REVIEW: Wild Cards by Simone Elkeles

"Wild Cards" by Simone Elkeles
“Wild Cards” by Simone Elkeles

After getting kicked out of boarding school, bad boy Derek Fitzpatrick has no choice but to live with his ditzy stepmother while his military dad is deployed. Things quickly go from bad to worse when he finds out she plans to move them back to her childhood home in Illinois. Derek’s counting the days before he can be on his own, and the last thing he needs is to get involved with someone else’s family drama.

Ashtyn Parker knows one thing for certain–people you care about leave without a backward glance. A football scholarship would finally give her the chance to leave. So she pours everything into winning a state championship, until her boyfriend and star quarterback betrays them all by joining their rival team. Ashtyn needs a new game plan, but it requires trusting Derek—someone she barely knows, someone born to break the rules. Is she willing to put her heart on the line to try and win it all?

Getting caught wasn’t part of the plan. Pulling off a prank so epic that it’d be talked about for decades was. I’m standing with five of my friends in Headmaster Crowe’s office listening to him rant for the past hour about how our latest prank embarrassed not only him, but the trustees and teachers of this “prestigious boarding school” as well.

“Anyone want to fess up?” Crowe asks.

Jack and Sam are freaking out. David, Jason, and Rich are trying to hold back their laughter. I’ve been called into the headmaster’s office more than a few times since I transferred here, so this is nothing new to me.

—ARC paperback edition

Ashtyn and Derek are two guarded teens thrown together in a straightforward but engaging romance. In witty, dueling first person narratives, football captain Ashtyn and former-football player Derek tumble through love-at-first-sight, complete with on-again off-again summer lust as their egos get in the way.  They’re going to have to learn to open up and trust before they can love.

Derek has a presumably false wrap as a ‘bad boy’: this nice California boy with the Texas drawl spends most of the book cooking healthy meals, watching out for his kid step-brother and doing chores no one asked him to do fixing up the Parker place.  Meanwhile, Ashtyn is focused and motivated, having worked hard to earn her teammates’ respect.  She is a rare blend of heroine who is one of the guys AND one of the girls.  With her mom run out and her dad checked-out, she is her own adult figure, looking up to Katie Calhoun, one of the few female football players on the college level.

The story is sweet, unmarred by too much depth or subplot.  At times, the romance takes a back seat to more interesting tensions (like what’s up with Ash’s boyfriend, Derek’s letter from his grandmother, and how Ash will get to football camp.)  It would have been enjoyable with even less romance, as the family dynamics and drama at the Parker house were intriguing enough to stand on their own.

Readers may be disappointed to learn that the next novel in the series doesn’t follow Derek and Ash, but fear not! They will be around as their friends take center stage.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Strong language, alcohol use, sexual situations, bullying.  Deals with love, loyalty, finding a place in your family, sportsmanship, and growing past old fears to make a better, stronger future.

If you…

  • Enjoy slow-burn summer romances
  • Are a football guy or gal
  • Like tough but tender leading ladies
  • Have ever fallen for someone you swore you wouldn’t

Contemporary YA romance
Hardcover & Ebook, 342 pages
Published October 1st, 2013 by Walker Books for Young Readers (ISBN0802734375)

(Review copy provided by Katy Hershberger at Walker Books.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on


REVIEW: Winger by Andrew Smith

"Winger" by Andrew Smith
“Winger” by Andrew Smith

Ryan Dean West’s life is complicated. He’s a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a school for rich kids. He’s stuck rooming with the biggest jerk on the rugby team in the dorm for miscreants and troublemakers. And he’s totally in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks of him as a little kid.

As Ryan Dean tries to get a handle on school, life, and rugby, he finds himself muddling through a lot of decisions and making some major mistakes along the way.  But nothing can prepare him for what comes next. And when the unthinkable happens, Ryan Dean has to find a way to hang onto the important things–no matter what.

I said a silent prayer.

Actually, silent is probably the only type of prayer a guy should attempt when his head’s in a toiler.
—Hardcover edition
Ryan Dean West, aka Winger, offers us the opportunity through his humorous first-person narration (and his creative use of infographics and doodles) to glimpse the hidden world of a teenage private schoolboy. Impossible love for an older girl, changing and growing friendships, first drinks, parties, bullies and rivalries, and proving himself to adults… Winger reveals it all.

Raw and powerful, the whole story is populated with well-drawn–no pun intended–characters, from Winger’s roommate Chas and best friends Seanie and JP, crush Annie, cool gay guy Joey, and even the adults and parents who impact his life. Readers may find Winger’s self-deprecating tone repetitive, but he proves to his audience that he is not the loser he thinks he is: he is just another kid, living life and growing up.

Appropriate for ages 14+. Contains mild drug/alcohol use, sexual situations, violence on and off the field, strong language, and intense situations. Deals with burgeoning adulthood, self-respect, friendships and romance, sexuality, bullying, hate crimes, and death.
If you…

  • Enjoy private school stories, like “Prep” and “A Separate Peace”
  • Want to bawl your eyes out
  • Have ever felt like the whole world still thought you were a kid
  • Are a fan of “boy” books
  • Need a nice, long read that won’t leave you too soon

YA Contemporary
Hardcover, 439 pages
Published May 14th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster (ISBN 1442444924)

(Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on

REVIEW: Uninvited by Sophie Jordan

"Uninvited" by Sophie Jordan
“Uninvited” by Sophie Jordan


“When Davy Hamilton’s tests come back positive for Homicidal Tendency Syndrome (HTS)-aka the kill gene-she loses everything. Her boyfriend ditches her, her parents are scared of her, and she can forget about her bright future at Juilliard. Davy doesn’t feel any different, but genes don’t lie. One day she will kill someone.

Only Sean, a fellow HTS carrier, can relate to her new life. Davy wants to trust him; maybe he’s not as dangerous as he seems. Or maybe Davy is just as deadly.”


I always knew I was different.

—ARC paperback edition


The concept of a country falling to paranoia is not an unfamiliar one, most recently after 9/11, but also the Cold War, and McCarthy’s witchhunt.)  If McCarthy had been able to genetically test for who would be a Communist sympathizer, this is roughly what you’d get.

Priviledged musical prodigy Davy starts out thinking and acting like she is better than the other teens who have HTS, the kill gene.  It’s almost as though she thought her parents might find a way to get her out.  It takes time, but she does eventually open her mind to the idea that the other HTS kids may be as not-a-killer as she is herself.

The romance never takes center stage, which works well.  Davy’s world is larger than her relationship status, especially right now.  Sean is a bit of the man-of-few-words type and, while that might work for Davy, it’s not going to work for all readers.

Unfortuantely, a lot of Davy’s agency is taken from her.  When she stands up for herself, it resolves with her earning a mark.  When she is threatened, Sean is often the one to come to her rescue.  She might be more comfortable keeping out of a fight, but the mystery of “will she/won’t she” live up to being a killer would not have suffered if she could ever protect herself.

The female characters certainly could use a lesson in being loyal to their friends and in self-respect.  Just about every other female in Davy’s life is either antagonistic, cruel, or taken advantage of.  The only person who treats her like a person is her older brother, which was a nice change of pace considering their parents look upon him as a failure.

Appropriate for ages 13+.  Intense situations, threats of sexual violence, misogyny, manipulative student-teacher relationship, bullying, strong language.  Deals with nature vs. nurture, genetics, identity, betrayal, abandonment, finding inner strength and societal panic.

Readers may wish to discuss the ways in which they made quick judgments about others–over clothing, gender, sexuality, relationship status, intelligence, hobbies, financial status, friend groups, job status, and others.  It would benefit to brainstorm ways to know a person better, rather than accepting the opinions pushed by society.


If you…

  • Enjoy light sci-fi tones in their dystopian societies
  • Have ever been judged unfairly by others
  • Are a fan of Minority Report
  • Love a little romance with your action


YA Dystopian Thriller

Hardcover, 384 pages

Published January 28th, 2014 by HarperTeen

ISBN 0062233653 (ISBN13: 9780062233653)

(Review copy provided by Lindsey Karl at HarperCollins.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 2/20/2014 on

REVIEW: Then You Were Gone by Lauren Strasnick

"Then You Were Gone" by Lauren Strasnick
“Then You Were Gone” by Lauren Strasnick


Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back.

Now Dakota is missing. She left behind a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note.

Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s increasingly convinced that Dakota must still be alive.

Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself.

Or maybe it’s too late for them both.


She’s standing, clutching a Coke can, dancing in front of my broken mirror.  “Turn the music up?”  Her moves are sluggish and slinky, and while she watches herself, she takes small, dainty sips from her soda.
—Paperback edition


Adrienne narrates this tale of spiraling obsession when her ex-best friend goes missing and is presumed a suicide.  Gothy teenage SoCal rocker Dakota Webb is revealed to be fairly sociopathic over the course of the tale—and sadly Adrienne’s grief for her lost friend/”friend” drives her to be more like the missing girl.

With clipped, rapid-fire dialogue and sparse but effective descriptions, the short chapters breeze by. The did-she didn’t-she mystery surrounding Dakota and then also Adrienne’s suddenly-ended friendship will have readers curious enough for just one more chapter until they’ve swallowed the story whole.

The secondary cast is a mixed bag, but mostly read true to life.  Adrienne’s best friend, Kate, and her slowly not-boyfriend Lee stand out in particular.  The friendships and relationships morph and crack naturally and with great tension.

While the ending has a few twists and turns that lack serious foreshadowing enough to make them worthwhile, Adrienne’s psyche is certainly a matter of journey over destination.

Appropriate for ages 14+.  Sexual situations, underage drinking, drug use, emotional abuse, juvenile delinquency.

Deals with loss and grief, friendship, relationships, dark obsession, self-identity.


If you…

  • Want to explore the layered psychosis of a teen girl
  • Are a fan of good girls gone bad
  • Enjoy twisted friendships
  • Have ever loved the wrong person for all the wrong reasons


YA Mystery

Ppaerback & Ebook, 212 pages

Published January 7th 2014 by Simon Pulse (ISBN 1442427167)

(Review copy provided by Kristen Matzen at Simon Pulse.)

Review by Olivia Hennis, originally published 6/30/2014 on