Book review: ‘Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour’ by Morgan Matson

In the months since her father’s death, Amy Curry has stumbled through life with a weight the size of her small California town on her shoulders. Without her dad there to keep everyone on track, her twin brother’s substance issues run rampant as her demanding mother refuses to acknowledge them — until she has no choice. After her mom decides to move the remaining Currys to Connecticut, Amy stays behind to finish her junior year of high school — and at the end of the school year, she’s to drive cross-country and rejoin her mom. 

The only trouble? Amy can’t drive — or won’t, actually. She needs someone to accompany her on the 3,000 mile trek from coast to coast, and in steps Roger — a family friend and former neighbor, a young man who used to play basketball in the neighborhood with the Curry twins when they were small.

But they’re all grown up now — and Roger? With his golden boy good looks and tender heart, Roger becomes the perfect road trip companion. Bringing perfect iPod mixes and easy conversation, Roger agrees to drive Amy, an aspiring actress, to the East Coast in exchange for a train ticket to Philadelphia. But as Amy constantly worries, why would Roger — gorgeous, sensitive, funny Roger — agree to trek so far with a high school kid, a girl he barely knows? And what secrets and guilt of his own is Roger harboring?

Morgan Matson’s Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour is an engaging, touching and ultimately hopeful novel centering around one broken girl and the adventure that begins to heal her. On par with Justina Chen Headley’s North Of Beautiful, one of my favorite young adult novels, this Detour was a welcome respite from mundane, uninteresting plot points and static characters that can plague contemporary fiction.

There isn’t too much to dislike in a fast-paced, engrossing novel like this. Amy’s growth from cover to cover is astounding, culminating in all of the daring experiences she wouldn’t have even thought of attempting months before. Watching the progression of her feelings for Roger was really sweet and powerful, and it was just as clear that Roger’s affection was mutual.

At the heart of the novel is the road trip itself — unpredictable, wild. While Amy’s mom had carefully planned the entire journey from start to finish, complete with hotel reservations, Amy and Roger leap wildly off the path from the start. I loved reading about places I’ve visited through the eyes of our travelers, relishing in all the funny anecdotes (like having to stuff food or anything  attractive to bears in a bear locker while camping at Yosemite) and new friendships. Roger exposes Amy to a whole world — a world outside herself — and gently tugs her from the cell of her grief. While sometimes I wanted to shake Amy, screaming that her dad’s death was not her fault, I greatly empathized with her. The trip was what she needed to escape, grow and heal.

Multi-layered and boasting a cast of memorable characters, even on the periphery, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour provided plenty of entertainment while still getting me to hastily wipe tears from my eyes. The incorporation of “real” photos from the trip — scrapbook pages, receipts, itineraries, Roger’s playlists — added another dimension of the story that really made me feel like I, too, had gone on a trip. And by the time I closed the last page, I didn’t want it to end.

Fans of young adult and realistic fiction will enjoy this fresh look at family and love, life and death, and find plenty of humorous moments to balance out the serious, often philosophical tone of the book. Not your average “road trip” novel — and that’s what I loved most about it. Don’t hesitate to pick this one up — especially not with a cover that gorgeous!

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1416990658 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Personal copy purchased by Meg

Book review: ‘Catching Fire’ by Suzanne Collins

catching_fireThis review is for Catching Fire, the highly anticipated sequel to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. If you haven’t read the first novel and think you just may, skip this review to avoid SPOILERS (and then come back and see me later, of course!).

So. Katniss Everdeen defeated the Capitol, emerging from the Hunger Games hand in hand with Peeta Mallark, a young man from her home of District 12 who professed his undying love for her and saved both their lives with his devotion. Having emerged the victors in a gruesome, terrible tradition that plagues their nation of Panem, a country risen from the ashes of the United States many years before, Katniss and Peeta return home hoping to regain some sense of normalcy after their horrible ordeal.

The only teeny, tiny issue? The Capitol isn’t at all pleased with Katniss’s act of desperation to spare them both — and the fact that the government was forced, by way of popular sentiment, to allow Katniss and Peeta to emerge from their sadistic games together. President Snow sees through Katniss’s professions of “love” for Peeta, knowing that underneath the facade is the young woman — a “girl on fire” — ready to start the spark that will catch Panem up in the flames of rebellion. And something will be done about it.

Again we make our journey with Katniss, our narrator, who is still strong, lean and powerful after finally having enough food to feed herself, her mother and younger sister Prim. She and Peeta’s victory in the Games have brought rewards to their entire home district, providing hope where it had long ago been distinguished. But fear over the ramifications of her actions in the Capitol have replaced the gnaw of hunger in Katniss’s belly, and she walks around waiting for the other shoe to drop. She knows she can’t possibly be allowed to walk around unscathed after her act of defiance, and I waited right along with her.

Who else is waiting? Peeta, it seems — for Katniss to make a decision. Their return to District 12 hasn’t changed his unflagging feelings for his fellow survivor, but Katniss is mired in confusion over another issue entirely: Gale Hawthorne. At some point, her best friend became so much more than that . . . and, despite the assertions by the Capitol and Katniss’s family that they’re “cousins,” thereby posing no threat to Katniss and Peeta’s very popular relationship, those closest to them know differently.

Katniss has so many choices to make — and it’s hard to think clearly when she lays awake at night, plagued by nightmares and too afraid to doze off. Life becomes about waiting — and planning. Confusion. Desperation. And, as the story takes yet another unexpected twist, desperation to save the lives of those she cares about — and one in particular.

Catching Fire seems to have its own embers beneath each page, glowing strongly as the story progresses. Panem’s anger — and the Capitol’s — simmers just below the surface, threatening to blow the entire thing wide open as though it’s doused in kerosene. I had a hard time believing Katniss was so naive as to think she couldn’t possibly be seen as the face of a rebellion, the eternal symbol of hope and defiance in the face of the Capitol’s tyrannical rule. Still, she genuinely seemed shocked over the charges brought against her . . . at least, at first. Then, with dogged determination, she seemed to accept them — and, eventually, embrace them. I like that about her.

The second novel in Collins’s series definitely felt like a second novel to me; we know all about the terrible things that have happened before, and we know terrible things are yet to come. I didn’t feel any relief as the novel opened, knowing that Peeta and Katniss were back in their district — because surely, all sorts of awful stuff was bound to hit them in the very near future. And it did. Similarly, we know another book will follow this one, furthering the storyline as more and more kerosene is added to the flames in Panem. As with The Hunger Games, we end on a serious cliff-hanger — and I dug my fingers into the book as though I, too, were hanging off the edge of a precipice. It was scary.

Though I was unbelievably invested in this book and spent two consecutive nights reading until 2 a.m. to finish, I have to say that some of the plot points here felt very familiar — as though we’ve already lived this before (maybe because we have?). I didn’t see some of the plot twists coming, but I did have a pretty good idea why things were happening as they were (sorry for the vagueness here, but I’m trying so hard not to ruin anything!). It was hard for me to believe that Katniss — determined, brave, loving — didn’t understand it, too. But if I’m putting myself in her worn shoes, I guess it would be hard to see what’s sometimes right in front of us. Especially if we don’t want to. Though it just bothered me, I guess.

A worthy, compelling and heart-pounding read that furthers the plot — and world-building — of Suzanne Collins’ outstanding The Hunger Games and brings up many questions about government, society and media, but don’t expect to find any relief after finishing. That seems as elusive as quieting a mockingjay.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0439023491 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Personal copy purchased by Meg