Publisher's Note:  

Ever since Esther Solar’s grandfather was cursed by Death, everyone in her family has been doomed to suffer one great fear in their lifetime. Esther’s father is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the basement in six years, her twin brother can’t be in the dark without a light on, and her mother is terrified of bad luck.

The Solars are consumed by their fears and, according to the legend of the curse, destined to die from them.

Esther doesn’t know what her great fear is yet (nor does she want to), a feat achieved by avoiding pretty much everything. Elevators, small spaces and crowds are all off-limits. So are haircuts, spiders, dolls, mirrors and three dozen other phobias she keeps a record of in her semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. 

Then Esther is pickpocketed by Jonah Smallwood, an old elementary school classmate. Along with her phone, money and a fruit roll-up she’d been saving, Jonah also steals her list of fears. Despite the theft, Esther and Jonah become friends, and he sets a challenge for them: in an effort to break the curse that has crippled her family, they will meet every Sunday of senior year to work their way through the list, facing one terrifying fear at a time, including one that Esther hadn’t counted on: love.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by G. P. Putnam's Sons

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares

by Krystal Sutherland

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Overall Review:  

What would you do if Death cursed your family and your worst fears ultimately led to your death?  Would you run and hide, or face each and every fear head on?  A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares explores just that possibility.

Esther Solar has made a list of the top 50 things that scare her…literally to her possible death.  As she reconnects with an old friend named Jonah, she begins to face each and every one of her fears.  Throughout the process, she learns more about her family, more about herself, and begins to see a world of possibility opening up around her.

The story line in this book is great.  I was really happy that the author chose not to devote one chapter to every fear, which is a direction I think a lot of writers would have gone.  The mixture of humor throughout the book also takes the edge off very tough subjects like child abuse and abandonment.  I also appreciated that the fears the author gave Esther were quite real and relatable.  Fear of clowns, ghosts, abandoned buildings, etc. are fears than many of us face and therefore it was easy to transport yourself right into the story.

Some of the themes were very mature, but the closing of the book did an amazing job of bringing a lesson to light and spreading a message of hope.  The last few chapters had my eyes watering with tears as Esther realizes what an inspiration she has become to people she doesn’t even know.

This is a great fiction read.  Easy to read, loaded with laughs, and it inspires everyone to go out and face their fears and really live.

Review of an Advance Reading Copy

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  25 religious exclamations; 43 mild obscenities; 9 religious profanities; 21 derogatory names; 40 scatological words; 23 anatomical terms; 1 offensive hand gesture; 35 f-word derivatives.

Violence/Gore:  Reference to girl being raped and murdered (no detail); list of how people connected to a police case die (minimal detail); report of man committing suicide by hanging; 2 page scene with graphic detail of father beating teenage boy and friend with injuries (split lips, bruises) and blood depicted; ghosts follow man around; boy slits wrists in suicide attempt; blood splatter on walls and floors from suicide attempt; man drown another man in bathtub by holding head under water; various injuries from implied child abuse including split lips and bruises; glancing punch to face; boy accidentally hits kitten with moped (no death); boy burns hand as he holds it over a candle; reference to mother being killed in car crash; newspaper clippings regarding murders (no detail); reference to having limbs sheared off in war; man shot in head during war (no detail); boy has cuts on arm with implied self-mutilation; multiple bites on legs from geese encounter; verbal threats to kill father; elderly man falls and breaks multiple ribs; 4 page detailed accounting of the abduction and murder for two girls; punch to face; bodies are swept away in a flash flood.

Sex/Nudity:  Boy strips down to boxers to swim; reference to man who is homosexual; boy caresses girls cheek; boy and girl sleep together fully clothed twice; boy and girl kiss 6 times and hug once.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Death, war, divorce, serious illness, rape, mental disorders, gambling, abandonment, physical child abuse, addictions, robbery, suicide, murder.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Teens drink and smoke.

Reviewed By Beckie
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