35631757Title: Islandborn
Author: Junot Díaz
Pages: 48
Year: 2018
Publisher: Dial Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 1 day
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Every kid in Lola’s school was from somewhere else. Hers was a school of faraway places. So when Lola’s teacher asks the students to draw a picture of where their families immigrated from, all the kids are excited. Except Lola. She can’t remember The Island—she left when she was just a baby. But with the help of her family and friends, and their memories—joyous, fantastical, heartbreaking, and frightening—Lola’s imagination takes her on an extraordinary journey back to The Island. As she draws closer to the heart of her family’s story, Lola comes to understand the truth of her abuela’s words: “Just because you don’t remember a place doesn’t mean it’s not in you.” Gloriously illustrated and lyrically written, Islandborn is a celebration of creativity, diversity, and our imagination’s boundless ability to connect us—to our families, to our past and to ourselves.

So, if you’ve been following my reviews for a while, you may know that last year I took a turn with my career path, and I’ve been assistant teaching in a preschool. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but I’m actually a lead teacher for my school’s summer camp for ages three and four. So I read two books with my students every day, and each week we have a different theme, so I try to coordinate the books I pick up from the library with the theme of the week. And this week was, of course, “happy birthday America” week. I really wanted to share books with my kids about the diversity of America, so along with HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: DREAMS TAKING FLIGHT by Kathleen Krull and I HAVE A DREAM by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I got ISLANDBORN by Junot Díaz. And I ended up deciding not to read it to my kids only because it’s a little long for my age group and I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to sit through it. But I still read it myself and I wanted to review it because I think it’s a really sweet book and because Junot Díaz is the favorite author of one of my best friends and this is the only book of his I’ve ever read (sorry Ceci).

So I’m knocking off a star only because I think it’s a little long for a picture book, but other than that I thought it was very beautiful. I just didn’t wholly understand what the “monster” was. I’m not a history person at all so this may be an absolutely ridiculous assumption, I have no idea, but my first thought was that perhaps it was referring to Fidel Castro and Cuba, but Díaz is from the Dominican Republic and Leo Espinosa, the illustrator, is from Colombia, so I don’t really know. I wish there had been something in the back of the book perhaps that explained what this book is really about, for the adults.

Other than that, I’m in huge support of children’s books (and all kinds of books) that emphasize minority populations, and the art of this book in particular was incredible. I started at the illustrations for a long time, just soaking in all of the beauty. So if you think you have a kid or group of kids that can sit for a while, I highly recommend this one, but if your kids have short attention spans like mine do, perhaps just pick this one up for yourself!

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35604692Title: Twelve Steps to Normal
Author: Farrah Penn
Pages: 384
Year: 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 5 weeks and 5 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisJames Patterson presents this emotionally resonant novel that shows that while some broken things can’t be put back exactly the way they were, they can be repaired and made even stronger. Kira’s Twelve Steps To A Normal Life: 1. Accept Grams is gone. 2. Learn to forgive Dad. 3. Steal back ex-boyfriend from best friend… And somewhere between 1 and 12, realize that when your parent’s an alcoholic, there’s no such thing as “normal.” When Kira’s father enters rehab, she’s forced to leave everything behind–her home, her best friends, her boyfriend…everything she loves. Now her father’s sober (again) and Kira is returning home, determined to get her life back to normal…exactly as it was before she was sent away. But is that what Kira really wants?

This is one of those classic books where the only problem is, “Too many people like me.” I tried so hard to feel bad for Kira. I really did. But she’s upset that her dad loves her. She’s upset that her dad’s friends like her. She’s upset that her aunt and her social worker care about her well-being. She’s upset that her friends like her and want to be there for her, and she’s upset that not one but TWO boys like her. I get that she’s a teenager, but this is a ridiculous way to act. And the funny thing is, it seems like Kira knows that. Because she says on, like, every other page, that the way she’s acting is “horrible” or some other synonym of the word (but mostly “horrible”). So I’m confused.

And speaking of all these characters who like Kira even though she’s “horrible”…every single one of them was incredibly 2-dimensional. Lin, the Earth Club nerd. Raegan, the overachieving class president. Alex, the theatre kid, and Jay, the jock. And her dad’s friends, Peach, Saylor, and Nonnie–three collections of the strangest qualities the author could come up with. And Kira, who is simply not interesting.

One thing that really bothered me in particular is the scene near the end when Kira picks up a bottle of vodka herself. She does this because of the death of one of her dad’s friends, whom she hated probably a month prior to her death. It’s just hard to buy the idea that that would have that kind of impact on her. Yes, it’s sad. Yes, she should be sad. But to drink your alcoholic father’s hidden alcohol…that’s a big deal. And the author brushed over all of that as if it was pretty much insignificant.

Another thing that bothered me was the lack of development of Kira’s relationship with her father. I thought that was going to be the main focus of the story, but it ended up being more about Kira’s boy drama. And boy drama can be interesting, but it’s not why I picked up this book. I get that the author wanted to show recovery in a more positive light, but it didn’t work for me.

16059426Title: Love in the Time of Global Warming
Author: Francesca Lia Block
Pages: 230
Year: 2013
Publisher: Henry Holt (Macmillan)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsisHer life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

This books wins the Kate Likes Books Award for Best Title Ever. I hated everything else about it.

First, there is zero character development. There is zero character, period. I feel absolutely nothing for these kids. All I know about Pen is that she loves her brother. And I guess I also know that she has magical powers, but that’s a whole other issue. I know that Hex is transgender. That’s pretty cool. Good job for representation. But like, there’s no development of the romance. Why do they fall for each other? What do they even know about each other? Pen meets him and all of a sudden she’s obsessed. It all seems too convenient.

Then there’s the magic. What???? And the Giants???? Okay, I should have been ready for the Giants. That was kind of in the flap copy, which I kind of didn’t bother to read. I really thought this was going to be a commentary on issues such as global warming and even a warning as to what life could be like if we don’t start recycling and whatnot. My point is, I honestly thought the Giants were, like, a metaphor or a figment of her imagination for the first half of the book. And I thought that was pretty interesting and was disappointed when it turned out that they’re actually real. Back to her magic. Like I said, what??? Where did that come from? Why do these people have powers? Where did they come from? How do they work? Just like with the characterization, none of this is developed.

The plot…doesn’t exist. This random Kronen guy wants revenge on Pen because she stabbed a Giant (while later in the book she talks about being so weak she can’t imagine doing any harm to the creatures or anyone for that matter). And apparently it’s supposed to be a retelling of The Odyssey…. How about authors come up with their own stories? Sounds good.

I’m so over this book, I can’t even write about it anymore. Just, don’t read this one, you guys. I guarantee everyone reading this review could write a better apocalypse story.

31752165Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks
Author: Emily Barr
Pages: 291
Year: 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway—the land of the midnight sun—determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the Arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

This book is a little repetitive. Okay, it’s a lot repetitive, but it only bugged me for a little while. Flora can’t remember anything after she was ten, so she has to reread her notes over and over to remind herself what’s going on in her life. And I found that extremely irritating at first, but I guess I got used to it. At the start of this book, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost came out of my head. I mean, really? A boy cures her amnesia? Too ridiculous. But (spoiler), when it turns out her amnesia was starting to get better anyway, I decided to accept it. I don’t want to include too many spoilers in this review because this book is still fairly new. What I will say is that I never saw a single plot twist coming. The last fourth of the book shocked me over and over again and I loved it. And it leaves off at a great spot, letting the reader imagine their own ending for sweet Flora.

I absolutely adored Flora’s voice. It’s one of the best voices I’ve ever read. She’s got a ten-year-old mind in a seventeen-year-old’s body, just coming to the realization that she’s seventeen. And her childlike tone is so precious. She does a lot of crazy things that she just doesn’t understand, and she has to wake up in her craziness over and over again.

I guess one little thing that really bothered me was the fact that the father didn’t really want her on her medication but went along with it. I kind of felt like, oh, of course the father is the one who’s on their side and the mother is the one who’s crazy and evil. I think mothers are often painted in an extremely negative way in comparison to fathers, and that’s something that I think is rooted in sexism, and it bothers me. Let’s have some nice mothers in literature, people.

And finally, RIP in peace sweet Jacob.

I loved this one, guys. Highly recommend.

30199656Title: What to Say Next
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Pages: 292
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsis: Two struggling teenagers find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world. […] When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Yikes…just, yikes. This book had a lot of potential, but I have to say, it was heavily disappointing. And I knew by the second chapter that I was going to be furious at this book. So let’s just dive right in.

  1. Like I said, by the second chapter I knew this was going to be rough. David is a sweet boy and a lovely character, and everything about this book is so unfair to him. Exhibit A: the notebook. Why did the author have to give him this ridiculous notebook? It makes him seem like such a creep. And I know that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism, but I find it hard to believe that any person like David, autism or not, would care enough about all the people in the school to write down all these things about them. David seems more like the type to just mind his own business and keep his head down while trying to get through high school. I think the notebook is really out of character for him. Like, if he can’t be bothered to remember the football players’ names and calls them Meat Head instead, I don’t see him keeping a detailed notebook on everyone else in the school.
  2. There are so many stereotypes in this book. You get the nerd, the popular bitches, the jocks, and the girl who’s perfect and pretty and popular and kind, or at least kind enough to sit with the nerd. Did this author even go to high school, or did she just watch Mean Girls for four years?
  3. This whole book is a typical “unlikely couple” story, and it’s absurdly predictable. You can guess from the jacket copy how Kit and David’s friendship-turned-romance is going to go.
  4. What I didn’t predict is David’s makeover. What. The. Frick. Of course once he gets a haircut and new clothes, David’s totally hot. What???? Are we incapable of liking David for who he is???? He gets horrifyingly bullied, and suddenly he gets the right clothes that are physically uncomfortable for him, and now every girl is obsessed with him. I just, like, don’t even have words for how messed up that whole concept is for a neurotypical person, and then we add in the fact that David is on the autism spectrum. Just think about it for half a second, like the author apparently did not.

In conclusion, skip this one, my friends.

35504431Title: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
Pages: 288
Year: 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (PRH)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

This was kind of a hard one to rate. I started off with four stars, but when I thought about it some more, I bumped it down to three. I really don’t like John Green as a person. I think he’s said some really problematic things about women, and I have a lot of issues with his books, issues that appear in almost every single one of them. But Turtles All the Way Down has fewer of those issues, I guess. But I still don’t like him. Whatever.

I do feel a lot of sympathy for Aza. I have OCD too, although mine looks very different and is perhaps not as severe. But I get the whole thought spiral thing, and I get the feeling of being trapped in your head and just wanting out. What I don’t get is the whole missing billionaire subplot. Perhaps my number one pet peeve in books, and especially in YA, is when authors give characters a lot of money for the purposes of convenience. What might be even worse is what John Green does in this book, which is that he gives his characters a lot of money…just to be flashy? I don’t even know. Why does there have to be a billionaire in this story? I don’t feel sympathy for wealthy characters. I mean, I did feel bad for Noah. I guess I mean I feel less sympathy for wealthy characters. A lot less. And sympathy is kind of what these books are all about, in a way. Sympathy and empathy. Feeling. I don’t know about you, but I have always read to connect with characters over similar struggles. And I don’t connect with extreme wealth.

Besides all that, there’s the ever-pretentiousness of John Green’s characters. I don’t know a single person who talks the way Aza and Davis do, and I especially don’t know any high schoolers who talk that way. Sometimes I feel like what John Green really wants to do is write poetry, and I wish he would just do that instead of making his characters spew out unrealistically poetic dialogue.

But I didn’t hate reading this I suppose, so three stars it gets. Tell me your thoughts! And don’t forget to follow my bookstagram @katelikesbooks! Happy reading, friends.

24529123Title: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Pages: 288
Year: 2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity High School finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve. 10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class. 10:03 a.m. The auditorium doors won’t open. 10:05 a.m. Someone starts shooting. Told from four different perspectives over the span of fifty-four harrowing minutes, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

This one was not easy to read.

School shootings are my absolute biggest fear. As a teacher, I face that fear every day, and every day I have to wonder if I will have to give my life for my students that day. So I didn’t get very emotional when I read this, but I think that’s probably because I didn’t let myself get truly enveloped in the story. I couldn’t. It would be too horrifying for me to read this narrative of things that happen all the time all over our country. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS is barely fiction.

I think because of that, I wasn’t really able to engage with the text enough to really form opinions. I’m reading other reviews now, and I’m realizing how flat most of the characters were. Their voices in each of the perspectives are indistinguishable. However, I have to disagree with what a lot of reviewers are saying about Tyler being an almost cartoonish villain, with no complexity and no clear motivation. Tyler has clearly been abused in multiple ways throughout his life, and he lost his mother. So there’s some motivation. And as Autumn tells us, Tyler is not all bad. He helped her dance in secret when her father forbid it. He was her rock. But if I understand correctly, he snapped when he started to feel like Sylvia was taking Autumn away from him. And he’s apparently homophobic, so that made him angry. He’s a pretty bad dude, but I think he has more complexity than many reviewers give him credit for.

I will say, I was so over Autumn and Sylvia’s relationship by, like, the second page. Holy moly. How many different ways can you say they love each other? It’s exhausting. It’s like the author was trying to be like, “Look, I support the gays!” Congratulations. We get it.

You know, I’m starting to wonder if all that didn’t play a part in my inability to connect fully with this book. But I’m still giving it three stars because I was really hooked on the plot and finding out who survives and who doesn’t.

Now I’m off to a writers’ group meeting. Happy reading and writing, friends!