The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry
This week I finished the book The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry. This book was one that was chosen by my book club, Chimney Rock Readers. It was also a Golden Sower novel nominee. The story is told from the point of view of the main character, Ariel Benson (who is now known as Olivia Reinhart). When Ariel was three, she and her parents went to the woods to find a Christmas tree. While there, her mother was brutally murdered, with Ariel being taken to a WalMart and dropped off. Her father’s pickup was found at the airport later on, therefore it was presumed her father had killed her mother. Ariel in the meantime goes to live with her grandmother, until her death, and then is shuffled from foster home to foster home, finally to be adopted.
Fast-forward fourteen years later, Ariel’s father’s jawbone if located around the area where her mother was killed. Ariel, now known as Olivia, heads back to her hometown for her father’s funeral. At this point in Ariel’s life, she and her adopted mother are no longer in contact; Ariel now is now an emancipated minor. When Ariel returns, no one knows who she is. Ariel then goes to her grandmother’s house (which she will eventually inherit) and befriends the next-door-neighbor (her grandmother’s friend). She decides to stay in the town to find out what really happened to her parents. There are many suspects: her mom’s old boyfriend, his girlfriend, her dad’s old flame, and a few more. She feels she’ll be able to do this alone, but eventually a boy she was neighbors with when she was three discovers who she is, and together they solve the mystery.
This was a great mystery, with so many plausible suspects, you couldn’t decide which one would end up being the real killer. The first thing I really enjoyed was the way Henry began the novel, with the climax. It’s a wonderful way to catch anyone’s attention within the first couple pages. This book is one that could be recommended to a wide array of ages and grades: from fifth grade on up. I think anyone that likes a good mystery of “who done it” would enjoy this exciting novel.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
The second book I finished this week was Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This book tells the tale of freshman, Melinda Sordino, who returns to school for the new year after calling the police on a party she attended right before the year began. She is not able to say what had happened at the party and therefore she mostly quits speaking altogether. As she returns, she is seen as a pariah because of what she had done at the party. All her old friends want nothing to do with her and the only people she is able to connect with is a new girl from Ohio, Heather, who eventually ditches her for another group of girls, and Mr. Freeman, her art teacher who eventually teachers her how to express herself through art.
We follow Melinda as you see her delve further into depression, unable to come to terms with what had happened to her. **SPOILER ALERT** It is later revealed that a senior boy she had met at the party raped her. As she watches her ex-best friend, Rachel, begin to date Andy, she eventually tells Rachel what happened to her. Rachel at first has a hard time believing her but then breaks up with Andy and he attacks Melinda in a janitor’s closet that she had made her “sanctuary”. She is able to finally find her voice and get help. When the rest of the students find out what had happened, Melinda is no longer an outcast.
I really enjoyed this book. I think that it’s a good book for discussions about being able to find your voice, especially when something traumatic has happened. It’s also a good book for discussions on the signs of depression. Melinda was giving off many signs but no one seemed to notice. I think this is a book teens would enjoy and it’s very relevant with current issues in society. The flashback to the rape scene is handled very gently as to not have any graphic issues. I wouldn’t have any issues recommending this book to high school students.