Hidden Pieces

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Most of the time we only see one part of a person’s life, whether we know that person from school, work, or through social media. Hidden Pieces by Paula Stokes explores the sides of people’s lives that might not be as visible.

Embry Woods is a senior in high school in a small town on the Oregon coast. She runs a coffee shop with her single-parent mother Claire and is in a long-distance relationship with the popular Luke O’Riley, deployed abroad in Afghanistan. Those are the parts of Embry’s life people see and are aware of. The pieces that people don’t see is that she’s stressed out about her mother’s recent cancer diagnosis, and that she’s hooking up with classmate Holden Hassler in Luke’s absence. And that a meetup of theirs caused the historic Sea Cliff Inn to catch fire. Embry’s seen as a hero after saving a homeless man from the flames, but when she starts getting blackmailed by someone who knows the truth, she has to make choices that means revealing the “hidden pieces.”

Paula Stokes addresses a number of diverse themes in her other novels I’ve reviewed: honesty and deception in Liars, Inc; relationships and friendships in The Art of Lainey, and anxiety and mental health in Girl Against the Universe. Hidden Pieces is no different, and explores the themes of honesty and relationships with friends, family and lovers. But the story also deals with the darker themes of blackmail, crime and murder. You’re left guessing the whole time as to who “Unknown” is by being presented a number of suspects. There’s Embry herself, her friend/lover Holden, Embry’s best friend Julia Worthington, Luke’s younger sister Frannie, Embry’s enemy Katrina Jensen, the boy Embry saved from the fire, and the mysterious man that Embry’s seen around town lately.

The Oregon setting added flavor to the story. As someone who grew up in Upstate New York surrounded by the freshwater of the Great Lakes, Finger Lakes and the Erie Canal, the images of the vast and powerful ocean helped me picture what living by it would be like. I also liked that Embry’s Golden Retriever has the same name as me, Betsy. It’s not often that I see my name in a YA novel.

I recommend Hidden Pieces because it shows the importance of realizing that there’s more to someone’s life that what you can see.

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Sammy’s House

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Continuing my streak of reading D.C.-related stories, I picked up the novel Sammy’s House at my local library.  Authored by Kristen Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, this novel is the sequel to the 2004 novel Sammy’s Hill, which I previously reviewed a couple of years ago.

Set two years after the previous book, Samantha “Sammy” Joyce now works as a health care policy advisor for Vice President Robert Gary in the White House. Sammy’s life is going pretty well, she’s roommates with her close friend Liza and in a great relationship with her boyfriend Charlie Lawton, a Washington Post reporter.  All that changes when Sammy learns that President Wye’s old drinking habit has returned and threatens to cause a major scandal. Meanwhile, Charlie is temporarily reassigned to New York City, and the two must learn how to navigate a long-distance relationship.

The story does a good job at portraying of how a president’s administration functions. As the leader of the free world, the president and all aspects of his life are constantly put under a microscope, and anything going awry can have ripple effects on several things, including his family and friends. Sammy struggles with realizing that revealing the president’s secret could torpedo the entire administration, but also wants to stay loyal to her boss, the Vice President.

Sammy’s experience also shows how work can interfere with someone’s personal life. Sammy is dedicated to her job, but tends to work long hours, sometimes making it hard to have a normal relationship with Charlie. Since this book was published in 2007, we see many of Sammy’s and Charlie’s interactions over Blackberry, a cell phone model popular before the iPhone and Android became prevalent. It adds an interesting flavor of how electronic correspondence contributes to a long-distance relationship.

One of the funniest if not foreshadowing details Sammy describes is how the former president has become a reality star with a show about his life. Little did we know that 10 years later the exact opposite would happen- a former reality star would actually become president.

I recommend Sammy’s House because it gives a humorous perspective of what working in the White House can entail.