Little Panic – Amanda Stern

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Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Publication Date: June 19th, 2018

Page Count: 400 (hardcover)

From the Jacket:

In the vein of bestselling memoirs about mental illness like Andrew Solomon’s Noonday Demon, Sarah Hepola’s Blackout, and Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mindcomes a gorgeously immersive, immediately relatable, and brilliantly funny memoir about living life on the razor’s edge of panic.
The world never made any sense to Amanda Stern–how could she trust time to keep flowing, the sun to rise, gravity to hold her feet to the ground, or even her own body to work the way it was supposed to? Deep down, she knows that there’s something horribly wrong with her, some defect that her siblings and friends don’t have to cope with.
Growing up in the 1970s and 80s in New York, Amanda experiences the magic and madness of life through the filter of unrelenting panic. Plagued with fear that her friends and family will be taken from her if she’s not watching-that her mother will die, or forget she has children and just move away-Amanda treats every parting as her last. Shuttled between a barefoot bohemian life with her mother in Greenwich Village, and a sanitized, stricter world of affluence uptown with her father, Amanda has little she can depend on. And when Etan Patz disappears down the block from their MacDougal Street home, she can’t help but believe that all her worst fears are about to come true.
Tenderly delivered and expertly structured, Amanda Stern’s memoir is a document of the transformation of New York City and a deep, personal, and comedic account of the trials and errors of seeing life through a very unusual lens.

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I just started this a few days ago, but once I picked it up I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up until 130 in the morning and then set my alarm early so I could read the last few chapters. I had so many emotions while reading this book and it opened so many questions for me. About who I am, how I was raised, my own anxiety, what kind of parent I am versus the one I want to be, how I interact with those around me, especially my wife. I’m not sure if reading someone else’s memoir should make one introspective, but this one resonated with me in so many different places and ways that it did. Amanda’s life is incredible and the courage with which she opens herself up in such an honest and raw way is humbling. I loved reading this book. I loved learning about her life and how she interprets the world, especially as a child.

Little Panic opens in Amanda’s elementary school classroom, where the students–all except for her–have earned watches by learning to correctly tell time and are now playing a game to test their knowledge. Amanda’s best friend Melissa has been asked to sit out the game and help her catch up so she can join the rest of the class. As she asks frantic–and in my opinion, very valid–questions to make sense of it, Amanda can feel her friend’s frustration that she does not get it and her desire to just go join the game. My reaction to this first chapter was visceral and heartbreaking and plunged me back into my own childhood school experiences. While the writing style and language change as she gets older, it is perhaps these first chapters, written in this simple, honest, and straightforward voice that are my favorite.

After her parents divorce when she was only 2, Amanda’s mother move her and her siblings into a townhouse in the city that backs up to a shared outdoor space referred to as the secret garden by the residents. It is in this idyllic space that much of the story unfolds and Amanda shares the dichotomy of her life safely ensconced in her garden and the many terrors she faces on the street side. There are so many things to be afraid of on the street side, but it is the disappearance of Etan Patz from a bus stop near her house and the ensuing search for him that helps to shape and sharpen her many anxieties. I grew up without a knowledge of this case and the slow revelation of facts throughout the story added an air of mystery not resolved until the book concludes.

Little Panic spans Amanda’s childhood up through the present time. She discusses her deep attachment to her mother, the turbulent connection with her father, the relationships she has with her siblings, her failed romantic relationships, and everything in between. Interspersed with memories and anecdotes are questions from the many psychological tests she took and notes and observations from her doctors. I’m not a psychologist, but I do hold a degree in psychology and was so incredibly frustrated by the fact that no one suggested a panic disorder until she is 25 years old. As a child, she’s always trying to find something wrong with her on the outside that will help everyone understand what is wrong with her on the inside. Receiving her diagnosis doesn’t magically fix her, but it does finally give her the words needed to voice her anxiety.

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I was ecstatic beyond words when Amanda reached out to me to see if I would be interested in reviewing her book. One of my favorite parts about the book community on Instagram are the connections I’m able to build not only with the other readers of the books I love, but their writers too! Of all of the author interactions I’ve had, my exchanges with Amanda have been some of my favorite. She is incredibly kind and thoughtful and has written a truly incredible account of her life growing up in New York City with an undiagnosed panic disorder. I’ve read a lot of reviews about this book, and several suggest that anyone with anxiety read this book. While I think there are many reasons why a reader with anxiety would find maybe a sense of community here, they’re not the only relevant audience. I think Little Panic should be required reading for anyone sharing their life with a person who suffers from panic disorders–parents, partners, healthcare professionals, even friends–as it provides invaluable insight into an anxious mind.

The hugest thank you goes out to Amanda and Grand Central Publishing for this copy in exchange for my honest review.


Hag – Kathleen Kaufman

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Publisher: Turner

Publication Date: October 2nd, 2018

Page Count: 336 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

At this, the Cailleach would release a single drop of indigo dye onto the topmost layer. See, she would tell her daughter. See? It bleeds through the topmost path and onto the next. In this way, so many things from the next world touch ours, and our world touches the layer beneath.

High above the sea, hidden in the rocky Scottish cliffs, something stirs. An ancient matriarchal power has set the wheels in motion for a long line of descendants. But to what end?

Spanning centuries of human history, these daughters of the lowland hag, the Cailleach, must navigate a world filled with superstition, hatred, violence, pestilence, and death to find their purpose. With pasts half remembered and destinies denied, the daughters of Cailleach are women with uncanny, and often feared, abilities to heal, to see the future and to cause great destruction and pain when threatened. With each passing generation, the waves crash against the shore, and the Cailleach awaits a homecoming that will bring everything full circle.

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Confession. I did not even finish reading the synopsis for this one before pressing the request button in Edelweiss. The blurb above checks a lot of boxes for me–the occult, Scottland, multigenerational, women–I was in before I even turned the first page, and was left feeling anything disappointed at the last. Hag is an engrossing and atmospheric tale of magic and family connection. Kaufman moves effortlessly between past, present, and future to weave the story of the Cailleach and her powerful daughters.  The opening chapter pulled me in, and the rest of the story had me reading in every spare moment.

In Hag, Kaufman uses alternating chapters to switch between the story of the Cailleach and each generation of her daughters leading up to Alice Grace Kyles. The other chapters are dedicated to Alice and her family, and the two story lines move forward together before finally meeting in time for an explosive ending. The chapters written from the perspective of the Cailleach were my favorite–magical and enchanting–they reminded me why I love magical realism so much. It was a complete coincidence that I read this book while the Kavanaugh trial was going on, but so many of the scenes ended up being such a balm. The daughters of the Cailleach are incredibly powerful and are able to defend themselves against the violence put against them. Reading Hag during this political climate in our country felt like discovering  a girl power anthem in book form.

It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished, and Hag has stayed with me. I find myself thinking about it often, lost in the otherworldly landscape Kaufman created. This is an absolutely perfect book to read in the fall, especially during the month of October. Put on your comfiest sweats, get a soft blanket and some warm tea, settle in, and prepare to be spellbound by this beautiful and powerful story.

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The biggest thanks goes to Edelweiss and Turner Publishing for the advanced review copy in exchange for my honest review.

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

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Publisher: HarperTeen

Publication Date: October 9th, 2018

Page Count: 448

From the Jacket:

Critically acclaimed and bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in this smart, funny, heartfelt collaboration about two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together—or pulling them apart.

ARTHUR is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

BEN thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them . . . ?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t nail a first date even after three do-overs?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

What if it’s us?

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I barely know him. I guess that is every relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.

To call myself a Becky Albertalli fan would be an understatement. I have read and loved all of her books, each resonating with me beyond just being a really good story. Albertalli writes funny, smart, honest, accessible books that center around LGBT characters and issues–and she writes them for young adults. This kind of representation simply wasn’t around when I was young and I cannot overstate the importance of it. Before I read, What If It’s Us, I had never read anything by Adam Silvera, but I know he’s doing the same.

I didn’t know much about this one before I read it. I saw that it was a new Becky Albertalli book and immediately requested it. What If It’s Us, is written in the alternating dual narratives of Ben and Arthur. The book opens from Arthur’s perspective and I knew immediately that Albertalli had penned his voice. There’s something about the way she writes that is uniquely her. Her style is so full of energy and joy that I cannot help but smiling while I’m reading. Even when she’s tackling heavy topics, it still feels like candy for my soul and brain. With previous titles like, They Both Die at the End and, History is All You Left Me, it wouldn’t have been hard to figure out that Ben’s much more serious and moody voice is all Silvera. (After finishing the book I read an online interview confirming my theory.)

What If It’s Us tells the story of Arthur and Ben, two high school guys who meet very serendipitously one afternoon in New York City. Arthur is only in town for the summer, interning at his mom’s law office. He’s feeling homesick and out of place, missing his friends, and counting down the days until summer is over when he runs into Ben at the post office. When they meet, native New Yorker Ben, is preparing to mail a box of stuff to his ex boyfriend. They have a short and somewhat awkward conversation before being interrupted by a flash mob. Arthur’s inner monologue is going nuts about how romantic this scenario is, how perfectly New York, when he turns and notices that Ben is gone.

What ensues next is an adorable series of events and misadventures that ultimately lead them back to each other. I think a story about finding each other again wouldn’t have worked even 5 years ago, but in the age of social media, it works. As fortuitous as their reconnection is, Albertali and Silvera do a phenomenal job creating an incredibly realistic relationship between the two of them. Despite their initial connection they do NOT know each other. Their first (and second and third) date is painfully awkward and full of blunders and miscommunications. As they begin to share more of themselves and their lives with each other, there are arguments and jealousies and hurt feelings, but there is also sweet discovery and hopefulness and romance.

One of the things I’ve come to expect from Albertalli’s books is the focus she places on family dynamics and friendships. This newest book is no different–full of complex and rich relationships between the two main characters and their friend groups. So much of the character development happens through these interactions and I enjoyed every moment of it. Their banter is wickedly funny, full of inside jokes, Harry Potter references, and broadway obsessions. Their families are close knit and supportive, and one of my favorite scenes from the book happens when they all get together so their parents can meet.

This is a spoiler free review so I’m not going to get into details regarding the ending. In the interview I read, Silvera and Albertalli said they felt like it was a perfect sort of compromise of their styles, and I have to agree. I highly recommend this one, especially if you’re fans of their other books. I’m going to keep reading everything that Albertalli writes and I’ll likely be picking up some of Silvera’s work as well. This one comes out tomorrow, October 9th, so check it out!

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The biggest thanks to Edelweiss and HarperTeen for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review!