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Can't Look AwayFrom Goodreads: Donna Cooner establishes herself as our own Jodi Picoult in this timely tale of sisters, loss, and redemption.

Torrey Grey is famous. At least, on the internet. Thousands of people watch her popular videos on fashion and beauty. But when Torrey’s sister is killed in an accident — maybe because of Torrey and her videos — Torrey’s perfect world implodes.

Now, strangers online are bashing Torrey. And at her new school, she doesn’t know who to trust. Is queen bee Blair only being sweet because of Torrey’s internet infamy? What about Raylene, who is decidedly unpopular, but seems accepts Torrey for who she is? And then there’s Luis, with his brooding dark eyes, whose family runs the local funeral home. Torrey finds herself drawn to Luis, and his fascinating stories about El dio de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

As the Day of the Dead draws near, Torrey will have to really look at her own feelings about death, and life, and everything in between. Can she learn to mourn her sister out of the public eye?

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This is an interesting read that depicts the life of a teen beauty vlogger, a wildly popular young woman who posts to YouTube, which I admit is a channel I personally rarely visit. My students are obsessed with youtube videos, so I definitely wanted to check out this novel and see if it brought on any insights, because truth be told, vlogs tend to drive me insane. I don’t think I’ve been able to watch very many straight through, because the spontaneity and bloopers of it all just isn’t for me. But, that’s exactly what Torrey does, or did, prior to the novel’s beginning, and as Torrey looks back on her past life, one where her little sister still existed, we begin to see just who Torrey Grey truly is, both now and then.

I definitely enjoyed this novel, and it did make me tear up a time of two, but I personally don’t follow why people are blaming Torrey for her sister’s death, or why they feel the need to write nasty comments on her vlogs. I get that trolls exist, and over the past three years as an online reviewer, I’ve seen some pretty nasty comments left on both author and blogger accounts alike, but I don’t quite understand the why behind it, and while I think this novel attempts to answer this question, it really doesn’t. Why are people so callous and rude? Torrey fought with her sister, just like all siblings do. She was mean, just like all siblings can be. But she didn’t push her sister into the street, and she certainly didn’t cause the accident, so I don’t see where anyone has the right to bully her, or why they would ever think to, in the first place. Of course, it seems that that is what humanity is good at doing; putting others down anonymously, and this happens to Torrey, though I have to say that I really felt like this was more the background story than the forefront, and I really wish this aspect of online life, with the trolls and wannabes, was dived into more deeply as it’s the main aspect I was more interested in.

Now, as I said, the story focuses on Torrey, and she’s definitely going through a hard time at the moment, and she struggles to pull herself together. Her attempt to piece her life back together, hanging with the popular crowd, is a farce, an attempt at healing—if only things could go back to the way they were, but unfortunately they never do, and Torrey has to learn this the hard way. I respected this about her, but she rubbed me the wrong way on some occasions, snubbing her true friends in order to make a name for herself… I think we’re all probably guilty of this in some way or other, but it did leave me a bit disappointed in Torrey, though she does eventually seem to get her head on straight.

I really liked Luis and enjoyed the Dia de los Muertes references and make-up tutorial (I’m so doing this), but again, never really understood why people were bashing on Torrey, or why the popular crowd at her new school disliked her so much. As I said, I liked the idea behind this novel overall, and the story is indeed well written, it’s just a little beyond me; I don’t really understand why anyone acted the way they did within the novel. Three and a half stars.

3.5 starsI received this novel from the publisher, via Netgalley, prior to its release today.

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17859733From Goodreads: My lips are white. Sixteen-year-old Sep stares into the bathroom mirror. It’s not some weird lipstick (she never wears lipstick). Her lips are just ? white. In a panic, she digs up an old lipstick and smears it on her colorless lips. But soon, more and more white spots begin to bloom, spreading their chalky tendrils across her olive brown skin. Does she have a disease? Is she turning into some kind of freak? Sep is usually the one who knows all the answers. With a quicksilver mind and a supple body, she’s happiest when she’s delving into the mysteries of animal biology or giving herself over to sweet, hot moves in Jazz Dance Club. Unlike her best friend, Devin, she’s never been in a rush to get a boyfriend. But as the white blotches spread, her dating days ? like the endangered species she studies ? seem numbered. So when Joshua, a boy she’s always liked, makes a flirty advance, she wonders: why not grab pleasure while she can? Frank, funny, and full of passion, this is the empowering story of a strong gifted teen who, as her life spins out of control, desperately tries to prove to the world ? and herself ? that she is deeper than skin.

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This novel’s social commentary on the world’s current perception of beauty is one I think many need to read about, but especially teens. In our day and age, the toned “model body” is sought after and idolized, and anyone who doesn’t measure up, be it in weight, height, or even facial symmetry is left feeling less attractive by default, whether people tell them so or not. I see this a lot with the students I teach, and I think with all the technology and social media available today, the issue of beauty takes over tenfold because the “model body” is plastered everywhere, and one bad make-up day or hair day can be snapped by any phone and tweeted to the whole world–how mortifying. It wasn’t like this when I was growing-up, and truthfully, it never bothered me because I wasn’t exposed to the perceived conception of beauty as much as our teens are now, and for me, different was always better, which is probably one of the reason’s that I don’t fully connect with Sep’s issue with her skin.

Sep has vitaligo, a condition that depigmentizes the skin. On the first day of school, she wakes up with white lips, only to lose color quite quickly in splotches all across her body as the novel progresses. Of course, I’ve never been on the receiving end of vitaligo, so I can’t say I wouldn’t feel as mortified as Sep does, but in my old age, I do have to say that I find it quite beautiful on those I’ve met with this type of skin condition, be it from vitaligo or some other condition. But that’s me. I’m not a teenager in my prime who has to deal with how others perceive her, and I imagine it’d feel quite differently had I been in Sep’s shoes.

While I can appreciate Sep’s feelings, I feel like she sort of went off the deep end, though. Afraid she’ll never experience true love based on her looks, she goes from never been kissed to full on sex (everywhere) with her new boyfriend (who also is her first boyfriend). And I get that our teens jump into sex very quickly in today’s society, because really, that sacred act isn’t viewed as sacred anymore, but the one aspect of the story that threw me was the undertone that sex sets teens free. Sep is also a dancer, and on a few occasions she states that, since sex, she’s been more in-tuned with her body. But I disagree. I believe that she’s more in-tune with her body because she inspects is multiple times daily to see if she’s lost any more pigment, and she now knows every inch of her body. While it is true that she’s been awakened to sexual feelings, I don’t necessarily agree that it will make someone a better dancer. And, while Sep says something along the lines of not wanting to say that sex was the cause for her great dancing, it’s still pretty much what she says near the end, and for me, well, that’s not the underlying message I want teens to take away from this novel. What I want them to get is that beauty is only skin deep and, as Sep learns, there is much more to life and love than our appearance. Three stars.

3 starsAmazon Children’s Publishing has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on August 6, 2013.



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