Second Chance Summer

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As the title suggests, Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson is about 17-year-old Taylor Edwards from Connecticut. Sandwiched between her intellectual older brother and ballet-obsessed younger sister, Taylor has yet to know what her passion is and has a habit of running away from problems in life. However, this changes when her father is diagnosed with cancer with only months to live. Hoping to salvage the time left together, her family heads to their old vacation spot in the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania  for the summerr, a place Taylor hasn’t seen in five years. She soon finds herself confronted with issues she left behind as a 12-year-old and is forced to address them as well as deal with her dad’s declining health. Getting second chances is what her summer is sure to bring.
I enjoyed the element of revisiting an old vacation spot after many years. It reminded me of the vacations my family and I would take up in the Thousand Islands; something we stopped doing after the year 2000 but later revisited eleven years later. The familiarity that Taylor feels while seeing these places after so much time resonated with me. I liked how Matson set the story at a place in the Northeast, as most other books with vacation-oriented plots take place in locations such as South Carolina and Florida.
The character of Taylor was interesting and somewhat relatable. At 17, you’re still trying to figure out what you want to do, figuring out the future. To be confronted with a situation like that would make it ever harder, the uncertainty can be troubling. The feeling of being surrounded by talented siblings can also strike a familiar chord. Taylor is stuck in the middle without concrete plans, with a younger sister who has years to go and an older brother who has definite plans to go to college.
However, the book fell short with its clichéd predictability. Almost everything I expected to happen did in fact happen, and I felt like Matson dragged the story out with a lot of unnecessary writing. The book itself is over 400 pages, which I thought was too long. There were several times when I felt like flipping through the pages just to see what the ending would be. The lack of a real plot climax also contributed to the blandness of the story.
Overall, if you’re willing to go through 400 pages of a predictable story with a multi-layered character and some fun nostalgia vacation stories, then you can try Second Chance Summer.

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Dreamland

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Warning: Spoilers!

Published in 2000, this novel by Sarah Dessen tells the story of Caitlin O’Koren, a high schooler who starts our her junior year distraught over her older sister Cass’ sudden departure. She subsequently falls into a relationship with an intelligent yet abusive guy named Rogerson Biscoe.

Although the plot has some of the tones and clichés of Dessen’s novels, it does deal with a serious subject matter: an abusive relationship. Caitlin lets Rogerson take control of her and her life through his abuse: a problem that happens everyday all over the world.

I liked how Dessen wrote the underlying conflict as dealing with a sibling leaving, as opposed to a parent’s divorce, death or departure, themes  present in her other novels. It gave the story a different kind of perspective and flavor and offers readers another way to relate.

Caitlin is a solid character, trying hard to cope with her sister’s departure by getting involved with Rogerson. However, I felt their relationship was a big unrealistic at times. For example, it only takes about one night for Caitlin to become enamored with Rogerson. Although I could understand her vulnerable state, I just found it hard to believe that it was that instantaneous.

I also felt that there were too many times that Caitlin ran into chances to reveal her secret to others, causing the story to drag on a little and become a little predictable.

The story also explores the themes about the pressure of expectations parents usually have for their children, a reason why Cass chooses to leave. “Dreamland” refers to Caitlin’s dreams, where she hopes to see and remember memories of Cass during her absence. She also keeps a dream journal where she writes down her dream.

While Dreamland contains the typical unusual-names and girl-meets-boy clichés of Dessen’s novels, it diverse conflict does make it a solid story worth reading.

Paper Towns

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Hello after a short break! I am now working in Washington, D.C. as a communications intern for a health nonprofit organization until at least December. I’ve finally started writing again.

John Green is easily one of my favorite authors and has become increasingly popular with the novel-turned-film The Fault in Our Stars. However, there are three books he wrote prior to his breakthrough, one of which I reviewed a few months ago. Today I’m going to review another one.

Paper Towns, published in 2008, is about high schooler Quentin “Q” Jacobsen who goes searching for his childhood friend and crush, Margo Roth Spiegelman, after she runs away from home. Following clues she left for him, he pieces together the puzzle with the help of his best friends and Margo’s friends.

People have likened the book to Looking for Alaska, with both involving a complex female character and a male protagonist who’s from Orlando, Florida. However, I see several differences between the two, as Looking contains more autobiographical elements of Green’s time at boarding school. Plus, Paper’s plot seems geared toward addressing societal issues instead of focusing on personal growth and experiences.

While this one isn’t my favorite of John Green novels, it’s definitely worth a read to anyone who likes a good mystery. What does the phrase “paper towns” mean? Read the book to find out.