"Berla does an outstanding job of portraying the many issues teenagers grapple with, including first relationships, loss, alienation and low self-esteem."– Kirkus Reviews
A debut YA novel that grapples with a slew of difficult issues, including grief, stepfamilies, loneliness and first love.
Sixteen-year-old Krista is having a hard time. She’s still grieving the recent death of her mother when her father’s girlfriend, Marie, moves into their home, and Krista feels like there’s no one she can talk to about her sadness. To make matters worse, her best friend, Lyla, is heading to Maine to spend time with her grandparents. As the novel unfolds, Krista feels pressure from the people around her to resume a normal life; her father wants her to find an activity to occupy her summer, and her neighbor encourages her to return to therapy. However, Krista doesn’t feel ready to be “normal” again; she’d rather shoplift, spend time in her tent on the roof, and sit in her car watching a mysterious house. Just when things start to feel too hard for her to bear, she meets Jake, the cute sales associate at a store where she shoplifts, and her father informs her that her grandfather, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who lives in Venezuela, is coming to town for a visit. With these new developments, Krista begins to open up and embrace life again, and she gains a greater understanding of her family’s past and what she has to look forward to in life. Berla does an outstanding job of portraying the many issues teenagers grapple with, including first relationships, loss, alienation and low self-esteem. The book’s subject matter is relevant and relatable, and its plot is suspenseful and compelling, with a few important twists and turns at the end. Berla’s prose is beautiful and poignant, with elegant, effective metaphors; for example, Krista’s grandfather tries to explain to her how to rebuild her life after loss by using a metaphor of soup. A mixture of salt and water isn’t good to drink, he says, but when you “add juices from carrots and tomatoes and some other vegetables...the broth of the chicken and maybe some cream,” then “[y]ou can drink a whole bowl of it….Keep adding to your life—a little bit this, a little bit that. The salt is still there, but one day you won’t notice.”
A moving, mysterious coming-of-age story.
In this YA novel, a young man from Earth’s far future visits a present-day teen in her dreams, but soon their connection is threatened.
In a future era in which the Earth is dying, Zat plans a dangerous trip, time traveling to our present by projecting himself into the mind of a teenage girl while she sleeps. That girl, Babe, who’s 17 (roughly Zat’s age), is an adaptable, resourceful person thanks to her father’s job as golf pro, which has caused them to move from state to state—most recently, from California to the Florida Panhandle. Over the summer, Babe learns about another new town, makes some friends, and works in the country club’s tennis shop, and she also begins having recurring dreams of a boy with thick, wavy brown hair and green eyes, who eventually introduces himself as Zat. He seems strangely familiar, and they share a strong bond, making Zat a “dream guy” in every way—except for the crushing headaches Babe has the following day. To herself and on her blog, Babe wonders how Zat can feel “more real and more interesting than anyone…in real life.” But can he achieve corporeality after time travel? And will he have to abandon the trip—and his life—to save Babe from unbearable pain? Berla (12 Hours in Paradise, 2016, etc.) delivers a very entertaining romance with well-thought-out sci-fi elements—one that’s delightfully free of the clichés that so often haunt YA fiction. Both the story’s rich-kid and queen-bee characters defy convention; Babe’s friends have intriguing back stories, and the country-club setting gives the protagonist a chance to make perceptive comments about people and society. For example, while touring a palatial yacht, she remarks, “I knew money didn’t buy happiness, but it was unbelievable what it did buy.” Babe’s blog opens up the story via the sometimes-silly, sometimes-mysterious comments of her readers: one of them wishes she would focus on Florida sightseeing; another, called “DreamMe,” seems strangely knowledgeable about Babe’s situation. The final twist isn’t easy to see coming, and it gives the novel a satisfying, well-earned ending.
A thoughtful, engaging novel that combines genres well.
A multifaceted coming-of-age story about a teenage boy’s forays into love, lust, and entrepreneurship.
At the start of Berla’s (The House at 758, 2014, etc.) book, 17-year-old aspiring graphic novelist Hudson Wheeler, facing his senior year in high school, formulates a plan. He writes an email to his mother asking if she can home-school him for his final year. Not only has he lost the company of his two best friends (to a school transfer and a new girlfriend), but he has also decided that traditional education is no longer relevant to him. Hudson wants to spend his life writing graphic novels and traveling the world, and he has already started two businesses: a dog-walking enterprise and a company called “Distress Dial,” which handles non–911 emergencies for seniors. His mom agrees to his proposal with three stipulations: he must attend school to take physical education and art classes; pay rent; and “apply to two (2) colleges for which he has a reasonable chance of being accepted.” Happy with his newfound freedom, Hudson chooses a yoga class to fulfill the physical education requirement, and there he meets a beautiful girl named Alana Love, with whom he becomes smitten. The novel follows Hudson as he attempts to navigate the world of an independent-minded, business-owning student who thinks he is in love. The story tracks Hudson’s relationships with Alana (who is dating the quarterback of the school’s football team), his friends Fritzy and Gus, and several of his Distress Dial clients—particularly Mr. Pirkle, a 90-year-old World War II veteran showing signs of dementia. The book’s varied structure—which includes Hudson’s emails, to-do lists, and prose narrated in first person—often feels more like a journal than a novel, but this ultimately makes for a more intimate and revealing account of the day-to-day life of a teenager. Berla’s lively dialogue also enriches the story’s authenticity, and she peppers it with contemporary buzzwords like “selfie” and “texts” throughout to make characters’ conversations feel truer and more relevant. The charming story is mostly heartwarming and light, with convincing portrayals of teenagers attempting to distinguish between lust and a desire for companionship. But the book also deals with more serious topics like grief, aging, illness, and heartbreak—making it both entertaining and poignant.
A delightful, realistic novel about a lovable high school senior dealing with normal—and not-so-normal—teenage issues.