Latest Read: A Really Awesome Mess

Here are the basics ...
A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin
Publication date: July 23, 2013
Publisher: EgmontUSA
Category: Young Adult - Contemporary
Source: Netgalley (Thanks!)

Summary: Justin's parents' divorce put him on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom. Emmy, who was adopted from China, never felt like a part of her family, who look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog. 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. (Adapted
My thoughts…
The good: Do you ever read books that just kind of sneak up on you? Don't get me wrong, I had been enjoying A Really Awesome Mess from the start. It's hard not to with distinctive voices like Emmy's and Justin's narrating the way. But then it hit this point where I stopped and thought to myself, this is really good! (Of course I had to let Twitter know as well.) It deals with so many topics like mental illness, self-worth, family, relationships, race, and making friends and manages to bring them all together in a way that's both heartwarming and funny.

Emmy was adopted from China at a very young age by an all-American family and she's struggled to fit in with them and her peers for as long as she can remember. When she retaliates against a student bullying her, it lands her in Heartland Academy, a reform school. For her anger management issues and an eating disorder. Of course she believes she suffers from neither and thinks her family just wants to get rid of her. Then there's Justin who isn't handling the divorce of his parents well. First his father finds him in a compromising position with a girl and then he decides to take a handful of Tylenols to get his mom's attention and soon he's at Heartland as well. It's here that they cross paths with each other and some other memorable characters.

The appeal of Emma and Justin stem from how they're portrayed. There's no heavy-handed emo moments here. Their disorders are very real and they each display anger, lots of snark and desperation. But then, against their will, Heartland does work its magic on them and they begin to acknowledge that maybe they do need help after all. Crucial to their recovery are the kids in their anger management group. They slowly become friends and I think that's the moment when the book really clicked for me. They do and say crazy things and sure, they all want out of Heartland but they find something real in each other too. Their antics get a little outlandish at times but trust me, it's entertaining and provided a good balance to the seriousness of their situation.

But the part that hit me the hardest emotionally were the scenes with their parents. Even though they're not in the book much, their presence is certainly felt through Emmy and Justin's thoughts and therapy sessions. Maybe it's just one of those things where it's the right book at the right time but one scene in particular towards the end had me tearing up like a fool (while on the bus, no less).

(No) reservations: I liked it exactly the way it was. It was just the right amount of everything and I appreciate any book that can make me laugh, cry or both.

Do I recommend?: I do! Even while reading at a leisurely pace, I was surprised by how quickly I got through it. I would highly recommend giving this one a chance.

Happy reading!


  1. I really, really want to read this book now! And I probably should, considering it's being released soon. It sounds like a great, quirky little story!

  2. I'm so happy you enjoyed this book! I haven't gotten to this one yet but now, I'm really excited to read it! It sounds so good. I love stories about friendship.

  3. I cannot wait to read this one! I've seen an endless series of positive reviews about it on the blogosphere lately and I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed it as well, Rachel :) Your review was a pleasure to read.

    From what I've heard so far, this book provides a very sensitive and moving portrayal of mental illness, and I can only hope that it will act as a step toward removing some of the stigma surrounding mental illness in today's society. We need more books like this one! I'm also happy to hear that the discussions are frank and honest. I have a low tolerance for melodrama and I'm happy to hear that Justin and Emma's problems are portrayed in an unflinching and realistic way. A lesser author would have exploited and sensationalized them for best effect for the plot development, which I'm relieved to hear was not the case here.

with love,