Published by Egmont USA July 23rd, 2013
Hardcover, ebook 288 pages
Received through M&M Publicity for Review
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Goodreads- A hint of Recovery Road, a sample of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and a cut of Juno. A Really Awesome Mess is a laugh-out-loud, gut-wrenching/heart-warming story of two teenagers struggling to find love and themselves.
Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin's summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents' divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.
Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog-- and Emmy definitely doesn't. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.
Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for.
This is a funny, often hilarious look at real teens with real problems stuck in a recovery center, isolated from family and friends, forced to face that they have issues and then what their issues are. As I read this novel, waiting for my sons to get out of math camp (!!), I had to cover my mouth and hide I was laughing out loud. I have never had that problem before. But some of the lines early on had me just crying from laughter.
The two main characters Emmy and Justin have funny, sarcastic teenage voices that ring true. Emmy is the Chinese American adopted daughter in a family where she doesn't "look" like she belongs. She lets her ideas about how things look influence her beliefs about how her family feels about her. Then a boy, of course, diminishes her self worth even more. She develops anger issues and an eating disorder that lands her at Heartland Academy. Justin is there for getting caught doing something totally embarrassing and then taking an overdose of Tylenol. But he does have anger issues and supposed sexual issues. Each chapter is told from one of their points of view.
Here's why I think the book works so well. It's funny, laugh out loud moments are interspersed with snarky teenage sarcasm and comments. A cast of characters that separately are just a mess, but in a group, in Anger Management, working together, they rock! Each one has a unique problem from sexual abuse to compulsive lying, but their very smart group leader makes them work together to earn privileges. They work together, learn together, threaten, force, lie, cheat, steal and do just about anything to make sure they get those privileges. It is a beautiful thing to see!
The authors of A Really Awesome Mess have taken some really dark and scary issues and without belittling them or making them seem any less serious, they've brought some levity and laughter to the situation. Teens suffering from anxiety, depression, eating disorders or any type of mental health issue should appreciate a little laughter as some medicine. I take mental health very serious yet found this novel a refreshing break from other "issue" books. I encourage you to read it and see if it doesn't make you smile!
Recommended for older teens due to sexual references, language and adult situations. This is a contemporary YA novel for 16 and up.
I received a review copy of this novel from M&M publicity for this review. This in no way influenced my review. The opinions expressed are my own.
The authors of A Really Awesome Mess were kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
A Really Awesome Review....
1) In your novel, Justin gets caught by his dad in a really embarrassing situation. What is the worst/most embarrassing thing you've ever been caught doing ?
Trish- There are so many it's hard to pick just one...I guess I'll go with the time I had a huge crush on this guy, and he told me I looked good in my glasses and with my hair in a ponytail--basically how I look when I first wake up in the morning. Not pretty. I showed up at a party that same night with my glasses on and my hair up. My friends were like, "Are you okay?" I never wore my glasses ANYWHERE unless it was a desperate situation, like I'd lost a contact and ran out of replacements or something, and I'm insane about having my hair perfectly flat ironed and down, so they could not understand what had gotten into me. The minute Mr. Crush saw me, he grinned and said, "I guess someone likes me." And then walked away. So I got caught blatantly liking him way too much, and being way too eager for him to like me back. It totally didn't work out.
Brendan- I once farted really loud during a test when the entire classroom was silent. I was the teacher.
If I was giving out prizes for the most embarrassing Brendan would be the winner though Trish yours is very, very close! Teenage girl mortification lasts longer! Thank you for being SO honest! And for those of you reading this, this is the kind of humor you can expect in the novel.
2) I found myself actually snorting in public at some of the funny things that were in the novel. Give me your favorite line/lines in the book that isn't a spoiler.
Trish- Fav line: "Yeah, that's totally badass. Not killing yourself even when you think you want to. Take a lot more balls to stay alive, don't you think?"
Brendan- I love Diana, so I have to choose a Diana quote:
"And I am a weepy little bitch," Diana said. "Oh no, wait, that's all of you."
3) The group leader tries to use one of Justin's jokes about being at Hogwarts to foster group camaraderie. He says he'd be in Gryffindor for courage. Which house would you be in at Hogwarts and why?
Trish-According to the online quiz I just took, Ravenclaw, because I am "witty, intelligent and capable." So, same as Emmy!
Brendan- I've actually spent way too much time thinking about this question. It's dogged me since I read the first Harry Potter book. I guess it's between Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. I think Hufflepuff gets kind of a bad rap as the loser house, but come on--Cedric Freakin' Diggory! So, yeah, Hufflepuff.
4) If you had to attend Heartland Academy, what would have sent you there and would you be a conformist or a rebel?
Trish-I think I would've been sent there for having adoption issues even though I'm not adopted! I come from a family of marching band/theater people, but I am an athlete and was also a cheerleader in high school and college. So, I always felt like the outlier of the fam. At Heartland, I would've resisted the process with everything I had at first, but then would've totally gotten into it.
Brendan- I'm pretty fortunate in that I got a relatively mild dose of the anxiety and depression. But those are totally my issues, so that's what would have landed me in a therapeutic setting. And certainly as a teen I was terrified of getting in trouble and never wanted to make an authority figure mad, so I would totally be the kid who toed the line.
(I'm with you Brendan. Don't make the authority figures mad!)
5) At the fair, each of the group members has to challenge themselves to be bigger than their issues. What would you have done at the fair to challenge your teenage self?
Trish- I would make myself pursue something I was interested in rather than just saying I wanted to do it but being too scared to actually go for it. So maybe I'd have to get onstage play guitar and sing with a band.
Brendan- I have always had a problem with rides that spin. It's not that I'm really afraid of them, it's just that I know from experience that they make me puke. So I suppose that's what I would have to do. I'm sure Diana would enjoy the subsequent puking.
6) There are several specialized classes Emmy and Justin have to attend. What specialized class would you have to attend? What would one of your favorite classes be either educational or elective?
Trish- I could've used a good Intro to Poetry class, because I was always writing the WORST angsty poetry in high school and desperately needed some tips to get better at it. I also think Anger Management through Power Chords would've been a great one for me.I pretty much would've liked any class--elective or educational--as long as the subject matter was in my wheelhouse: Music, writing, books, art, psychology.
Brendan- I don't know if they offer a class in "not being a dick," but I certainly needed one of those when I was a teen.
7) The novel ends at a good place, but I have so many questions still. Will there be a sequel?
Trish- Brendan? What do you say? Should we go for it again?
Brendan-Hmm. I haven't seen Trish's answer yet, but I guess I will say that a sequel isn't currently on my radar. I think one of the great things about reading, or any kind of art, but I think especially reading, is that once you read the book, those characters belong to you too, and your idea about what happens next is as valid as anybody else's.
8) Anything you'd like to add?
Trish- Thanks so much for reading our book and letting people know about it. That's the best part about being an author!
Brendan- I would just like to say something about the tone of the book. If you're looking for a really grim, harrowing ride through the torments of mental health issues, those books are easy to find, and this is not one of them. These issues are close to both of our hearts, and we intentionally set out to write a book that would be entertaining and fun and hopeful. Because when you're living with these issues, you've got enough grim in your life already.
That is so true Brendan. I sometimes forget that fact. No that life is grim when you're living with these issues, but that we can laugh about them. But without being able to laugh through them, life does look pretty grim. So I appreciate the humor and the hope. And thanks to both of you for taking the time to answer my questions!!
And now, I have the opportunity to give away one copy of A REALLY AWESOME MESS!!!!