Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein
Cassie hasn't had the easiest life. Actually, that puts it pretty mildly - her life has mostly sucked, and it recently just went from really bad to a whole lot worse when she and her two best friends were arrested on prom night for possession of marijuana. Then one of them sold her out for her own plea bargain, and now Cassie is forced to spend the next month at a rehab/wilderness camp and face her inner demons.
But she knows that the pot isn't the real reason she's there. It's not the real reason the universe is punishing her, and she knows she deserves to be punished. If only she could get Ben - the kind, mysterious boy who is also here and seems to have taken a liking to her - to see how truly awful she knows she is.
Dear Cassie is Lisa Burstein's sophomore novel and a companion to her debut, Pretty Amy. Don't let the word companion scare you, though - you absolutely do not have to read the other book to understand this one. Dear Cassie can stand on its own. While I would have expected to have a stronger connection to Amy, a girl like me who actually had a pretty nice home life and didn't have to want for much except for knowing who she really was, it was Cassie in this book with whom I felt an incredibly strong kinship. I couldn't understand Amy even though we did share more similarities, but with Cassie, well, she and I both know what it's like to battle demons and feel like we have no where else to go.
Burstein has done a tremendous job in this book of writing raw YA that does not shy away from the grittier aspects of a teenage existence. Prom is the nightmare, not the dream. Friendships and relationships with parents, siblings, and significant others are messy and don't make sense and can turn us inside out and terrify us because the reality is nothing like the fiction we were raised on. And I appreciated that Burstein was willing to go there, to that dark place, and to make Cassie a strong girl who really didn't realize how strong she was (and that it's okay to not be so strong all the time).
I read this entire book in one day and was blown away by it. I'm truly honored that my little story shares these pages, and it's a book that I can honestly say I would highly recommend no matter what. This is, however, a selection for more mature YA readers. Cassie's favorite word starts with an f and rhymes with truck and it shows up a couple hundred times, plus the content is better suited for high school and up. Neither of these things bothered me in the slightest, but are worth keeping in mind for younger readers.
If you're in the mood for gritty, contemporary YA that's not afraid of showing a tougher side of life, pick up Dear Cassie. It's worth it.
Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.
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