Tag Archives: summer

“The Truth About Forever” by Sarah Dessen


My boundless love for Sarah Dessen … well, it knows no bounds. 😉 Sarah is my absolute go-to author for pitch perfect depictions of girl friendship, first love, and magical summers. Check out the Sarah Dessen tag below, because I’m a fangirl, y’all, and have read, cherished, and reviewed quite a few of her books. I mentioned in my previous entry that I was beaching it recently, and beach reading basically REQUIRES a healthy dose of Sarah Dessen. Hence, me, sand, the waves, an umbrella (I’m slightly vampiric!), and Sarah’s 2004 gem, “The Truth About Forever.” What a perfect combination.

Teen girl Macy recently (and quite unexpectedly) lost her dad to a fatal heart attack. Older sister Caroline is married and out of the house, mom is an uptight, driven mess, and boyfriend Jason is rigidly focused on his academic future. When Jason heads off to “brain camp” for the summer, Macy finds herself alone with a stack of SAT textbooks and a mind numblingly boring gig at her local library’s reference desk. [Which, no comment!] Macy stumbles upon Wish, a local catering company, at one of her mom’s events. The Wish folks, led by the pregnant and perpetually frazzled mother hen Delia, are a fun, quirky family. Their obvious warmth and affection for each other — as well as their ability to get the job done, even when things inevitably go awry — immediately appeals to Macy. On impulse, she joins the crew and starts working events, despite her mother’s obvious disapproval.

So, yeah, there’s a GUY on the Wish crew. Duh. His name is Wes, and he’s a reformed bad boy who makes these epic angel and heart-in-hand sculptures out of wire, sea glass, and other scavenged materials. He’s deep and dreamy, and you will love him instantly. Trust me. Wes and Macy somehow jump into a continuous game of Truth or Dare, played out over many long nights, in which each slowly reveals details about their lives, hopes, and issues. Basically, they fall for each other without ever really admitting it to themselves. You’ll dig it. Again, trust me! Plus, he creates some art for her. Swoon.

There are, of course, complications. Macy’s mom isn’t too keen on the Wish folks, who also include sci fi nerd (and Wes’ younger brother) Bert; the scarred but completely adorable Kristy; and the mostly monosyllabic Monica. Mom, who buries her grief in a frenzied workload, eventually isolates Macy from the crew, which seemed a bit unrealistic to me. Macy gave up her entire life following her dad’s death, including treasured friendships, teenage silliness, and her most beloved activity, running. You’d think mom would like to see a little sparkle back in her daughter’s life.

Complications also arise between Wes and Macy, as each remains on guard despite their attraction. When Macy spots Wes at a late night hangout with an old flame, she cuts him off and retreats back into her old, lonely ways. But try as she might, now that Macy has rediscovered life, she can’t quite cram herself back into her spare, constricted little world. After a long summer of talks, parties, laughs, and tears, Macy is left with a tough decision: continue to play it safe with Jason and the SATs, or move forward, dive in, and take all the pain that comes with being truly alive.

Sarah is an incredibly beautiful writer, and “The Truth About Forever” is chock full of her usual lyrical passages, quietly heartfelt moments, and loving characterizations. She perfectly captures the heady combination of sky-high joy and crushing fear that accompany falling in love, making us understand exactly why Macy runs from Wes. Sarah slowly, believably pulls Macy along on her journey, nailing that end of the movie, they finally get together moment. It’s so understated and charming that you get the payoff without feeling cheap about it. You know what I mean! Throw in empowering girl friendships and some exquisitely rendered mother-daughter scenes at novel’s end, and “The Truth About Forever” is an absolute winner. Summer or not, you older middle school (and up!) readers will adore this one. In case you’re like me and somehow overlooked “The Truth About Forever,” please get on that now asap. Even though summer is over, there is always a place for a summer book. Happy reading!

PS ~ Cute fan-created book trailer below. Check it out!


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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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“Skinny” by Donna Cooner


Donna Cooner’s debut novel, “Skinny,” is a timely, gripping story about an obese girl’s struggle to control her weight and, as importantly, to control the destructive, self-critical voice in her head, which she labels Skinny. It is as good a debut novel as I’ve read in years, and one that ALL teens should find relevant. This is NOT an obesity novel; it’s a beautiful, universal story of learning to accept yourself.

When we meet Ever, she is 15 years old, weighs 302 pounds, and is absolutely miserable. Despite having a loving, supportive father and stepmother and a pretty cool best friend in Rat, Ever is crushingly lonely and angry at just about everyone: her thin, cool stepsister Briella; her seemingly carefree classmates, including crush Jackson and super popular Whitney; her parents; Rat; and, especially, herself. Ever’s entire world is veiled in hatred of herself, her body, and her peers. It’s an exhausting, isolating way to live.

After the most humiliating public experience on record during a school assembly, Ever bravely decides to undergo gastric bypass surgery, despite the very real risks involved. The surgery severely restricts the amount of food and liquid Ever can consume without becoming physically ill, so over the course of one summer, she begins to lose a dramatic amount of weight. Rat is Ever’s cheerleader and coach during this time, carefully charting her weekly weight loss and exercise (and her choices of music ;-)). Unexpectedly, Briella also slowly becomes involved in Ever’s transformation and starts to become actual friends with both Rat and Ever.

When school resumes in the fall — and with the help of a makeover from Whitney, of all people, who takes Ever on as a project — Ever starts to turn heads and gain acceptance from her peers. Ever, who has always kept her singing talents hidden, even decides to try out for the school musical, Cinderella, finally turning toward the spotlight she has continually shunned. But Skinny, the voice that constantly criticizes and demeans Ever, is alive and well, despite Ever’s physical makeover. So when her dream date with Jackson results in something other than a fairy tale ending — leading to a cascade of self hatred — Ever finally realizes that she must start loving the person she is on the inside, lest she never escape Skinny’s grip.

Yes, “love yourself” is a fairly cliched message, but it’s handled here so deftly that you won’t mind. You will absolutely understand the relentless nature of Skinny’s criticism and how thoroughly it corrodes Ever’s sense of herself. Seeing Ever discover a more positive inner voice is incredibly gratifying for us readers. Plus, there’s so much more here: a believable love story, blossoming girl friendships, small and large triumphs, an opening night of Cinderella that had me reaching for tissues again and again … seriously, what’s not to love?

Scholastic is releasing “Skinny” in the fall of 2012. [Thank you for the advanced copy at Book Expo, awesome people of Scholastic!] My friends, please be on the lookout for this remarkable novel. You will not be disappointed. Happy reading!


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Posted by on June 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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“The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls” by Julie Schumacher


I know, it looks like I’ve been slacking on the reading. In my defense, it took me a while to work my way through Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” an epic tale of time travel, fate, and the Kennedy assassination. (Short review: IT’S AWESOME! Please read it.) But I’m back in the teen novel game, having just finished the e-galley of Julie Schumacher’s forthcoming “The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls.” Thanks to the folks at Random House for making the galley available, and to the good people at Net Galley for making it so easy and accessible to read advanced copies. You guys rock!

“The Unbearable Book Club …” is pretty standard chick lit about four very different high school girls thrown together — unwillingly, of course — for a mother / daughter summer reading book club. Average, plain Adrienne narrates this novel in the form of her completed AP English summer assignment. She recounts how the book club’s readings (“The Yellow Wallpaper,” “Frankenstein,” “The Left Hand of Darkness,” “The House on Mango Street,” and “The Awakening”); her burgeoning friendships with the other girls (popular wild child Cee Cee, weird nerd Wallis, and over achiever Jill); and her relationship with her single mom changed her over the course of the summer. Or, as Adrienne says at the beginning of her essay, “Whoever I was at the beginning of the summer, I am not that person anymore.”

Adrienne suffered a knee injury prior to the summer, forcing her to cancel a months-long adventure camp with her best friend, Liz. Instead of hiking and canoeing with Liz, Adrienne is at the community pool, listlessly reading her assigned novels, when Cee Cee literally barges into her life. Cee Cee, home because of summer school and lonely because her friends are all off on glamorous vacations, begins to hang out with Adrienne. Cee Cee, with her big personality and refusal to accept “no” for an answer, brings “A” out of her reserved shell, while also finding all sorts of ways to get her in trouble (late-night sneak outs, car theft, drinking, questionable ear piercing). Jill, who works the snack shack at the pool and studies constantly, questions both Cee Cee’s motives and Adrienne’s acquiescence to Cee’s every demand. Meanwhile, eccentric Wallis, a true outsider in every sense of the word, remains a mystery to the girls, always making excuses for where she lives and why her mother cannot attend meetings.

And so the summer progresses. Books are read, quoted, and discussed. Friendships are forged and threatened. Lessons are learned, amidst both tragedy and triumph. Hot dogs are cooked over an open flame. Yeah, it’s all pretty unremarkable, with the occasional quirky bit of humor or interesting insight tossed in just when things are becoming too predictable. Let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with “The Unbearable Book Club …” It has enough heart and humor to carry it past the woefully generic voice of its narrator and the stock characterizations. (The three new friends are utter stereotypes; I mean, seriously, an overachieving Asian-American and a fickle popular girl with a secret? Welcome to Teen Lit 101). “The Unbearable Book Club” is fine and summery and engaging enough overall. I’d recommend it as breezy chick lit for high school girls, as the content — some language, a drunken escapade — edges this one toward an older audience. I just wanted this book, which has so much potential to be truly captivating, to be more than a cheap knockoff of the “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Peaches” series.

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Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized


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“The Summer I Learned to Fly” by Dana Reinhardt


Dana Reinhardt's "The Summer I Learned to Fly" is a quiet, charming novel about the summer of 1986, a pivotal moment in Robin Drew "Birdie" Solo's life. Birdie, fresh out of school, is helping her widowed mom run her new business, the local cheese shop. Each sunny California day at the shop, Birdie makes pasta with handsome surfer Nick, chats with lovable Swoozie, and does her best to keep her treasured rat, Humboldt Fog, out of mom's sights and safely hidden in her backpack. When Birdie discovers leftover cheese is continually being removed from the alley trash, she stumbles upon Emmett Crane, a quirky teen boy with a shady past and a penchant for making paper cranes. Emmett becomes Birdie's first true friend, leading her through a summer of heartache and discovery that concludes with an unexpected adventure far from home.

I hesitate to provide more details about the plot, because part of the joy of reading "The Summer I Learned to Fly" lies in its slow, careful revelation of Emmett's secrets. So let me simply tell you why I enjoyed this book so much; then you can learn all the details when you go out and read it yourself. :-p

Though set in the mid-80s, Birdie's story has a timeless quality to it. This book is most definitely not the kind that gets bogged down in the the latest fashions or the coolest gadgets. This book is, instead, a rich, layered story about human relationships. Reinhardt beautifully depicts Birdie and Emmett's shy friendship, in which Birdie finally discovers how much of the world opens up when you have a true friend by your side. Reinhardt also provides other relationships to cherish, including Birdie and Nick's so much more than a summer crush friendship, in which Birdie gracefully accepts Nick's girlfriend, and a mother-daughter bond that is frayed, challenged, and somehow strengthened as Birdie grows up and mom tries to move past her grief.

"The Summer I Learned to Fly" is a lyrical, subtle story about real people, in which all aspects of real life — joy, pain, sorrow, exuberance, fear, growth — are conveyed with depth, warmth, and genuine emotion. I had read one of Reinhardt's books in the past ("How to Build a House") and wasn't nearly as bowled over as I was here. There are so many perfect, authentic touches here, such as Birdie's guilt in reading her deceased dad's journal-like "Book of Lists"; Emmett's well-crafted crane messages, full of sorrow and hope; and the love and beauty that can be poured into pasta making. Perhaps those moments are what made this is a truly incandescent read for me. Regardless of why, I can tell you I found "The Summer I Learned to Fly" to be a wonderful, heartfelt story about a final, glorious summer of childhood innocence. I highly recommend it to boys and girls in early middle school and higher.

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Posted by on November 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


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“The Probability of Miracles” by Wendy Wunder


Another review. Another advanced copy from the great folks at Penguin Books for Young Readers. Life is hard. :-p

"The Probability of Miracles" is a "dying teen" novel, a trend we've seen often the last few years in books like Chris Crutcher's "Deadline," Jenny Downham's "Before I Die," and even Gayle Forman's lovely "If I Stay." Before the gloom frightens you away, I have to say that although our teen protagonist here has terminal cancer, "The Probability of Miracles" is sharp, uplifting, and, dare I say it, funny in an acerbic, biting way. Yes, there are poignant moments and tears — folks, it's *terminal* cancer — but I found most of this book to be an absolute pleasure to read. What a nice surprise!

You know what else I liked? Our girl Cam here is half-Samoan. How rare is that to see in a YA novel? Even better, Cam is an active participant in her culture, particularly in the ancient art of hula dancing. Deep down, Cam is terrified of her future, so she uses sarcasm and emotional distance as her defenses. Despite closing herself off from her family and lone best friend, Cam opens her heart and connects to the world through music and hula dancing. It is where the real Cam shines. The scenes where she tells a friend's story through hula are evocative and beautifully done.

Interestingly, much of Cam's hula is relegated to the Polynesian luau at Disney World. Cam's now deceased father and her Italian-American mom were both Polynesian performers at Disney, where Cam now also works. When Cam's doctors advise her to end treatment — no more children's hospitals or new drug trials — her mom seeks help through an alternative means: the small, hidden town of Promise, Maine. Miracles are said to happen in Promise, and all Cam has left is a miracle. Or so her mom thinks. Cam herself has no more hope, no more joy in discovering the possibilities that life may still offer. Although Cam agrees to stay in Promise for the summer, she's basically just waiting to die.

Through a series of implausible events, all of which are in the spirit of this unconventional tale and family, Cam, her mom, her half-sister Perry, and her bird Tweety find themselves living in a seaside Promise house owned by the family of sweet, patient, handsome (of course!) teen Asher. Cam eventually stops cloistering herself long enough to volunteer for the local veterinarian — cute puppy and, er, baby flamingo alert! — and start hanging out with Asher and the preppy, beautiful people she calls the "catalog kids." When Cam finally opens herself up to Asher, she falls completely in love. There are some magical moments, as Cam does at least as much to "save" Asher as he does to help her live again. Plus, there are some magical moments in general, since Promise is a miracle place with endless sunsets, puppies who come back from the dead, and roving flocks of flamingos. Author Wendy Wunder does a commendable job of balancing the serious elements (Cam is, after all, dying); some lighthearted fun (Cam, Asher, and the catalog kids win a Make a Wish trip to — you guessed it — Disney World); family tension; first love; and the wonder and beauty inherent in everyday, small miracles. I found the mix here to be delightful.

"The Probability of Miracles" comes out in December 2011 (why not a summer release for this tale of one summer, Penguin?). It is an engaging story with plenty of warmth and heart that never loses its sharp edge. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I'd say this one is geared for a high school audience, based on the themes here and some teen drinking and drug use, but see what you think. For more information, check out the book's Amazon page or the Probability of Miracles site. Happy reading!

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Posted by on August 10, 2011 in Uncategorized


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“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver


Lauren Oliver's debut novel, "Before I Fall," was a New York Times bestseller and, at the Kinnelon Library, one of the most popular books of 2010. It's never on the shelf! I can confidently predict that Oliver's follow-up, February's "Delirium," will be an even bigger hit, as she begins her dystopian trilogy in truly remarkable fashion. "Delirium" will be compared to "The Hunger Games" — it shares an oppressive government and shocking loss of civil rights — but there's more pure romance here than in even some of the girliest of girl books. I literally cannot wait for book #2 … and the first installment hasn't even been officially released yet. Ugh!

Ok, so here's the rundown: We're in Portland, Maine at an unspecified point in the future. The government rules with an iron fist — all books, music, websites, and even ideas are chosen and regulated by the state — and infractions of the many rules are simply not tolerated. Nightly raiding parties and armed guards stoke fear and keep everyone in line. What, above all else, must be zealously guarded against? Love. That's right. Love is the ultimate danger, a disease that can render one delirious and can spread to infect an entire family. Love will drive you insane, and it is feared like the plague. When boys and girls — who are segregated in all aspects of life — turn 18, they are "cured" at government labs. All capacity for love, affection, and tenderness is eradicated and their safety from amor deliria nervosa is insured. If you remember "The Stepford Wives" (book or either film version), then you have a good idea of the dulled affects and complacent lives of the cured folks.

We meet high school senior Lena right before her graduation and 95 days prior to her designated cure time. Lena's mom was never properly cured of love for her dead father. Despite three procedures, mom still loved, danced, and laughed, and she committed suicide rather than face another cure attempt. Lena was thus orphaned as a young girl, branded as tainted and dangerous, and sent to live with her bland Aunt Carol. Lena is an interesting character; she longs for the safety and stability of the cure while recognizing an internal passion and creativity that bring both joy and immense discomfort. In fact, during her state evaluation, she relates that the pale gray of sunrise is her favorite color. This kind of individuality is a threat to Lena's own safety, for creativity and imagination are dangerously close to forbidden passion. Such deviations from the norm are cause for immediate imprisonment in the Crypts, the government's medieval-esque prison where independent thinkers literally rot away, chained and forgotten.

When Lena meets Alex, a seemingly cured boy with golden eyes and hair the color of autumn leaves, she discovers an entire subculture where freedom of expression, music, poetry, and, yes, love thrive. She learns that the Invalids who live beyond the borders, out in the Wilds, may have been right to resist all along. Maybe these "others" aren't mad and diseased after all. Maybe the Invalids are actually the normal ones. Lena's worldview is dangerously enlarged further when she falls in love with the lively, warm Alex. Loving Alex is a breathtaking plunge into sweeping, swooning glory, an entry into a world of color, music, light, and freedom. The expansiveness of love, how it opens the entire universe to you, contrasts beautifully with the strict, limiting, cramped nature of Lena's everyday existence, where so much is regulated and made taboo. (The stifling Portland summer, with little electricity and plenty of crushing heat and stickiness, is a wonderful metaphor for the oppressiveness of society. Rock on!)

The characters here are spot-on, especially Lena, who remains awkward, self-conscious, and fearful through much of the story. Her progression from adamantly trying to be "nothing special" to actively breaking rules and taking huge chances feels real every step of the way. We see her doubts and worries but also share the sheer exhilaration of her first glimpses of love and freedom. Likewise, Alex is stalwart and strong while still maintaining believable levels of frustration with Lena and terror at his private moments of rebellion. My favorite character, though, may be Lena's best friend Hana, a spoiled rich girl who plays with revolution like it's just another toy to alleviate boredom. Hana yearns to challenge things but also wants the perks of her life and the safety of her compliance. When her loyalty is finally tested, her actions felt entirely authentic to me.

As I mentioned, the descriptions here are captivating. Besides Portland's blazing heat, we get the crisp winds and sparkling skies of the Wilds, the revelry of music at a rave, the incandescence of love, the inhuman violence of raiders, and the rotting stink of the Crypts, all in exquisite detail. Oliver's writing as a whole is just as strong here as in "Before I Fall," as she builds a compelling future world with precise rules, a well-defined religion (hard science has eradicated faith) and complex systems of regimentation and punishment. Brava!

"Delirium" reads like a cross between "Fahrenheit 451" and "Romeo and Juliet." It delivers tons of suspense and thrills, wonderful language and characters, a finely delineated world, and the kind of enthralling, non-saccharine romance that is often missing from teen novels. (The scene where Alex woos Lena under a night sky with long forgotten poems, after which she finally allows herself to taste the sweetness of the word "love" in her own mind, is unforgettable.) "Delirium" is a fantastic read for high school students, and I'm sure this one will be spread like wildfire. "Delirium" releases in February 2011. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed!

PS – Check out the Publishers Weekly article on Harper Teen's search for the perfect cover for "Delirium."

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Posted by on November 9, 2010 in Uncategorized


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“The Summer I Turned Pretty” by Jenny Han


"Shug" author Jenny Han's newest book is "The Summer I Turned Pretty." I have to be honest, I was pretty disappointed in this one, and I loved "Shug." Maybe my expectations were just too high, or any summer-themed novel for girls pales in comparison to Sarah Dessen's fabulous "Along for the Ride," which I just read and reviewed. I wish I knew why, but I never felt much of a connection to either the characters or the story here.

Belly, her obnoxious older brother Steven, and her mom spend each summer at the expansive beach house of mom's best friend, Susannah, and her two sons, the complicated, aloof Conrad and the outgoing, friendly Jeremiah. The story primarily involves Belly's 16th summer (the one where she, you know, turns pretty – heh), and how her relationship with the guys changes as the months pass. Belly's always had a fierce crush on Conrad, who is a few years older than her and has never seemed to notice her much. She and Jeremiah, who are closer in age, have always been best friends, laughing and swimming together, but even he excludes Belly from lots of "guys-only" fun. Now that Belly's got the goods, looks-wise, both Conrad and Jeremiah are no longer seeing her as Steven's pesky little sister, complicating Belly's life in ways both good and bad. It takes her ages to realize that maybe dreamy Conrad might actually have a thing for her and that's why he's acting like such a total jerk, which, I suspect, most readers will clue in on pretty quickly.

Scenes from other summers of Belly's life are interspersed throughout the novel, which is a lovely way to help us understand the current relationship dynamics. There's a great flashback to a night when Conrad takes a young Belly out to the boardwalk; Belly is crushed and then rather brave and honorable upon realizing she's only there to break the ice with a cute arcade worker. And I liked how Belly found her own summer boyfriend, smart guy Cam, and used him to figure out what she's really looking for and how far she'll go when she finds it. That felt honest and authentic to me, the uncertainty of that relationship's boundaries, especially when Belly couldn't stop herself from using Cam to make Conrad jealous.

What I didn't like as much were the inconsistencies and empty characterizations. I never felt as if we got to know Steven at all, and then he completely disappeared from the story. Okay. But I also felt the same way about the brothers, almost as if they were a list of traits and disjointed actions rather than living, breathing people. For example, the brothers start acting crazy protective of Belly when she meets Cam at a keg party, dogging her everywhere she turns, only to ignore it completely when she goes with him to a drive-in movie (!) the very next night. And where were the boys' friends? Conrad and Jeremiah are repeatedly presented as two popular, athletic, handsome, all-American guys. They don't have any true friends from home or from the beach community itself? Really? In an era of instant communication — text, IM, email, cell — no one stays in touch over the summer? For me, that sense of isolation from the "real world" was a problem, as was the continual distance I felt from both brothers.

There's a whole subplot here about Susannah and her personal struggles, but since we only see brief glimpses of her before she runs out on errands with Belly's mom, I never felt invested in her story. [Total side note, but this is how I know I'm getting old — I kept wondering who pays for all this free time at the beach. Jeremiah's lifeguarding job must bring in the big bucks!]

Overall, "The Summer I Turned Pretty" is good, but not great. There are better summer novels out there, but there's nothing offensively wrong with this one. I was put off by the false moments and the fact that the characters always remained at arms' length from me. Other readers might be more willing to overlook these flaws, which is fine. We're all different! If you read this one, I'd say it's aimed directly at girls heading into high school. There's some strong language peppered throughout and several drinking scenes as well, swinging it toward an older age group. While I was disappointed, I hope you'll enjoy this one more than I did!

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Posted by on May 15, 2009 in Uncategorized


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