Publisher's Note:  

How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief—or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara—part drill sergeant, part friend—who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be. But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

This book was sent to Compass Book Ratings for review by Candlewick Press

Phantom Limbs

by Paula Garner

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Overall Review:  

Though it's all but drowned out by the onslaught of sex and language (see content review), the undercurrent of author Paula A. Garner's debut novel, Phantom Limbs, is at times, quite a genuine account of love, loss, and the journey of acceptance.

Nothing lasts forever, my mother would say. I hated when she said that. My dreams were beginnings without endings.”

Earnest and uncontrived, 16-year-old male Otis, unfolds the story with both bellowing hormones and intense insight, as he chronicles the painful and confusing memories of the past and the uncertainty of the future.

There was life before you, and then life with you. There wasn't supposed to be life after you.”

This may well be an overrated novel (in my opinion), that most critics will love; one, because it's a YA romance told from the male point of view; two, because of the callous, oh, I mean “authentic teen speech”; and thirdly, the author's candid portrayal of teenage heterosexual and homosexual behavior.  I thought the second and third were its weak points. So, let me tell you what I believe this new author got right.

Friendships, especially between male and female can be confusing, frustrating, as well as rewarding. Garner did an excellent job of portraying this not only in Otis's relationship with his friend/coach Dara and friend/childhood sweetheart Meg, but also how Otis viewed his mom and dad's relationship as husband and wife.

... I miss you,” she said.

Missed? Or miss?”


But I'm right here,” I said into her hair.

I miss you anyway.”

Garner bravely shows how a male's masculinity is not diminished by exhibiting sensitivity. This is depicted in Otis being not only an athlete, but a confident poet. The inclusion of the verse itself, was a brilliant move on the author's part.

The way in which the author presented and handled the bereavement topics (see mature subject matter below) was illustriously soft and yet, raw. Not sugar-coated, yet not overly dramatized, it will undoubtedly bring about a tender response from the reader, and in my opinion helped the story stay grounded amidst the overplay of other material.

Garner's contrast of limb amputation and the forms in which someone can be lost to you was both imaginative in its synonymity and heartrending in its execution, and is an altogether excellent motif to tie the whole story together.

You love someone and they leave, but they never entirely go away. You feel them there, actually, like an amputated limb.”

Mostly comparable to John Green and Gayle Forman's novels, this will likely be a hit with young ladies who enjoy heavier content in their teenage fiction.

We were battered and dinged, both past the weight limit in personal baggage. And, like the rest of humanity, it would be our destiny to be tossed and torn by events unseen and unplanned,

But damaged doesn't necessarily mean broken.”

 Review of an Advance Reader's Copy

Content Analysis:  

Profanity/Language:  72 religious exclamations; 43 mild obscenities; 2 religious profanities; 6 derogatory names; 28 scatological words; 31 anatomical terms; 1 offensive hand gesture; 113 F-word derivatives.

Violence/Gore:  Sarcastic thought involving violence; character recalls getting hit with a ball in PE; character kicks another character in jest; extended scene (about ¼ page) memory of animal being hit by car and trying to save it's life; report of dog being injured (this instance is mentioned a few times); character humorously thinks about punching another character; brief mention of teen losing limb in shark attack; character playfully thinks a character might attack an elderly individual (humorous); joke about wanting to shoot one's self; character finds friend injured in car accident, blood and injuries mentioned more than once; teen reveals their parent committed suicide; character believes another character may try to harm or kill themselves; character attempts suicide by drinking and overdosing on medication.

Sex/Nudity: Recollection of hug; slang for male genitalia (about 7x); memory of lusting after individual of the opposite sex; memory of kiss; joke about male erection; extended scene (about 1 page) characters ask questions sexual in nature including masturbation, and virginity; character unclear of other character's sexual orientation; male admires female's shape as she swims; sexual joke about a female who swims the breaststroke; male notices females swimsuit riding up on her behind; character calls another character a pervert;; character reminisces about first kiss and love (this is referenced to a few times); character hopes they look better naked than another character; female character believes another female may have romantic feelings for her; extended scene (about 2 pages) male and female teen discuss having sex and masturbating; joke about masturbation; joke about being a homosexual; kiss; male and female teen admire adult female's chest; teen male worries teen female has intercourse on their mind; male teen sees female teen in underwear; male teen strokes teen females head until she falls asleep (non-romantic gesture); teen reads jokes about masturbation; extended scene (about 2 page) memory of past kiss; male enjoys seeing female in bikini; hug for comfort; joke about castration; mention of character masturbating and pubic hairs; mention of ad for penis enlarging medication; male notices female's chest; embrace; male is impressed with large chested female on television, fantasizes about having sex with her; male admires female's behind; memory of hand hold; joke about male's arousing dream, referred to as “wet dream”; embrace; teen male thinks about making out/being romantically involved with teen female; teen male wears Speedo while having an erection to test its limits; teen male worries he'll get an erection that teen female will notice (2x); teen male admires teen female's body in swimsuit, longingly wonders where her boyfriend has touched her; male teen jokes about having sex; teens become aroused while male teen rubs ointment on teen females back; teen male notices teen females nipples have become enlarged, arousing him; teen female jokingly touches chest on female sculpture; extended scene (few pages) teens play spin the bottle, girls kiss each other; character referred to as homophobic, their sexual orientation is questioned; character has a desire to hug another character; reference to couple having an open relationship; characters hold hands; teen male admires teen female's chest; memory of kiss; character confirms teen males were flirting with teen female; embrace for comfort; female's swimwear is described as revealing; teen female teases male teen that girls want to have his baby; teen male recalls his and teen female's plan to have children; teen male becomes aroused and female teen's cleavage; teen male has sexual desires for teen female (x2); teen female compares male teens' kissing skills; character discovers two females may be dating each other; character thinks a car is sexy; report of two females holding hands (possibly romantic); teen character contemplates their sexual orientation, believes there is a possibility they could be gay; teen character protests being gay; reference to kiss; character feels character of the opposite sex is examining them in their swimwear; friendly hug; teen female strokes other teen female's head in a reassuring manner while calling them pet names; female leans head on male's back; teen male happens to see teen female shirtless with nipple hanging out of bra; female inquires if she looks sexy (2x), jokes about seducing fellow teen female; character unwittingly jokes that they think another character may be a homosexual; teen has romantic desires for other teen; character inquires if other character has sexual dreams about them; character rests head on other character's shoulder; teen wonders if teen couple is sexually active; character walks in on teen females kissing and touching each other in areas normally covered by a swimsuit; character wonders at the sexual exploits of teen couple (crude in nature 2x); extended scene (about 3 pages) teen female shares with teen male what it's like to have homosexual sex (non-graphic); pornography joked about; report of teens playing strip poker; teen male notices teen females breasts, thinks she is sexy; teen male thinks about teen couple having sex; extended scene (about ½ page) teens kiss and touch each other in areas normally covered by swimsuits; teens hold hands; homosexual teen tells heterosexual teen about having gay sex (little detail); male and female teen hug while in bathing suits; characters lean heads on each other's shoulders; sexual joke; memory of kiss; teen female sits on teen male's lap; teen male admires teen female's chest and how she looks in bikini; joke about sex; extended scene (about 2 pages) teens discuss gay sex, virginity, having sex with a significant other; kiss; embrace; reference to gay sex; character worries a teen female character is kissing a teen male character; character believes he/she is hearing the sounds of a teen couple having sex; character inquires if another character is naked; teen male and female lay in the same bed with male only in his boxers, they hold hands (2x), embrace (2x) male becomes aroused; extended scene (about 1 page) teens discuss sex; extended scene (about 1 page) teen reports to having sex while intoxicated with a stranger, using condom; extended scene (about 2 pages) male and female teen kiss and touch each other in places normally cover by a swimsuit (detailed description) while lying in bed, male only in underwear; female teen touches male teen's arm romantically; reference to character's loss of virginity.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Death of a loved one(s), loss of limb, separation/divorce of parent, heterosexual and homosexual teen sex/sexual orientation/masturbation, teen drinking/drunk driving/alcoholism, depression/PTSD/suicide.

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Mention of underage teen opening beer bottles; reference to parents drinking and children eating alcohol soaked olives; teen wonders if fellow teen drinks; 18 year old admits to being intoxicated while driving; beer cans litter house; 18 year old mixes pain pills with alcohol; parents drinking wine is mentioned a few times; adult wears t-shirt endorsing beer; teen worries there will be drinking at High School party; 2x extended scene (few pages) alcohol being consumed by teens at party; teen contemplates drinking alcohol; teen character worries their friend is hungover; teens talk about alcohol being consumed at high school party, drinking, and being hungover; teen reveals why they feel the need to drink; character comments that prescribed medication can be dangerous; comment on parent drinking what is referred to as medicinal scotch; mention of teen's blood alcohol level; reference to parent's drinking problem; marijuana at high school party; character reads book where cocktails are drunk; teen character admits to doing drugs and drinking when younger; report of teen drinking excessively; teen character tries to commit suicide by drinking and overdosing on medication.

Reviewed By MaryLou
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