion and behavior; how belief systems can be expressed in the slightest of ways; how, as you grow up, most things you see and learn are going to completely contradict each other, and it’s up to you to process it and to develop your own belief systems.

Because of this, I didn’t find Hayat’s story to be a specifically Muslim one. I do think Akhtar was trying to send a very clear message about the complexities of Islam as it is perceived in today’s world. However, Hayat’s experiences, at their foundation, are universal. You could be Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu, and the same sense of religious discovery—asking questions and finding your own answers—would be valid. And everyone has to navigate their way through the doubt and confusion of adolescence.

So whether American Dervish adds something new to the modern Muslim American voice is not for me to say. It did, though, inspire me to think and feel and question and seek…which is as much as I can ask for from a book and more than I often get.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Movie | Challenging Law and Convention in the Austen Era

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Despite saying this blog was going to start covering other forms of media besides just books, I haven’t actually done that since I recommended you immediately watch season 1 of Veronica Mars. Today I went back to the Belcourt to see the new film Belle and decided I would take this opportunity to branch away from books and tell you about it!

Belle is a period piece, set in England back in the late 1700s as the slave trade is still a major part of Britain’s economy. Dido Elizabeth Belle is both blessed and cursed in her time; she is the illegitimate daughter of an African woman and a British admiral, and, once her mother has died and her father learns of her existence, she goes to live with her father’s family in England where she’s raised as a lady of the house. Her uncle also happens to be Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice (aka, a very powerful man in the law of the country).

Though Dido is raised as a lady in a respectable home, and although she is fortunate to inherit her father’s wealth providing a life of financial independence, she is still limited by the social codes of the day. As a woman she is still expected to marry well and become, essentially, the property of a husband; and as a mulatto, she is still shamed by her mother’s blood.

As Dido becomes increasingly attune to the indignities and inequalities she has suffered, her awareness is also fueled by the controversial case regarding a slave ship called the Zong, where over 100 sickly slaves were thrown overboard and the crew demanded insurance repayment for damaged cargo. The outcome of this case of “insurance fraud” rests, naturally, on Dido’s uncle; to deem slaves as humans rather than cargo threatens the country’s entire economy, but to demand insurance payment perpetuates a society where men are valued by the color of their skin.

So there’s class and economy and social rules and human rights. Oh, and there’s also romance, as Dido is offered a respectable future with a “suitable” match while harboring passionate feelings for an unsuitable non-“gentleman.”

The cast of Belle is wonderful—you’ll find most every stellar British actor that graces various PBS miniseries—and the leading lady is especially mesmerizing. The setting, the costume, the details as well. The tension is ever-present, creating a plot that you are unsure of how it will conclude. Overall, though, it feels like a much lighter movie than the subject matter seems like it should warrant. Perhaps it’s simply an inherent result of its historic setting; lacking the immediacy of the present (or even near-present), it doesn’t feel quite so heavy-hearted and dire. In many ways, it feels much like a provincial story from Jane Austen with just a smattering of social commentary. But here the social commentary is, as it should be, much larger, though we never feel bogged down by the situation before us; we know what is right and what is wrong, who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. This is a story with heft but ultimately more heart-warming than heart-wrenching [a-okay by me!]; you leave feeling like you consumed a good story instead of with a lot of lingering questions to discuss.

For those looking to delve deeper into this story, there is unfortunately not very much! It was actually a painting that inspired further investigation, quickly leading to this movie version. There does appear to be a book on the subject—Belle: The Slave Daughter and the Lord Chief Justice by Paula Byrne—but its publication falls directly in line with the movie release; I’m not sure if should be categorized as “thorough research” or “cross promotion.”

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fiction | Everything’s Strange in Crystal Springs, Maine

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Since I’m going to be a middle school librarian (woooot!), one of my immediate reading projects is to seriously increase my intake of middle grade material! And because this blog should imitate life, I plan on posting a lot more juvenile material on here with a more Reader’s Advisory slant. I’ve read in library school coursework that you “shouldn’t do RA based on personal reading experiences,” but I think that’s rubbish! It’s the familiarity and excitement that gets readers reading, right? I figure, the more I know, the better I can do my job. (Sidenote: Reading recommendations welcome!)

Having said all that, Megan Frazer Blakemore’s The Water Castle has actually been on my to-read list long before this reading mission, because I always love a good children’s book!

In this story, the Appledore-Smith clan has just moved to an old family estate in a small Maine town with the hope of accelerating their father’s recovery from a stroke. We have Price, the eldest; Brynn, the youngest; and Ephraim, our main character on this journey. Ephraim quickly realizes that something is unusual about Crystal Springs, Maine. Everyone is too good, too smart, too healthy. The town’s history is embellished by urban legend—the rumored site of the Fountain of Youth. Nothing has ever been proven, but Ephraim finds it all too odd for rational explanation.

Upon the discovery of a mysterious blue glow around their mysterious old house, Ephraim decides to open an investigation into the house and town’s past—from its days as a bottling factory of “magical healing waters” to a secret science lab to an unexplained, devastating fire—with the hopes of healing his father once and for all.

The Water Castle has got a lot packed into it. It has elements of fantasy, mystery, and history. It deals with new schools, new peers, serious health issues, sibling conflict, and an uncertain future. The story unfolds through Ephraim’s eyes because he is, undoubtedly, the most relatable character; he’s completely and entirely normal. He has the same struggles, insecurities, hopes, motivations, and aspirations as any other middle schooler; but his world in The Water Castle is one where the unbelievable isn’t impossible.

Blakemore has created a deceptively complex story here with substantial subplots and side characters, though nothing too distracting—it’s all part of the bigger picture. My only real complaint is that the story ended without many answers. Part of me can understand it, for imagination’s sake, and part of me just thinks it’s lazy writing. I also wonder if a younger audience will find it as slow-paced as I did, and that’s something I’ll just have to learn from experience. Because of all those loose ends, though, this would be great for a book club or discussion—and a great motivator for creative writing.

Overall, I’d classify this as a realistic story but with fantastical elements; it’s a world where the lines between fantasy and reality are blurred, which is an exciting place for the minds and imaginations of young readers.

**Similar: Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce

Monday, May 12, 2014

Book Tour: Fallout

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I’ve just finished the last words of Sadie Jones’ Fallout, and I find myself much more satisfied than I had expected. I’m thinking more than usual about these characters I’ve met, their actions and motivations, and I actually want to know them deeper. And considering Jones has already crafted a detailed character novel, that’s hard to ask.

Fallout is set in London in the early 1970s, mainly focusing on Luke Kanowski, a brilliant young playwright on the cusp of success. He landed in London by a chance encounter with Paul and Leigh, two strangers sent by fate, leading him away from his emotionally distressing childhood. He has since immersed himself in the theater world, alongside Paul and Leigh, where he can pour emotion into his characters as a writer but barely shows as much in real life. Emotionally incompetent is how many may describe Luke, until a passionate affair with an equally damaged actress, Nina, consumes him.

Every facet of this story that would normally turn me off somehow redeemed itself and kept me intrigued. For example:

I didn’t feel compassion for any of these characters.
+ But they were so deeply drawn and so linked together, I needed to see what they would do to each other.

Luke is soooo that jerk of a 20-something that has no concept of other people’s feelings—such an obnoxious type too familiar to like.
+ But his emotional development kept you somehow sympathetic to this character. 

The writing is simple, but it makes it easy to get in the psychology of all the story’s characters. Though some seem more background than others, Jones does a fabulous job of sharing enough so you’ll understand at least some of their motivations. Luke was center stage, but they all had nearly equal treatment. (Leigh was the most intriguing and least developed to me, though; I wanted more of her story.)

The pacing is on the slow side, though I was interested enough to get through it rather quickly. I was thinking that this is a book I might have a hard time convincing others to pick up. It’s for a particular type of reader—how do you sell a character story with not-so-likeable characters and little plot action? I think, though, for the right person, this is a fascinating look at people, their relationships, and how the fallout from individual experiences is rarely isolated.

This post is a stop on the TLC Book Tour of Fallout! You can visit the tour page to learn more about the book, its author, and find a list of the other tour stops. If you’re intrigued, be sure to check out all the other blogger opinions, continuing through the end of this month!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fiction | Collecting Memories from a Thrift-Shop Bin

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“It’s a strange product of infatuation, she thinks. To want to tell someone about mundane things. The awareness of another person suddenly sharpens your senses, so that the little things come into focus and the world seems more beautiful and complicated.”

That’s essentially what Alexis M. Smith does in her short debut novel, Glaciers—it’s a collection of the small but monumental pieces that build the life of 20-something Isabel. Our protagonist is the quiet type, living in Portland, working at the library preserving materials. She seems to live behind-the-scenes, rather than center stage, and collects small trinkets and relics that become parts of herself. A thrift-shop dress holds the anticipation of a new relationship; a trip to visit her aunt resides in an old garnet ring. Isabel assigns her thoughts, feelings, and memories to material items, and through these treasures, Isabel organizes and experiences the world.

Glaciers, in its brevity, follows one actual day in Isabel’s life as she goes to work, shops for a dress, shares lunch with a coworker, chats with her best friend, and attends an evening party. It’s brief in action, but Smith fills the pages with observations and reminiscences that keep Isabel’s day busy, a constant hum of activity.

For some, this is the kind of book that will be filled with underlines to note poetic combinations of words. Passages like:

“It’s never the wedding dresses, you know. We keep those, too, but only because they’re so blooming expensive. No. I’ve seen enough old ladies’ closets to know what we really hold on to. Not the till-death-do-us-part dresses. It’s those first lovely dresses: the slow dance dresses, the good-night-kiss dresses. It’s those first pangs we hold on to.”

That’s what you should read this book for—how words can capture moments, and how these little snippets of time can echo impassioned emotion. It does these things well, but its short length and fragmented tone don’t inspire much affection or compassion for the main character. And the average cynic may even find it all a bit twee. I really loved Smith’s purpose with this short novel, and how Isabel gave physicality to her feelings and moments so she could always hold onto them; I just wish the overall writing style felt a bit more natural.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reading Notes: The Evolution of God, Part 1

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Remember back years ago when I read Gail Collins’ When Everything Changed, blogging throughout my reading experience instead of only at the end? That was one of the most satisfying books I’ve ever read, and it was mostly thanks to the way I read it. Usually, with fiction especially, I devour a book straight through to formulate an instinctual, overarching reaction and opinion. Then I may go back, analyze and criticize, and interact with the book more deeply. With When Everything Changed, I read slowly and deliberately. I made notes in the margins; I underlined facts to remember.

Before I started The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, I had intended to just read it straight through like any other book, discerned only as a break in all the fiction I’ve been reading lately. As I kept reading, though, I figured this would be the perfect book to start reading more closely—it’s full of detail; it’s well-organized with easy start and stop points; its sections are thematic. To me, it didn’t feel like I’d do this book justice if I breezed through it and summarized at the end; and it’s about time I had a more thorough reading project. [Plus, after finishing the first two sections, I couldn’t read further without a break!]

Wright’s purpose with The Evolution of God is to chronicle the development of modern day monotheism from prehistoric polytheism. To succinctly sum up all 500+ pages of this book, Wright’s main argument is that the three Abrahamic religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—are a product of social and economic advancement. Monotheism was not a revolutionary concept; rather, as humankind evolved—as communities formed and global interactions developed—its concept of religion followed suit in ways that would continue to be of benefit socially, economically, and theologically.

But before international politics influenced religion, scientific discovery played an even bigger part. Wright states that, “However diverse the forces that shape religion, its early impetus indeed seems to have come largely from people who, like us, were trying to make sense of the world.” And before science provided the reason for weather patterns and human growth and development, people created gods to explain the unexplained.

So basically, somewhere along the way, these gods that controlled the weather evolved into modern-day religion. But…

  1. When did gods become a God we worship? and
  2. When did religion become about morality?
“Religion” was once something that was “so tightly interwoven into their [hunter-gatherer] everyday thought and action that they don’t have a word for them.” To answer my above questions, Wright brings in the factor of human interaction. The values taught by modern-day religion—love, honesty, generosity—weren’t present in primitive religion, because there wasn’t a larger society to be accountable to; when your only interactions are with family and close friends, these values are inherent. When populous settlements began to form, requiring interaction with each other, these values were needed for mutually beneficial co-existence. Because religions that “encouraged people to treat others considerately…made for a more orderly and productive city.”
Sections I and II of this book (titled “The Birth and Growth of Gods” and “The Emergence of Abrahamic Monotheism,” respectively) mostly discuss this evolution from many gods to one God, and the emergence of the God personality familiar today. According to Wright, this evolution didn’t stop when god became God; his personality has evolved as well. Throughout history, gods have been angry and spiteful; gods have taken human form with human qualities; and God has appeared gracious and all-knowing. Wright tries to demonstrate how all these different forms of a “higher power” are a reflection of society’s needs at a particular time. 
Image credit
It’s refreshing to read a non-controversial, unassuming voice on an often debated topic. Wright writes without sarcasm or skepticism; his approach is more cultural and historical than theoretical or scientific. He writes seemingly without agenda other than to highlight the historical evidence offering an explanation of why things exist as they do. He considers the two most debated and most dominate positions regarding the purpose of modern religion: 1) to provide “reassurance and hope in the face of pain and uncertainty, overcoming our natural selfishness with communal cohesion,” and 2) as “a tool of social control, wielded by the powerful for self-aggrandizement.” In other words, he recognizes opposing views on this topic and addresses them both as valid.
I’ll be honest…Wright sort of lost me in Section II. By this point, society has progressed into the great empires we know from history—Babylonia, Greece, Rome. Wright touches on the issue of religion breeding intolerance as societies competed with each other, which seems to be a point he will address more later on. But overall, this section features many names and places, and how all of these factors have shaped religion into what it is today; and he points to several passages in the Bible that indicate biblical evidence of thought patterns…
And this made me consider how fascinating the Bible is as a piece of literature, because it serves as both a platform for storytelling and a historical record. 
Mostly in this section, though, I felt like Wright was jumping ahead. The text identifies historical figures as Jewish or Christian, but he never touched on the point at which these religions separated from one another; we have the build up to monotheism from polytheism, but not the point at which different belief systems (different religions) emerged. I believe he will touch on these things in the coming sections, but it was confusing to read about particular people and stories from the texts of specific religions before we had reached that point.
I have now rambled for a very long time on these sections without much coherent conclusion or summary! I find Wright to be that kind of big-picture nonfiction author that helps you understand his main points, but I found Section II to be bogged down with too much historical detail. It was more confusing than enlightening. I hope Section III, “The Invention of Christianity,” will bring it back down to a single track that’s easier to follow. In the meantime, here’s one of the most important takeaways from these sections that explains why I find religion to be so fascinating to question and explore:

“Whatever the truth about Yahweh’s early history, there is one thing we can say with some confidence: the Bible’s editors and translators have sometimes obscured it—perhaps deliberately, in an attempt to conceal evidence of early mainstream polytheism.”

Because history is always open to interpretation, and stories always reflect their author’s voice.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reading Roundup: The 5 Best Things About Sarah Dessen for YA Readers

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I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I recently discovered that Sarah Dessen’s entire oeuvre is available in the Nashville Public Library’s eBook collection. And ever since that fall semester of YA books, where I first read Dessen in Along for the Ride, she has been my go-to author when I need something light and fun to read. This worked out perfectly for our recent two months of travel, armed with just a Kobo and a library card!

From quick pleas for book recommendations from female friends to job interview questions about book talks for young readers, Sarah Dessen has proved to be a very helpful answer for various book queries I’ve had in the past several months! I absolutely love her, and here’s why:

  1. Her plot lines are relatable—every day characters dealing with their every day lives.
  2. They’re never too dark and serious. Sure, there are “issues” but nothing that would have your mom ask, “Why are you reading something so sad??” like mine would.
  3. However, her characters are not idiots. The books are enjoyable but they’re not total fluff. Her characters have flaws but always develop a strong sense of self-confidence if they didn’t have it before. Also, they generally accept other people’s flaws—a good worldview to adopt.
  4. The fact that you could categorize her books as Romance means there’s a dependable happy ending. (At least in all the ones I’ve read so far.)
  5. She has written A ZILLION BOOKS! (Ok, her website tells me it’s only 11, but I definitely thought it was more.) This is perfect for a librarian’s readers’ advisory. “You liked this book by Sarah Dessen? Awesome! She has more!”

Over the course of our two-month trip, 3 of the 10 books I read were by Dessen. I’m not going to go into great depth, but I did want to share a quick summary of the three I read along with the stand-out themes of each.

In Keeping the Moon, Colie is sent to live for the summer in a town called Colby with her eccentric aunt while her infomercial-famous mother heads to Europe on a promotional tour for her fitness programs. Colie, like her mother, used to be overweight, but the two of them have embarked on a new healthy life. Only, for Colie, it didn’t result in the same newfound self-confidence as for her mother. Colie still suffers at the hand of class bullies, and Colby is, finally, a place where she doesn’t have the same social stigma as back home. She starts working as a waitress at a local grill and befriends her coworkers. For the first time in a while, she can live freely without always putting up a guard and keeping all her feelings hidden within. And that allows her to start to view the world around her–how people treat one another, how actions affect others—and how those outside influences don’t have to define how you think of yourself.

The main theme in this one is self-esteem. Having always let the words of bullies affect her own sense of self, Colie observes the opposite when her Aunt Mira, often teased and ostracized by neighbors, just lets the words roll right off her. Viewing it from a different perspective gives Colie the confidence to face her own demons—both literal and figurative. This also teaches how social interactions matter and that flaws don’t define a person.

That Summer is about a girl named Haven who’s got a lot on her plate. Her fiesty older sister Ashley is about to get married to the most boring guy on the planet. And her dad is getting married too, to his much younger colleague at the local TV station where he works–the weather girl, with which he most definitely had an affair before Haven’s parents were divorced. To Haven, nothing feels stable anymore; she takes solace in remembering good times of the past, and she can’t understand why she’s the only one who wants things the way they were. On top of all this, Haven was cursed with height. At almost six feet tall, she’s way taller than cute and perfect Ashley, and she’s not exactly comfortable in her own skin. When Haven randomly runs into Sumner Lee, her favorite of Ashley’s many old boyfriends, she finds an escape and comfort in hanging out with someone from her happier past.

While Haven does have some self-image issues like Colie, that’s not the main focus on this book. The biggest issue facing Haven is how to find happiness when the life you knew and loved has changed so drastically. She has a hard time facing the present and all of problems; she’d rather just live in the past. The biggest lesson here is that problems won’t just go away if you ignore them; you have to deal. And life and circumstances will change; if the present sucks, things can get better.

Mclean is living in the aftermath of her parents’ bitter divorce in What Happened to Goodbye. For the past two years, she’s been with her dad, moving from town to town, wherever his job takes them. Every new place gives Mclean the opportunity to reinvent herself—she’s been a goth, an egghead, and everything in between. Plus, Mclean knows they never stay that long anywhere anyway; there’s no time for anyone to know the real her. Once they arrive in Lakeview, though, it’s different. Mclean doesn’t create a new character for herself for once, and she starts making real friends and facing the things she’s been avoiding—mostly her mom, who’s started a new life with a new husband and new kids. Her new friendships and relationships make Mclean realize how much she’s been missing by keeping everyone at a distance, but if she’s learned anything, it’s that it can always just disappear out from under you.

What Happened to Goodbye has many of the same themes as That Summer; Mclean’s world has changed, and rather than move on, she just sort of stops living. Colie coped by trying to live in the past; Mclean copes by changing herself. In doing so, she cuts herself off from people and avoids facing her own problems, which is a very lonely existence. This story is mostly about identity and figuring out who you are when you no longer know, because confidence makes it much easier to handle life’s unexpected hurdles.