A Really Awesome Mess

A Really Awesome Mess

4.5 8
by Trish Cook, Brendan Halpin

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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 whenSee more details below


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.

Releases simultaneously in electronic book format (ISBN 978-1-60684-364-2)

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Justin and Emmy have just been enrolled in Heartland Academy, a reform school in the Midwest. Both are convinced that they shouldn't be there. Emmy's in for Internet bullying-but the other guy started it. Justin swallowed 17 Tylenol and later experienced an unfortunate incident in which his dad walked in on a private moment between him and a girl he met at an amusement park. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Justin and Emmy are not reliable narrators and that there are much deeper issues at play. Emmy suffers from anorexia and thinks her parents regret adopting her from China. Justin is depressed and deals with his pain through anger and destructive behavior. The two befriend the other students in their anger-management group; together, they bond through high jinks, have breakthroughs, and make some progress to healing. The fellow group members are well drawn and fleshed out. Most use humor for deflection and coping, which turns what could be heavy material into an effective comedy. Many of the characters struggle with guilty feelings about being messed up even though their lives are, in fact, pretty okay, especially in light of the trauma some of them have been through. The time line is a bit compressed for the amount of character growth that Emmy, Justin, and their classmates go through, but the ride still packs an emotional punch that will resonate with many readers.—Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington County Public Libraries, VA
VOYA - Mark Letcher
Emmy was adopted from China as a baby, and does not feel like she fits in with her white, too-perfect family. When a bad breakup leads her to an eating disorder and an online incident with a fellow student, she is sent to Heartland Academy, a strict reform school for troubled teens. There, she will learn to face her issues, assuming she can admit to them in the first place. Justin is sent to Heartland after a suicide attempt, and uses his sarcasm to mask the pain and anger he feels at his parents' divorce. Emmy and Justin meet in one of their mandated support groups, and quickly fall in with a group of other misfit teens. The group needs to work together for one week in order to win more privileges and get closer to their release. As they spend more time together, they all realize they are striving not just for their own benefit, but to take care of each other as well. Narrated by alternating first-person voices, the novel's construction allows readers to see some of the same events from the perspectives of both Emmy and Justin, as well as their different impressions of their fellow group members. Alternating between scenes of broad humor and deep emotion, the authors present a realistic perspective on the flaws we all carry with us, and the way friendships can form and strengthen under any circumstances. There is much to like and admire in the novel, although a number of mature situations and conversations may keep it in older readers' territory. Fans of Cook and Halpin's other works should find much to like here, as should readers who enjoy joint narrators, such as in the works of Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. Reviewer: Mark Letcher
Kirkus Reviews
A group of teens at a live-in institution for troubled young people bond, pull off a caper and overcome their issues in an amusing but overly rosy two-narrator tale. Emmy, adopted from China by white parents, feels out of place and unwanted in her family. She is sent to Heartland Academy after retaliating against a tormentor at school, though readers will quickly come to understand that she also has an eating disorder. Justin, who resents his father's absence, comes to Heartland following a suicide attempt and after being caught receiving oral sex from a girl he met earlier that day. Both Emmy and Justin speak to readers with engaging degrees of sarcasm and emotional honesty, and the interactions between the two narrators and among the other members of their anger-management group provide both action and moments of comedy. Where the narrative missteps, however, is in the teens' speedy recoveries. A field trip leads the group to reveal to each other the roots of many of their issues, and the pact they make for the afternoon--the anorexic girl will eat; the compulsive liar will tell the truth; the girl with selective mutism will speak--is implausibly successful. Final revelations, both of which involve the teens' coming to understand or forgive their parents, read more like what adults wish Emmy and Justin would feel than what teens in their situation might actually experience. Funny and fast-moving--but too much of the healing rings hollow. (Fiction. 14-18)

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Product Details

Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
840L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
14 Years

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