Today’s reviews and book giveaways feature two novels that are quite dissimilar yet hold some common themes. Each book’s giveaway is separate, so you can pick the one that appeals to you and is appropriate reading for you. Two of you are going to win these novels so I hope you’ll enter at least one of the giveaways!
The first novel, Goodbye Stranger by award-winning author Rebecca Stead, is intended for middle school and teen readers. That said, I believe adults will also enjoy and benefit from this novel. It explores the kind of existential crisis that survivors experience in addition to the nature of friendship, betrayal, and love. It’s all handled so beautifully in this novel that it doesn’t feel heavy at all. And I know from experience that kids not only go through these kinds of crises, but they need help in working out how to move on from them.
Ever since the accident, Bridget “Bridge” Barsamian has wondered why she’s still alive. She has a major case of post traumatic syndrome. Everyone thinks she should have gotten back to normal by now but they’re clueless. How do you get back to whatever normal is after something like that? She’s got to try though because the nurse said she must have a reason to be here if she survived such horrible injuries…but why is she still here?
“She missed third grade, but her body repaired itself. After four surgeries and a year of physical therapy, she showed no sign of injury. But Bridget was different, after: she froze sometimes when she was about to cross the street, both legs locked against her will, and she had a recurring nightmare that she’d been wrapped head to toe like a mummy, from which she always woke with a sucking breath, kicking at her covers.”
Luckily, Bridge’s two best friends have stuck by her, Emily and Tabitha. They all have one rule they follow no matter what – no fighting. But now they’re in seventh grade and things are so different in middle school. Can they keep their tight bond in place or will the new pressures they’re facing rip apart the bond they’ve all come to rely on.
For example, Emily is blossoming physically much faster than her two friends. When one of the most popular boys in school indicates that he really likes her, she’s over the moon. But then he wants a picture of her – one of “those” pictures. And on Valentine’s Day, a high school girl suffers from the ultimate betrayal. Is it any wonder that the three friends feel like they’ve landed in shark-infested waters?
Meanwhile Bridge is trying to appear to be having a quasi-normal life, but she’d much rather stay invisible even though her therapist wants her to gradually try to get back out into what she sees as a very unsafe world she’s unsure she wants any part of. Then her brother’s friend, Sherm Russo, comes over to visit and play video games. Miraculously, he seems to get it. He’s gentle and kind, for real, not pressing her beyond her comfort zone at first and then gently nudging her to begin to live again. She’s highly suspicious of his motives at first but gradually begins to trust again. But is Sherm on the up and up?
Does Shem only want to be friends with Bridge, could he possibly like her as a potential girlfriend as well as a friend, or does he have some kind of hidden agenda? Can Bridge ever venture beyond her front door and begin to interact with the world again or will she stay in her safe little family cocoon forever?
Post-traumatic syndrome, agoraphobia, social phobia, betrayal, changing friendships, learning to trust again, searching for your purpose in life, and more are all coupled with the tumultuous hormone upheaval that begins with middle school and continues on through high school. A lot of adults look back at this time as the best time of their lives. Kids know it’s a time of complete and utter bewilderment on many levels – uncharted territory that takes constant leaps of faith. Teens are known for risk taking – sometimes in ways that are harmful; however, the truth is that those risks and leaps of faith are the only way they can grow into adults. And it’s a hard job. We tend to gloss over that as adults because we’ve got our own hard jobs to face.
Goodbye Stranger looks at what kids face head-on and doesn’t pull any punches about it. At the same time, it’s written with empathy, humor and a beautiful understanding that things do, believe it or not, usually work out in the end. I love the way Rebecca Stead writes. The characters all come to life, breathing on the page. I recommend this one for middle school readers, older teens, and adults.
Our second novel, Fishbowl by award-winning author Bradley Stomer, is definitely intended for adults; however, it too deals with existential ideas – this time about how we live our lives when death is imminent. In this case, the being facing this existential crisis is Ian, a goldfish who longs to escape his bowl and spring into freedom.
Ian is a goldfish who lives in a glass fishbowl on the balcony patio of a high-rise apartment shared by his humans. He was a gift from his female human to his male human. To be honest, this gift was probably a kind of test to see if his male human was capable of caring for a small, helpless living creature but Ian doesn’t know this. All Ian knows is that from his bowl’s perch on the patio wall, he can see a huge world and he longs to escape so he can be part of that world.
“Ian looks out over this megalithic flower garden of skyscrapers and sees only as much wonder as his mind can muster. He’s a goldfish with a bird’s eye view of the world. A goldfish held aloft on a concrete platform with a god’s perspective, one that’s lost on a brain that can’t fathom what it is looking at, but by that fact, the view is made even more wondrous.”
Ian wants that more than anything in life, so he is constantly looking for an opportunity to leap to freedom. During a nasty fight between his two humans one day, he suddenly gets his chance and he leaps high into the air over the edge of the wall – and thus begins his exciting life of adventure as he plummets twenty-seven stories to the street below. (And, bonus, the book has a tiny inked goldfish in the right page margins, which becomes an animation of his trip when you flip the pages from front to back.)
Sound morbid? It may seem that way on the surface yet it isn’t. It’s actually a metaphor for life. For example, I took a well-known course in the early 1980’s in which the instructor said, “Life is like jumping off of a high skyscraper. You’ve got a choice on the way down about how you experience it. You can scream your head off all the way to the end, or cry and moan about how unfair it all is, or you can enjoy the view. It’s always a choice.” Ian makes the choice to jump and he makes the choice to enjoy and learn from the view – and what a view it is. He gets to see and very briefly experience all of the lives he witnesses as he passes by – love, new life entering the world, death, boredom, excitement, and every emotion on the planet. Each of the people he sees is also faced with a choice that could change their lives (because every choice we make changes our lives). Ian also learns who he has been and the truth of who he has become during his quick trip through life to its inevitable end.
Should Ian have stayed “safe” in his confining fishbowl to live out his brief goldfish life or should he have taken a big risk so he could expand his horizons? Only you can decide – well, actually, only Ian could decide what was right for him but you get the idea.
What I can say is that Fishbowl is one hell of a thought-provoking read. It will take you through the full range of emotions from laughing out loud to possibly needing a tissue. Who knew you could get so attached to a goldfish – well, my inner child who used to hold “burials at sea” for our goldfish did, of course. This novel goes behind the Wizard of Oz curtain to expose how bumbling human beings really are when no one is looking, yet offers hope that we will somehow get it right anyway. It is, above all, a novel about redemption and about being your own source for that redemption. It made me think and, to me, that’s always the sign of a really good novel.
So, which book giveaway are you going to enter? Will you enter one or both? Someone is going to win each one of these books! That said – Please note: I waffled back and forth about whether to pair these two books in the same article because Goodbye Stranger is written for young teens and young adults while Fishbowl is written for adults. Their underlying ground of being, however, is similar so I decided to take a chance. Fishbowl is not appropriate for young readers for a variety of reasons. so please don’t enter that giveaway unless you’re an adult – I guarantee you’ll be disappointed if you do because it is not going to be a book you’ll want to read if you’re in middle school or even high school.
Can’t wait to read one or both of these novels? Both are available from your favorite online bookseller. Just click the link below and you can have to them to read asap!
I’d love to get your comments on Goodbye Stranger , Fishbowl, Rebecca Stead, Bradley Stom and/or their other work, and/or this review.
These are two completely separate giveaways.
You can enter one or both – it’s entirely up to you. You can also win one or both books (but only if you enter the giveaway for that particular book).
One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance reading copy) of Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead!
One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance reading copy) of Fishbowl by Bradley Somer!
1) The deadline for entries is Saturday night, 11/14/2015, at 11:59pm EDST. No entries after that date/time will be eligible.
2) This giveaway is open to entries with U.S. mailing addresses only because we do not ship books outside of the U.S.
3) Please note: You must be at least 13 years old to enter the giveaway for Goodbye Stranger. You must be at least 18 years old to enter the giveaway for Fishbowl.
4) You must use the Rafflecopter form. Even if leaving a comment is part of the giveaway, you must use the form in addition to leaving the comment for the comment to count as an entry.
5) If you already follow PopcornReads on Twitter or Linky, you must still complete that part of the Rafflecopter form for your follow to count as an entry.
6) If you do not provide a complete mailing address in the Rafflecopter form, your entry will not be eligible. We will use your mailing address to ship your book to you. Please allow 2-3 weeks for book delivery.
7) That’s it – both are very easy giveaways, so have fun and best of luck!
Check out our other book giveaways on our home page by clicking here.