Thursday, October 20, 2016

Release Day Reviews: Turn the World Upside Down by Nyrae Dawn

Title: Turn the World Upside Down

Author: Nyrae Dawn
Release Date: October 20, 2016
Category: Contemporary, Gay, Teen Fiction
Pages: 200

Hunter Donovan’s life always seemed perfect, but there was something rotten beneath the shiny surface. When the truth comes out and his dad is sent to prison, Hunter can only react with anger. His rage boils out of control, leading to a violent incident at school, and then to Hunter being sent to a mental health facility—Better Days.

Hunter doesn’t see how therapy can help him. If it can’t change the past, what good is it? It’s not like he can go back in time, see the horrible things going on right under his nose, and put a stop to them. No, he should have found that strength when he had the chance, and now it’s too late.

There is a ray of light at Better Days, though, in the friendships Hunter forges. Anxiety-ridden Casey, uninhibited Rosie, recovering bulimic Bethany, and Stray, a self-harmer who’s never had a home, lighten Hunter’s feelings of isolation.

Despite the connections he’s forming—and even the love blossoming between him and Stray—Hunter can’t escape his shame and remorse. If Hunter can’t open up and find a way to deal with what happened, he might end up another casualty of mental illness, just like one of the friends he’s grown to love.

Hunter Donovan once had the picture perfect life. A great family, good friends and a talent for baseball. Unfortunately, while things looked perfect on the outside no one, including Hunter and his mother, knew what was going on behind closed doors. After learning his father was a monster and his little sister had suffered at his hands, Hunter blames himself for not protecting her. His guilt and anger are eating him alive and his rage has caused him to become violent. With no other choice he is committed to a treatment center by his mother. 

Better Days is not where Hunter wants to be. The idea of talking to others about his issues makes him want to hit something. He just wants to be left alone. Unfortunately for him the residents of Better Days have different plans. Some want to be friends while others are set on hurting him and one boy makes Hunter want to talk about why he's there. Together with a group of "misfits", Hunter begins to realize there's only so much he can do, he's not responsible for saving everybody. He needs to work on saving himself. 

*Copy provided to Bayou Book Junkie by the Harmony Ink Press for my reading pleasure in hopes of an unbiased opinion, a review was not a requirement.* 

I have been a fan of Nyrae Dawn for years and I'm always in awe of how these stories seem to press all of my emotional buttons so well. I was expecting sad and emotional but I didn't realize I would actually end up with tears in my eyes by the end. There were quite a few sad scenes as well as some good laugh out loud moments, but there is a particularly violent scene that, for me, was one of the hardest scenes to read. I felt it while it happened and I wanted to scream at the offenders because it was so vivid in my mind. The direct aftermath had tears in my eyes, it was just sad. I really felt for Hunter, the way he feels and the actions he takes. He takes everything on himself and can't seem to realize he's just a 16 year old kid. 

Each character was thought out and so real. I could picture them as I read as if I were watching a movie. I loved them all and my heart broke for each of them and their struggles. I wanted to hug every one of them and tell them that it would be okay. That things would get better, even though I know very well it's not that simple. 

My only problem with this book was the ending. I'm probably the only one but I feel like I needed an epilogue. I needed to know how they are 1, 2, 5 years down the road. Did things get better? How were their lives as adults? I needed just a little more closure. That said, this is a great read and I definitely recommend it along with Nyrae Dawn's other books. 

4.5 Stars!

4* A powerful, vivid read that I won't even try to categorise, but one that both saddened me, and made me smile - a little.

This is an incredibly vivid, sad for the most, tale that's not solely about Hunter, but about the friends he makes when he goes into residential therapy. Though I read the author's note about having had experiences via family of mental illness, it made me wonder if she had a specific aim in writing it or if the characters simply spoke to her. I didn't get an answer either way and in the end it didn't matter, as I found myself absorbed into the book. I hope it reaches its intended audience, as YA need to know how common mental illness is, and how important it is to speak up and get help, instead of hiding/feeling shame/hurting oneself. Perhaps this is a book that needs to make its way into school libraries...

Each character had a different problem, which I could believe and each took time to open up and some dealt with things better than others. I felt for them all, for differing reasons and could empathise with them, though I'm likely old enough to be at least ten years older than these guys' parents/responsible adults.

I was very glad that Hunter found his way to Better Days, that he matured there, learned to open up, learned to understand that two wrongs don't make a right, learned to listen and to make sense, despite the confused messages that his mind was giving him, and that he found the courage to open up and speak out when something bad happened, rather than following the unit's residents' unspoken Omerta-like rule. I think that he grew up in there, going from a not unreasonably - at his young age and given his experience - slightly Me, Me, Me type, to a guy who'd endured, who'd been hurt by someone he should have been able to trust without reservation, but who hadn't been irretrievably broken; one who was able to find his worth and to make positive steps for his future life. That he found happiness with Stray/Jeremiah, was sweet, but not the focus of the tale.

ARC courtesy of Harmony Ink Press in return for an honest review.

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