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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


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.

"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." VOYA 4Q 4P S

Also available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-60684-363-5) and e-book (ISBN: 978-1-60684-364-2) formats.

Editorial Reviews

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)
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

Product Details

Lerner Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Trish Cook is the author of Notes from the Blender, So Lyrical, and Overnight Sensation. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and daughters. You can visit her online at www.trishcook.com.

Brendan Halpin is the author of Notes from the Blender, How Ya Like Me Now, Forever Changes, and Donorboy, an Alex Award Winner. He lives in Boston with his wife, Suzanne, their three children, and their dog. You can visit him online at www.brendanhalpin.com.

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A Really Awesome Mess 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Sarah_UK1 More than 1 year ago
(Source: I received a digital copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks to Egmont USA and Netgalley.) 16-year-old Emmy is Chinese, but her parents aren’t, and it’s causing her all sorts of problems. Emmy was adopted from an orphanage in China as a baby, and her adoptive parents then got pregnant naturally. Now she’s ¼ of a perfect blond family, who look absolutely nothing like her. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the people at school didn’t make it a problem. But they bullied her about it, so she made some nasty comments back, and then she got kicked out of school. Now she’s stuck at ‘Assland’ Academy (AKA Heartland Academy) because she’s ‘angry’, but all she thinks she’s angry about is the fact that she’s bullied for being the odd one out. Oh, and she’s not anorexic either, she just doesn’t want to be fat. 16-year-old Justin is new at ‘Assland’ Academy too. His dad caught him getting sexual favours from a girl whose name he didn’t even know, and then he took an overdose of Tylenol – not to kill himself, just as a cry for help. He may feel numb, but he certainly doesn’t need to be taking ‘Sexual Reactivity’ classes either. Both Emmy and Justin don’t want to be at ‘Assland’ Academy, but they’re both stuck there anyway, and they both have their own problems to work out. Do Emmy’s family really not love her? Is she really anorexic? Should Justin be in the Sexual Reactivity class? And can Justin and Emmy benefit from the people and students at ‘Assland’ Academy? This was an interesting book that was actually quite funny in places. I felt really sorry for Emmy, she had obviously been bullied, and I couldn’t really blame her for wanting to get a little payback. This bullying wasn’t just making her feel bad, it was also undermining her relationship with her parents and making her feel unloved, which had really pushed her over the edge. Justin seemed to be acting out because really he needed help. His depression wasn’t obvious, it was more a background sort of thing, but in the end it was obvious that he was suffering. The thing that I appreciated most about this book was its humour. Even though these kids were in a pretty poor position, they actually managed to make light of their situation at times, and some of the jokes were actually quite funny. I loved how Justin took the punishment of losing ‘points’, and turned it into ‘Ten points from Gryffindor!’, and how when the therapist questioned him about whether he would place himself in Gryffindor house, he told her that he’d ‘sort himself right next to Emma Watson’. The storyline in this book was okay, and it was nice to see how the kids at the academy improved through their relationships with one another. I also liked the storyline about the pet pig, which was another key part of the story. The ending was also alright, and it was obvious the steps that both Emmy and Justin and the other kids had made on the road to recovery. Overall; a funny, coming-of-age story. 7 out of 10.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yeah so i really have no clue what i am writing a reveiw for so ...um great book. I really just wanted tto leave a comment. I am really bored i dudnt even read tge book so i hope it is great becouse else what i just said would be a total lie. I wish it didnt end i really want to know how there relationship goes. Has anyone else noticed all books end the same either they kiss or start dating but they never tell you how there relationship goes . Its enough to drive a girl crazy. Please tell me i am not the only who it drives them nu
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Take_Me_AwayPH More than 1 year ago
I have to admit. Before I even knew what this book was about, I put it on my TBR list because of the interesting looking cover. Now, after reading it, I am so glad I gave it a chance. This book opened my eyes to so many things and I mean that in the most un-cliche' way possible.      Before I read this, I looked down on anyone with an addiction. Well anything unhealthy. But after reading this, I realized two things. One, who am I to judge what's healthy and what's not? And two, most people with addictions don't even know they even have one. Take for example, the characters in this novel. All of them are addicted to something but yet none of them want to admit it. They all keep blaming the fact that they are there on everyone else. No one wants to be responsible for their actions. This is turn, puts them still in denial. My heart broke so many times as I read about them not understanding that they were hurting (themselves and everyone around them) and I wanted to squeeze them in hugs when they finally started making break throughs. This book is definitely an emotional roller-coaster. I found myself laughing, crying, and sometimes laughing so hard I cried. "One day at a time, you know. [...] tomorrow's gonna have to take care of itself." -pg. 197 (ARC)      I also loved the writing style. For it to be about such important issues, it wasn't done in a heavily preachy way. As teens (and adults alike) read this, they will be fully rooted to the story and connect with the characters. And even more so because it is written in a dual POV and because of that you get to take an in depth look into the head of Justin and  Emmy. This gives you the chance to see how both of them viewed certain events. And trust me, looking through the eyes of someone anorexic and someone with a sex addiction, you will start to look at things differently. "Families are based on love, not looks." -pg. 243 (ARC)      But the number one main thing I loved about this book was the way they treated the kids. They showed them that no one issue was bigger than the other and that they all needed to be helped in some kind of way. Everyone was treated equal. Unless they were up a level that is. It made them learn to be more comfortable and not to feel victimized. This is really what the teens wanted. Just to feel loved.   "What kind of a mess thinks being in therapy school is better than living? "A really awesome mess," I tell him." -pg. 228 (ARC)      And for this reason alone, I wasn't surprised to see romance blossom between more than one couple in this book. I was a little surprised at WHO it was though. If you read it, you will understand why too. Considering it wasn't super swoony and like "OMG I love him!", I was ok with that. It wasn't that type of story. There were obviously so many other things that the teens were thinking about and trying to overcome.      This book will have you thinking of things you would usually not think twice about. It will leave you thankful for all the things you love and the fact that they haven't been taken away from you. If you don't leave this novel with a new found outlook on life, you did it wrong. I recommend everyone to read this book. I guarantee you, you will find something that you loved!
ChiKittie More than 1 year ago
As a avid reader I come across many wonderful books. Ones that make you think. Ones that break your heart. Ones that you will treasure forever and that you are proud to own. Only rarely you read a book that you know you will remember forever....that perfect book, a rare gem that shines among the rest.  A Really Awesome Mess is exactly that. 5 Stars for me does not cover the sheer awesomeness within these pages. Here's why... The story is being told from dual narrators, Emmy and Justin. Both are living troubled lives.  Emmy got herself into trouble over an internet prank that some mean kids pulled on her. Of course she wanted payback but ended up getting into more trouble and evidently her family put Emmy into a mental health ward Reform School called Heartland Academy. Emmy is mad at her family at this obvious betrayal, and it doesn't help that she already feels like an outsider within her family. Why? She is adopted. Asian and looks nothing life her family, this causes her to feel out of place and sometimes unloved. Justin on the other hand has both parents but they are divorced and live apart. While staying at his fathers home "something" happens with a girl Justin brought back to the house. His father just so happened to walk in on Justin and this girl in the middle of a "compromising situation". Days later Justin decided to swallow a bunch of tylenol...to kill himself...or a blatant cry for attention? Never the less he ends up in the same Reform School as Emmy.  Both Justin and Emmy want nothing to do with Heartland Academy and feel they shouldn't be there. Only until they meet each other things start to change. But what happens to them both throughout the story is what makes A Really Awesome Mess....A Really Awesome Book! There is no doubt about it, I LOVED THIS BOOK! Every. Single. Page.  Now I have never read anything by Trish Cook or Brendan Halpin but after reading A Really Awesome Mess I definitely need to and soon. I totally love when two authors join together to write a book. There are very few that do this but let me tell you both Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin writing style has the perfect blend of humor, captivating characters, a heart wrenching story that I will never forget. One of the favorite parts of the book was seeing both Emmy and Justin grow together and separately. Although their journey was not a easy one they both somehow found the strength to hold on in each other. Another great aspect in the story was the secondary characters who also lived at Heartland Academy. They all really added so much to the book, helping the story come alive.  Everyone NEEDS to read A Really Awesome Mess. I definitely recommend it to all readers young and old. There is no doubt in my mind that his book will move you beyond words. For me it has already done just that and so much more. I want to thank Trish Cook & Brendan Halpin for writing such a beautiful and inspiring novel that will stay with me forever.
TeenAtHeart More than 1 year ago
I shouldn't like this book. I'm not a fan of stories where all of the action happens quickly. I much prefer gradual progression because I have a hard time believing that anyone could form relationships that quickly. But Justin, Emmy, and the other kids are thrown together into a situation where they are forced to become fast friends and confidants. In an environment such as theirs -- where they are sent by their families to deal with personal issues -- the only people they can rely on are other "difficult" teens. I'm not a fan of stories where the characters are self-actualized enough to figure out what's been plaguing them with very little effort. But I had to remind myself that I was reading this YA novel as an adult. Were I still an angsty, depressed teenager, I would have loved reading about their deepest, darkest secrets simply because it would have helped me discover my own. I am not a fan of stories where there is vulgar language thrown in just for kicks. If it doesn't advance the story, it doesn't need to be a part of the book. But I tend to forget that teenagers DO throw curse words around for no reason other than to shock and titillate. And so--even though I shouldn't--I really like this book. My adult self scoffs at how nicely the story is packaged. But my teen self knows that--even though it moves quickly and neatly--this novel portrays an important reality that could help others get through some tough times. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
sandyemerson More than 1 year ago
'A Really Awesome Mess' magically transports you into a world that you may have never been in or one that you would rather live without. This book gives the reader an insight into many social issues that are often ridiculed or taken for granted by those who are more fortunate. It delves into the minds of characters who don't recognize that they are at risk, or they imagine what they are going through is not as bad as their peers or parents insist it is. The fascination with this novel lies in following the lives of Emmy and Justin, two teenagers who feel that they have no place in the world and the somewhat strained relationships with their parents, as well as others. As much as there are painful scenes, which is where the quote comes from, there are poignant, funny moments that shows the camaraderie between the characters featured in this novel. It was so easy to lose myself with the pages of 'A Really Awesome Mess' just so I could read learn more about the characters in it. I really enjoyed the character development of each character and especially when they learned more about themselves. There were some great revealing scenes. It was easy to grow attached to them and to be horrified by what had led to them being inhabitants of Heartland Academy.  The romance in the book was done with an extremely light touch. There was no long-lingering stares or zaps of electricity when they touched, which was really lovely. It was really quite sweet how it developed over time. 'A Really Awesome Mess' is written in duo voices which gave me an insight into how Justin and Emmy are feeling - about themselves and everything else in general. It was really easy to connect with them because the book had been written this way. The pace was great and I enjoyed the setting. I know boarding schools have been done time and time again, but I honestly don't think this story would have worked as well if it hadn't been. There's that special touch of realism to it, although I can't really judge because the scenarios of each teenager are different from anything I've experienced, except possibly one.  Now, I'd like to be able to point out a few things that I didn't like about it, but they barely seem worth mentioning, so I won't.  I really enjoyed this book and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys general fiction books who delve into social issues.   Book review by Sandy at Magical Manuscripts
Anonymous More than 1 year ago