Poignant and true, laugh out loud hilarious and at the same time gut-wrenchingly sad, A Really Awesome Mess is the story of two broken teens who are desperate for answers even if they think they have life all figured out.
Emmy is sent to Heartland Academy when she pulls a prank on a male student. Her parents are mortified and realize that Emmy needs help. Emmy is angry; she has never fit in with her "perfect" American family. Her parents and sister are tall and white. Emmy is adopted from China--not tall, not white-- and while she is grateful for her opportunity to live a "normal" life, in the back of her mind she wonders what happened to her real mother. Who could walk away from her own child? Emmy harbors resentment that she's not the perfect American daughter and feels like her white parents love their own natural child more than her.
Justin is sent to Heartland Academy when his rich father catches him in an embarrassing situation with a girl and Justin takes a handful of Tylenal and lands in the emergency room. Heartland counselors work with Justin on his anger issues. Rounding out the group of teen misfits is Mohammed--an angry, aggressive kid from Sierra Leone--who is pretending to be something he's not, Jenny who refuses to speak--she has "selective mutism," Chip--a real "tool" and Diana--the girl who likes to stir things up. The group has to work together for one week and get no demerits to begin to earn extra phone and Ipad time. The kids are on their best behavior and some of them are doing better than they have ever done.
Told in alternating chapters by Emmy and Justin, A Really Awesome Messcaptures teen angst and anger at its best and at its worst. A trip to the fair turns manic when the kids "rescue" pigs--and it reminded me a bit of Bless the Beasts and the Children. Readers who like novels told from the male and female point of view will like this novel. Readers who liked Notes From the Blender--Cook's and Halpin's first venture--will likely enjoy their second novel.
Highly, highly recommended for grade 9-up. Language, mature situations, sexual situations, snarky, bad teen behavior. Not for middle school!
288 pages Ages 14 and up
Recommended by: Pamela Thompson, MLIS, Librarian, Texas USA