The Year of Needy Girls

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A young boy’s murder unleashes chaos in the life of a schoolteacher and a small New England town.

Bradley, Massachusetts is in many ways a typical small New England town, but a river divides it in half—on one side, the East End: crowded triple-deckers, the Most Precious Blood parish, and a Brazilian immigrant community; and on the other, the West End: renovated Victorians, Brandywine Academy, and families with last names as venerable as the Mayflower.

Deirdre Murphy and her partner Sara Jane (SJ) Edmonds have just moved to their first house—and for the first time are open in their relationship—in the West End, where Deirdre teaches at Brandywine Academy. A dedicated teacher from a working-class background, she is well loved by her students. But the murder of ten-year-old Leo Rivera from the East End changes everything—for Deirdre and SJ, for the girls at Brandywine, and for all of Bradley. And when Deirdre is falsely accused of sexually molesting one of her students, the entire town erupts.

The Year of Needy Girls by Patricia A. Smith

Publication Date: January 3, 2017 by Kaylie Jones Books

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My Thoughts:

The Year of Needy Girls starts with a really strong premise, but ultimately fails to deliver on what it sets out to do. The reader is drawn in by the dueling plot lines: the horrific rape and murder of a young boy on the other side of town and the accusations against the main character, Deirdre, of sexually assaulting one of her female students.

The murder story line never seems to go anywhere and I was left wondering what the reader was supposed to gain from Leo Rivera’s death. There was not enough time spent on it and it seemed like this particular aspect of the plot was meant more to highlight the prejudices in their small, wealthy, New England town in relation to the accusations against Deirdre and their fear of homosexuality. There was something uncomfortable for me about this piece of the story line as someone who works in an urban school district because it felt like it was meant more to shock rather than add any depth to the overall story.

As a character study, The Year of Needy Girls fails as well. Deirdre is a vapid, one-dimensional individual who teeters on the edge of unhealthy obsession with her career and her students. Again, as someone who works in education I may hold some biases of my own, but it was difficult to feel any sympathy for Deirdre for while she was clearly not a sexual predator by any means, her behavior definitely placed her in that category of teachers who exhibit a lack of appropriate borders with their students.

Deirdre’s partner, SJ, also lacked depth and her own individual storyline seemed more like filler than something that added to any character development as the novel progressed. I’m not one to shy away from unlikeable characters, but there was something that just fell flat with both of them that I had difficulty becoming invested in the slow unravelling of their relationship or feeling any sort of empathy for either of their situations.

There was something very Puritanical as well about many of the character’s personal judgements or beliefs regarding homosexuality. While there are definitely plenty of people out there that are as ignorant as those in this novel, I found it difficult to believe that SO many people in Deirdre’s life could hold such assumptions up as truths, particularly in Massachussetts at the time the book is set to take place. This particular “witch hunt” aspect of the novel clashed with the timeframe and it made less of an impact on me as I felt baffled by how all these particular events could add up.

While there are a lot of issues with the book as a whole, I did enjoy Smith’s writing and that is ultimately what helped me to finish reading this through to the end. Unfortunately, this isn’t a book I would recommend for those looking for a crime thriller or a solid LGBT narrative since I didn’t feel as if The Year of Needy Girls delivered on either front.

Eleanor

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When a terrible accident claims the life of Eleanor’s twin, her family is left in tatters, and her reality begins to unravel, dropping her in and out of unfamiliar worlds. When she returns to her own time and place, hours and days have flown by without her. One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff…and vanishes. In a strange in-between place, she meets a mysterious stranger who understands the weight of her family history: Eleanor’s twin wasn’t the only tragic loss. And unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, she may not be the last.

Eleanor by Jason Gurley

Publication Date: March 7, 2017 by Broadway Books

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My Thoughts:

I was drawn towards Eleanor because the premise seemed so original and while I don’t always read fantasy, it felt comparative to the more supernatural elements of books like The Lovely Bones and decided to try something new.

I really enjoyed the first portion of the novel, particularly young Eleanor’s characterization. Her childhood had a darkness overshadowing it by the death of her twin sister and her mother’s inability to learn to cope, but she was a resilient and interesting individual and this helped to create a strong introduction to the plot.

About halfway through the novel, the chapters begin to rapidly switch narrators from Eleanor to Mea and then to the Keeper. These transitions grew more and more rapid and oftentimes felt awkward and unnecessary. What had initially grabbed my attention in the book’s synopsis, quickly turned into what felt like a shadow of several other stories (an odd combination of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland) that have already been told. These elements combined with the novel’s shallow ending made for a very disappointing read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Before This is Over

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There is a deadly virus spreading around the world. At first it is a distant alarm bell in the background of Hannah’s comfortable suburban life. Then suddenly, it has arrived on the doorstep.

The virus traps Hannah, her husband, and their young sons in their city, then their neighborhood, and finally their own home. As a formerly idyllic backyard and quiet street become battlefields, fear and compassion collide. But what happens when their water supply is cut, and then the power, and the food supply dwindles?

Chilling and suspenseful, at once deeply personal and terrifying in its implications, Before This is Over invites us to imagine what a family must do to survive when pushed to the extreme.

Before This is Over by Amanda Hickie

Publication Date: March 28, 2017 by Little, Brown, and Company

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My Thoughts:

I love books that deal with epidemics, plagues, post-apocalyptic environments, etc. and so I dove into Before This is Over with expectations that were maybe a little too high because what isn’t there to love about the premise of a global epidemic without a known cure?

I flew through the first half of the novel and created my own sense of anticipation as I kept waiting for something to happen. But NOTHING HAPPENED.

While I enjoyed Hickie’s writing style and found it initially very easy to become wrapped up in the suspense created by the narrator’s anxiety, I ultimately felt let down by the lack of action. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by prior reads like Philip Roth’s Nemesis or Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend”, or maybe I’ve just become too wrapped up in The Walking Dead, but Before This is Over just felt like being stuck in a household with a bunch of adults and several children whose mere presence made me want to bang my head against a wall.