Happy Thursday! We are almost to the weekend, and it is nearly the end of April. Can you believe it? I am ready for sunshine and warm weather. If you are looking for a fun, light read to curl up with on a sunny afternoon, I have the wonderful book to share with you all today. I am delighted to have author, Paula Stokes, back here today with her newest book: Girl Against the Universe. I loved this book. It is sweet, fun and it takes on some important issues. If you are looking for an excellent YA contemp, I cannot recommend this one enough! Paula has kindly agreed to answer a few questions today, so let's get started. First, let me introduce you all to Paula:
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She started out writing historical fiction under a pen name and is now branching out into other YA genres.
When she's not working (rare), she's kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She's petted tigers, snuggled snakes, snorkeled with stingrays, and once enjoyed the suction-cuppy feel of a baby elephant's trunk as it ate peanuts from her palm. Her future goals include diving with Great White sharks, learning Krav Maga, and writing a whole slew of novels, not necessarily in that order. You can find Paula on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads.
Here is my interview with Paula:
Hi Paula, I am delighted to have you back here on Rainy Day Ramblings. I know you have a busy schedule, so I appreciate that you found time to answer a few questions. So let's get to it, shall we?
Can you describe Girl Against the Universe in a tweet?
GATU is a hopeful and uplifting story about a girl struggling to overcome survivor’s guilt. I like to say it’s *squishy hugs* in book form ;D
Girl Against the Universe explores two mental disorders: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Have you had any experience with either?
Whether Maguire fits the criteria for true OCD is debatable. To do so, she would have to spend over an hour a day on her rituals/checks and her daily life would have to be “significantly impacted.” She’s probably currently in a gray area for both of those standards, which is why I left it open in the novel. Also, a therapist only needs one diagnosis for insurance reimbursement and she definitely fits the criteria for both PTSD and anxiety disorder. I do have personal experience with anxiety, specifically social/performance anxiety. I grew up thinking I was just like everyone else—I mean stage fright is normal, right? It wasn’t until I was in nursing school and acing all the paper exams but literally terrified to the point of wanting to drop out with respect to the practical exams that I realized I needed help. I talked to a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who worked for the School Assistance Program and with his help I managed to complete not just my practical exams, but also a senior internship in the Cardiothoracic ICU. Nursing has given me a lot of confidence, but I still struggle a lot with things like job interviews and public speaking.
What type of research did you have to do to write this book?
With respect to the mental illness aspect, I have a four-year degree in psychology and a graduate degree in nursing so I felt comfortable checking out the newest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in order to review and verify the criteria for various mental illnesses. I also talked to a PhD therapist during revision and had my draft beta-read by a pediatrician to get additional feedback on Maguire’s symptoms and diagnoses. Because I’ve only had a few therapy sessions with an LCSW myself, I reached out to some of my friends who have had cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for help portraying the psychologist-client environment and therapeutic strategies in a believable way.
I played tennis in high school so I didn’t need to do a lot of sports research, though I did spend time reviewing serve mechanics and researching the lives of junior tennis pros—where they go to school, what their training is like, when their tournaments are, how they decide if they should go pro or play in college, etc. And then of course there was research regarding the Southern California setting, including poring over Google maps, interviewing readers who live in the San Diego area, and watching clips of roller coasters on YouTube. Finally I spent some time reviewing good luck rituals and bad luck superstitions across the world. This was actually a very fun book to research!
If someone is struggling with a mental disorder whether it be PTSD, OCD or any other disorder, what would you recommend they do to find help?
I’m going to paste straight from the final book’s Author’s Note:
If you are experiencing emotions that are affecting your quality of life, please consider seeking help. If you are uninsured or think you cannot afford therapy, speak to a teacher, counselor, school nurse, clergyman, social worker, or general medical doctor about your concerns. Schools and colleges often provide free services, and community leaders can frequently help people find online or local low-cost support groups.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that in the United States, one in four adults and one in five teens experiences mental illness in any given year. Fifty percent of chronic mental conditions begin by age fourteen, yet despite the effective treatments available, it is often decades before people seek help. Failure to seek help can be devastating not just to the afflicted, but also to family and friends. For more info, or to find support, please visit NAMI or www.nami.org.
What message do you want readers to take away from your book?
I doubt most readers are going to feel like they're bad luck to people around them, but I think a lot of us might sometimes need a reminder that there is always hope, that there are people who care about us who will help us if we reach out, that we don't have to be dying to deserve help, that we are stronger than we think, and that the Universe works in mysterious ways. I’m hoping the people who need to hear those things will find them in Girl Against the Universe.
Do you believe in bad luck?
I think ultimately what I believe in is a Westernized version of karma, where if I do something bad, something bad will happen to me in response. This story is inspired by a shorter series of less-severe bad outcomes that occurred when I was on a solo vacation to Mexico, and at the time I truly did feel somewhat responsible, even though I recognized those feelings as irrational.
What are some personal fears that you have that you would like to conquer?
I would love to conquer my fear of public speaking so that I don’t spend weeks (sometimes months!) stressing out prior to each public appearance I do. At the same time, I’m not ashamed of my social anxiety anymore and I’m proud of myself for doing in-person events even though they’re extremely hard for me. I want so badly to succeed as an author, and I try hard not to let my anxiety handicap my chances for success.
I loved the romance in this one. What do you think is key in a great romantic relationship?
Ha. It’s been a long time since I had a great romantic relationship so I’m not sure ;) Okay, seriously, I think a great romance starts with two people who develop feelings for each other slowly based on a mix of physical and mental attributes. Sure, Jordy thinks Maguire is pretty when they first meet and he’s initially interested because she seems immune to his charms, but his real feelings develop after he gets to know her. As they spend time together, he sees that she’s resilient, thoughtful, determined, and funny. Maguire recognizes Jordy as attractive, and because she’s not used to being touched or flirted with, his attention awakens physical desire in her. But it isn’t until months later, when she sees that he’s a really decent guy with good priorities who is striving for self-improvement, that she starts to fall for him. Basically, I am all about the slow-burn relationship. I also really like banter and fun, flirty moments. And I like writing “nice guys” who don’t fall into the typical nice guy stereotype.
Can you tell us what is next up for you?
Vicarious releases on August 16, and although that main character also has PTSD, everything else about the book is different. It’s a very dark, action-thriller story, with kind of a soul-destroying ending. But no worries. I promise to put your soul back together in the sequel. (It’s a duology.) I am also hoping to release my first new adult book later this year, a fun, fluffy tale of romance, bromance, friendship, and travel hijinks set in beautiful Thailand!
What books are you most looking forward to reading this Spring?
OMG I still have boxes of books I bought last spring that I haven’t even opened #FailTimesAMillion. Some of the things I have waiting for me are: TITANS by Victoria Scott, RELIC by Gretchen McNeil, and RIDERS by Veronica Rossi. Also, shouts out to Jess Spotswood for WILD SWANS and Sarvenaz Tash for The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love. I was lucky enough to read ARCs of those and they are both amazing reads. (click on covers for details).
Thanks so much, Paula, for stopping by today. I absolutely loved Girl Against the Universe, and I hope readers will check this one out.
Thanks, Heidi! Fingers crossed for some sunshine soon :)
Thank you again, Paula for stopping by today. I can't tell you all enough how much I loved this book. Now the best part, the giveaway. Thanks to Paula, I have a paperback copy of Girl Against the Universe up for grabs. This giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
To enter read the Contest Policies and fill out the Rafflecopter. Good Luck!
Here is my review:
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
Maguire is bad luck.
No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.
It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.
From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by HarperTeen
Four and a half stars: A delightful YA contemp that tackles some important topics.
Maguire is convinced she is bad luck, and no matter how many good luck charms she carries, or five second danger sweeps she performs or rituals she carries out, the universe still conspires against her. It all started back when she was eleven when a car crash claimed the lives of Maguire's father, uncle and brother. Maguire who was miraculously spared with only a few scratches. Then consider the roller coaster accident when the coaster veered off the tracks, injuring everyone, but Maguire. Maguire knows that bad luck follows her, and so she prefers to be alone and to stay away from others. She meticulously notes all the bad things that happen when she is around in her luck notebook, to prove she has bad luck.Things begin to change for Maguire when she starts therapy and meets a nice boy in the waiting room. With the help of her therapist and her new found friend, Maguire sets therapy goals and attempts to take her life back from the universe. Will she succeed?
What I Liked:
- I have been struggling with YA contemps the last couple of years, so I am hesitant to pick one up. Thankfully, Girl Against the Universe was just what I needed. This is a wonderful book with an adorable romance. It follows two teens who are both trying to overcome their own issues. I loved the friendship, the romance, the growth and the focus on family. If you have been let down by YA contemps, this is the one to grab. I loved it!
- The book centers around Maguire, a young teen who is convinced she is cursed by bad luck. She is suffering from a combination of PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). She prefers to be alone as she can't stand the thought of anyone else getting hurt around her. She won't ride in cars with anyone but her mother and she avoided public transportation. At the beginning of the book, Maguire is starting therapy, and at first, she is reluctant to open up and talk to her therapist. Thankfully, she meets Jordy in the waiting room and the two become friends. Maguire begins to set goals and slowly transform. I loved watching her tackle her fears and conquer her goals one step at a time. It was inspiring to see her change. If you are like me and you enjoy books where the main character undergoes a dramatic transformation for the better, you will love this one. I adored Maguire, I couldn't help but to cheer her on.
- Jordy is Maguire's partner in crime. He is popular, a bit famous and adorable, and he has a terrific sense of humor. Yet, he is also struggling with his own issues. He wants to balance the public image of himself with his true self, and stand up to his parents and take control of his own life. I loved seeing him work with Maguire, and I especially loved how kind and patient he was with her, especially when it came to her issues. He is totally swoon worthy.
- Speaking of swoon worthy, the romance is indeed swoon worthy. It is a slow burner that starts out as a hesitant acquaintance before moving into a friendship. It is fragile at first as both parties must learn to trust and to open up. Over time, it blossoms into something more, and in the end, it is sweet and satisfying and just right.
- I loved the strong focus on family. I appreciated that Maguire's family was very involved in her life. I adored the new found relationship Maguire formed with her step dad, it made me smile.
- I enjoyed the cast of secondary characters. From Maguire's family to her new friends. Jade was fun, and encouraging, Kimber ended up surprising me, and I thought Penn was terrific. The therapist, Daniel, was also a surprise as he wasn't uptight and stuffy. I loved that the characters were real and fun. Loved this cast.
- This book tackles some important issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I appreciated the depth and detail regarding these mental illnesses, and I liked going through the process with Maguire as she worked to overcome them. I was thrilled to discover the author's note at the end where Ms. Stokes discusses these disorders, and that she provided details on how those who might be suffering with a mental illness can find help. I complain time and time again after reading an issue book that there isn't further information for readers at the end. Big props to Ms. Stokes for including this.
- Don't shy away from this thinking it is a dramatic, angst ridden issue book. Even though it tackles some strong topics, the overall tone of the book remains light and upbeat.
- The ending closes out the book in a good place without any cliffhanger or unanswered questions. A nice stand alone.
And The Not So Much:
- Even though I as pleased with the ending, I finished the book wanting more. It ends a bit abruptly. Yes, it left me smiling, but I would have loved an Epilogue a bit down the road to see how everything turned out. What can I say, when I immerse in a good story, I hate to see it end.
- One niggle I had was that I loved watching Maguire work through each of her goals and conquer her fears. Her final goal was a big one, and I hated that it was glossed over. I wanted to go through it step by step with her.
- I wished that there was just a tiny more detail on Jordy's relationship with his parents. He struggled with his mother's strict control, but I wasn't as clear on the father's role. His dad is hardly present, and I was wondering if his relationship was just as strained with his father as it was with his mother.
Girl Against the Universe is a wonderful book. This is story about conquering fears and mental illness and letting go of the past. I loved watching the two main characters grow and transform, and I thought the romance was fantastic. This is an absolute must read if you are looking for a good YA contemp. I highly recommend this one. I found that I was wanting more when I reached the end. Don't miss this one!
I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was not compensated for this review.