Monday, October 10, 2011

Review: Ballads of Suburbia by Stephanie Kuehnert

Title: Ballads of Suburbia
Author: Stephanie Kuehnert
Publisher: MTV
Pages: 344
Release date: July 21st 2009
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought at The Book Depository
Find out more: Amazon ; Goodreads

Goodreads description:
Kara hasn't been back to Oak Park since the end of junior year, when a heroin overdose nearly killed her and sirens heralded her exit. Four years later, she returns to face the music. Her life changed forever back in high school: her family disintegrated, she ran around with a whole new crowd of friends, she partied a little too hard, and she fell in love with gorgeous bad-boy Adrian, who left her to die that day in Scoville Park....
Amid the music, the booze, the drugs, and the drama, her friends filled a notebook with heartbreakingly honest confessions of the moments that defined and shattered their young lives. Now, finally, Kara is ready to write her own.

First sentence:
Sirens and lights welcomed me back to the suburbs of Chicago.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I'd heard so many amazing things about this book, I just had to buy and read it. While Ballads of Suburbia is as great as everyone says it is, it's really different from what I'd expected. Maybe it's just me, but I think the description is kind of misleading. To me, it sounds like Ballads of Suburbia is mainly about Kara's life four years after the overdose, with some flashbacks or somehting like that. Really, though, this book is about Kara's high school experience; mainly the time leading up to the overdose. Therefore, Ballads of Suburbia is much more of an issue book than I would have expected - drugs play a really important role, but other issues like cutting, parental neglect, divorce, teen pregnancy, abusive relationships, depression and suicide are also dealt with. I'm not saying that's a bad thing - it's just that Ballads of Suburbia turned out to be much darker than I'd expected.

At first, Ballads of Suburbia was hard for me to get into, but maybe that's just because I'd thought it would be about a different period of Kara's life. I was pretty confused by the constant switches in time. It says the year(s) each section takes place in, but I always had to go back to see whether we were going back in time or whether this takes place in the future or what. It was kind of confusing to figure out how the ballads fit into the time scheme, too.

Once I got over that though, I loved Ballads of Suburbia. The whole concept of the ballads and the notebook is great - I loved how we got little glimpses of everyone's life, and how well we got to know each character. The characters are probably what I loved most about this book - they're incredibly well-developed. All of them - and I really mean all of them; not just a few main characters, but all characters are complex and dynamic. They're so real, I felt like they could jump off the page at any moment. I loved reading about Kara, Adrian, Liam, Maya, Cass, Christian, etc. and I loved how all of them have their own problems. These are the best characters I've read in a long time - I can't remember the last time I read a book where all of the characters are as fully-developed as they are in Ballads of Suburbia.

The relationships between the characters are great, too. I loved how all of the other characters influenced each other. The relationship I enjoyed most is probably the one between Kara and Liam - I loved reading about how their relationship changed over the years, and Liam's point of view is heartbreaking. That storyline, along with Maya's story, is probably my favorite part of Ballads of Suburbia. That's what's so great about this book - there are loads of characters, each with their own story, and there's bound to be at least one you're going to enjoy reading about.

The whole book is heartbreaking - the feelings Ballads of Suburbia conveyed are crazy. I've never done anything like the characters in this book have, but I understood their motivations and actually felt like their decisions made sense, even when they were wrong (which is a pretty scary thought, considering what these characters do). The portrayal of their issues is so real and honest, you feel like it's happening to one of your friends, not a character in a book. It's heartbreaking to read about what each of these characters has to go through.

The only character I would have liked to know more about is Christian. I don't feel like the reader got to know his motivations enough. Maybe it's because his ballad comes pretty early in the story, and towards the end something happens that changes him drastically (okay, that's not a good explanation, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone). The way the reader sees Christian changes a lot over the course of the novel, and I don't feel like we got to know enough about him and why he does what he does. I think it would have been interesting to know more about Christian's character and that whole topic - even though it's a terrible topic, it's fascinating, at least to me.

The writing is amazing and beautiful, and while I usually ejoyed its insightfulness, I had to wonder about how realistic it is that these kids write like that. For Kara, sure - she's into screenwriting, and she can be a good writer. But for the ballads, which are written by each character... I don't know how realistic it is that a character like Adrian can write like that. I think the style should have been changed a little more during the ballads to fit to each characters' voice.

I loved the ending - it's so beautiful and hopeful. It had me smiling when I finished the book, despite all the serious issues it deals with. I love how not everything ends happily - how two or three (depending on how you look at it) of the characters end up is heartbreaking, but I like that some of the characters were able to get out. Hopeful endings are my favorite endings.

All in all, this is one powerful read. It's honest and real. If you don't mind dark issue books and like complex, fully-developed characters, Ballads of Suburbia is the book for you. I definitely recommend it!


  1. Sounds like a powerful story full of complex characters. It's nice to read about characters who aren't cookie cutter caricatures, but who feel like real breathing human beings. Thanks for sharing the review. Will definitely keep an eye open for this one.

  2. I loved the last chapters. The author went like, "You want some more angst?" BAM, BAM!" I like that she wasn't afraid to touch heavy topics. I liked Liam, too and how their sister-brother relationship turned out.

  3. The characters, the plot, the prose, EVERYTHING about Ballads is perfect. There's not a single thing I would change about it and I think that EVERYONE should read it. It will open your eyes in a way no other book can.

    Cath Brookes
    Must see Top Georgetown Towing website


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