Vibes, by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Author: Amy Kathleen Ryan
Genre: YA Fiction
Call number: Y Ryan
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (really liked it)

I finally read Vibes, after meeting the author at the Author Open House last April and having a wonderful talk about writing for teens and her new book. I picked it up because I wanted something short and funny to read to offset another novel I was reading (a 600-page tome).

Vibes is quite funny. And short. So it worked perfectly.

Summary poached from Goodreads:
Nothing is beyond Kristi Carmichael’s disdain—her hippie high school, her friend Jacob, her workaholic mom. Yet for all her attitude and her mind-reading abilities, Kristi has a vulnerable side. She can hear the thoughts of her fellow students, calling her fat and gross. She’s hot for Gusty Peterson, one of the most popular guys in school, but of course, she’s sure he thinks she is disgusting. And she’s still mad at her father, who walked out on them two years ago. Soon, a school project brings her together with Gusty, her father comes home and drops a bombshell, and a friend comes out of the closet, and suddenly she is left doubting that she can read people at all.

I wasn’t sure if my review contained spoilers, so I’m placing it behind a cut just in case, but I think the spoilers are minor.

Spoilers for non-psychics

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: YA Fiction/Paranormal
Pages: 480
Call number: Y Oliver (it hasn’t come in yet, so put this book on hold now and you can get it in March — IT’S AVAILABLE NOW, March 8)

I really didn’t expect to like this book. The plot sounds like something out of an after-school special, like a Very Special Story about about appreciating your life or caring about others or not going to parties without a designated driver. The plot sums up easily: Samantha dies in a car accident Friday night on the way home from a party with her friends, but she realizes she has to relive the entire day when she wakes up in her bed to find it’s Friday morning again. As she lives Friday over and over, trying to figure out how to stop her death, she starts to notice things about her life, her friends, and her family that she never noticed before.

Instead of hating it, though, this book totally amazed me.

It isn’t sentimental or depressing or heavy-handed. It’s sad at times, yes, and it does have a message that is hard to ignore. Samantha starts out a little unlikable – she’s not a horrible person, but she’s self-absorbed and entitled. She has a comfortable life with a close-knit family, a popular boyfriend, and three best friends. She takes her popularity, and the perks that come with it, for granted, and she and her friends ignore and/or torment those lower on the high-school food chain. The thing is, she doesn’t seem to recognize their casual cruelty for what it is. It’s just the way things are in high school. But anyone reading will see the devastating effects their bullying has on others, particularly shy, quiet Juliet, who has been a long-standing target.

You’d think Samantha reliving the day of her death multiple times would get repetitive, but it doesn’t. Samantha’s death is a mystery that needs solving, and figuring out how and why the car accident happened (so that she can prevent it) unearths a whole bunch of secrets. She is constantly trying new things to get a different ending, and her decisions result in more and more deviations from the first Friday. Something as simple as being late for school instead of being on time has a ripple effect; something more substantial, like not going to school at all, make big changes (keeping in mind that it’s always Friday, of course, so certain scheduled events always take place whether Samantha is there or not).

The story ends up being a very intricate dance of action and consequence, and what’s most compelling is how Samantha’s story widens from being focused mostly on her to what’s going on around her. This gradual change is really important, because it shows how much Samantha has changed as a person (kinder, more compassionate, more aware of others, more outspoken) and it brings the circumstances leading up to her death into clearer focus (and a twisty set of circumstances it is).

Living the same day over and over is the ultimate learning experience. Overall, this book is about Samantha coming to realize what’s truly important and making her life one she can be proud of. Again, I know how this sounds like a Hallmark card, but Oliver manages to do it in a totally believable way without bringing the sap. Let me assure you, I am violently allergic to sap, so I really mean this. It’s moving, it’s meaningful, and I still can’t believe it’s a first novel. Wow.

Vibes, by Amy Ryan

vibesThis book is about an unusual girl that thinks she’s psychic and her experiences in an unusual school called Journeys. On the way she makes an interesting new friend and finds out more about herself and how people really see her. I didn’t really like much about this book. I thought the characters were fairly hard to relate to. The story had a good ending though, and overall it’s not to bad of a book. You’ll like this book if you enjoy a book about unusual people that don’t just go with the flow.

–Joanna H.

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