Last Chance by Sarah Dessen
Published by Hodder Children's Books, Speak
Genres: Contemporary YA, Young Adult
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Colie expects the worst when she's sent to spend the summer with her eccentric aunt Mira while her mother, queen of the television infomercial, tours Europe. Always an outcast-first for being fat and then for being "easy" - Colie has no friends at home and doesn't expect to find any in Colby, North Carolina. But then she lands a job at the Last Chance Café and meets fellow waitresses Morgan and Isabel, best friends with a loving yet volatile relationship. Wacky yet wise, Morgan and Isabel help Colie see herself in a new way and realize the potential that has been there all along.
Published as Keeping the Moon in the US.
Thoughts: Sarah Dessen is one of those authors I’ve heard a lot of rave things about; she’s considered one of the very best Contemporary YA writers. And though I was not over-the-moon for Last Chance, I was certainly hooked on its author.
Last Chance is a novel about overcoming one of the toughest things in life: the terrible perception you have of yourself. The main character, Colie, has had a life of bad experiences – and she’s learnt to expect more of them to come. But while I really loved what Dessen did with Colie over the course of the novel, I can’t say I ever came to love her. She was fine, but I never really “got” who she was. Her main role was as the “doormat”, but taking that away seemed to leave a blank slate.
Which, now that I think of it, might have been what Dessen was going for. I guess Colie was still working out who she was – as a “work in progress”, I guess a blank slate would be just what she wanted. Hmm…
Anyhow, the real standouts of Last Chance are Colie’s supporting cast of characters. There’s Isabel, the bitchy, so-truthful-it-hurts, supermodel-look-a-like waitress who starts off as the main antagonist but slowly becomes the greatest friend you can have (and my favourite character in the novel, to boot). Morgan, the soft-hearted waitress with hearts in her eyes and a quick temper. Mira, the eccentric artist-turned-card-writer who sees a good side to everything – even the most broken of appliances. And Norman, the boy who is written off as an “artist hippie type” but turns out to be the most observant of the lot.
Gorgeous, gorgeous characters. I am going to miss them. And are they worth picking up the book for? In a word: yes.
Bottom line: Overall, a great introduction to Dessen’s writing. While I wish the main character had had a bit more character, her friends more than made up for her.
Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
Published by Speak
Genres: Science Fiction YA, Young Adult
Source: Purchased myself
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With a past too terrible to speak of, and a bleak, lonely future ahead of her, Aerin Renning is shocked to find she has earned a place at the most exclusive school in the universe. Aerin excels at Academy 7 in all but debate, where Dane Madousin - son of one of the most powerful men in the Alliance - consistently outtalks her. Fortunately Aerin consistently outwits him at sparring. They are at the top of their class until Dane jeopardizes everything and Aerin is unintentionally dragged down with him. When the pair is given a joint punishment, an unexpected friendship - and romance - begins to form. But Dane and Aerin both harbor dangerous secrets, and the two are linked in ways neither of them could ever have imagined...
Thoughts: There is only one thing I hate about this book: it’s too damn short! I could have kept on reading Academy 7 for another 500 pages – it was just that good.
Don’t be fooled by the cover: Academy 7 is Science Fiction YA. But like all good Science Fiction it is about so much more than space, it’s about character. And even while it is all about character, it’s also about politics, and intelligence, and standing up and thinking for yourself. Academy 7 managed to weave a complex world behind the main narrative – a world both believable and intriguing that would have kept me hooked even if I hadn’t liked the main story. It’s part what makes any book great, but in Academy 7 it is what made it brilliant.
While there was a romance between the two main characters – Aerin and Dane – Academy 7 wasn’t about them getting together… it was about them getting over the misery that had been their lives. Both Aerin and Dane reminded me, in a way, of Katniss from The Hunger Games. Neither one of them wanted to open up to each other, but life brought them together to do just that. I love it when characters need to overcome real emotional obstacles… when their bond with another character develops out of the mistrust that everyone feels for strangers. Aerin and Dane were complex individuals, and watching them grow together was just beautiful…
I also loved how intellectual this book was. Academy 7 is an institute that brings together the brightest minds in the galaxy, and it shows. Aerin and Dane are there because of their extraordinary intelligence, and Anne Osterlund lets it shine through the pages. Here’s what I mean:
Aerin was reminded frequently over the next two months that Dane was still exasperating: the way he drilled her on the small points of an argument, then turned and argued the flip side against her in class; the way he refused to use certain openings in combat, claiming that to do so went against his sense of moral conduct; the way he managed to let others’ snide remarks slide past him as if they meant nothing. If Aerin had been asked at the end of their second term to describe Dane, the first word she would have used would have been maddening. She would also have added stubborn, intelligent, and, to her surprise, funny. His sense of humor, couched in irony, took her a while to appreciate, but it was also bluntly honest; and, by the start of Academia’s damp season, she found herself looking forward to his unvarnished opinions on every topic from flight paths to Ausyan philosophy.
There were no pedestals in Dane’s world. No crystal vases to be treated with supreme care. No heroes. But there was a constant willingness to take out a topic, test it, shake it apart, mix up the pieces, and test them again.
Perhaps that’s why he spends time with me, Aerin found herself thinking one afternoon as she negotiated the Great Hall’s uneven stairs on her way to report for work. Because I haven’t made up my mind about this part of the universe.
– Chapter 14, Academy 7 by Anne Osterlund
In case you hadn’t gathered, I just loved this book. There were a few flaws, mainly due to the short length of the novel. I think Anne Osterlund had enough plot to fill at least 100 more pages and it was a shame to see some pretty key scenes rushed into a few pages. But the somewhat-uneven pacing is not enough to distract from the sheer brilliance of this novel.
Bottom line? Academy 7 is a stunning, emotional, and realistic novel. I adored the characters, the verse, and – hell – even the villains. When I say YA fiction can be astounding, this is the type of novel I’m talking about!
Note: Academy 7 reads as a standalone novel and will likely remain a standalone. Although Anne Osterlund envisioned the book as the first in a trilogy, there aren’t any plans to publish any more in this series (although, please, someone tell me I’m wrong about this!). It’s depressing when I think about it…