25904473Title: So Sad Today
Author: Melissa Broder
Pages: 203
Year: 2016
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Melissa Broder always struggled with anxiety. In the fall of 2012, she went through a harrowing cycle of panic attacks and dread that wouldn’t abate for months. So she began @sosadtoday, an anonymous Twitter feed that allowed her to express her darkest feelings, and which quickly gained a dedicated following. In So Sad Today, Broder delves deeper into the existential themes she explores on Twitter, grappling with sex, death, love low self-esteem, addiction, and the drama of waiting for the universe to text you back. With insights as sharp as her humor, Broder explores–in prose that is both ballsy and beautiful, aggressively colloquial and achingly poetic–questions most of us are afraid to even acknowledge, let alone answer, in order to discover what it really means to be a person in this modern world.

This is a book that I was supposed to love. Personal essays about experiences with mental illness with a touch of humor or arguably too many touches is like 100% my thing. Even my book reviews have that style half the time. And yet, I very much did not like So Sad Today. I feel bad about disliking this book so much because it’s a real person’s deepest secrets and most intimate feelings. I can appreciate what she did. The things she shared are intense, and I related to her feelings of depersonalization and derealization that I have been scared to share with other people, so I applaud her for sharing them. But the rest of it…. Well, I consider myself to be pretty weird, but as I read this, I started to feel very, very normal.

The hyper-sexuality of So Sad Today is what really turned me off to it (ironically?). Gosh, at least eighty percent of it is about sex, and I was uncomfortable to say the least while reading, for instance, the chapter that is mostly made up of very graphic sexts. Call me prudish (or perhaps semi-asexual) if you like, but I have no interest in that sort of thing, so I started to think maybe this book just isn’t for me.

Argh. I’m struggling with this, you guys. I want to say that objectively, definitively, there’s too much sex in this book. Yet, there’s nothing about literature that’s objective. This is when I start to think about what a book review’s purpose really is, and what anyone’s opinion on a book really means. This is Broder’s life story, and she can tell it however she likes. I can’t suggest that she write a different story because then it would not be true. All I can say is that I did not enjoy reading her story. In addition to my discomfort, I felt her writing was repetitive. There is a chapter that solely consists of single lines followed by “: a love story,” which is supposed to indicate that each line is the title of a love story. After several of those lines, I was incredibly bored. I was like, okay, I get the point. And her writing wasn’t particularly vivid, despite its detailed grotesqueness. I couldn’t see what she saw. (Though often, I really didn’t want to.)

What I wanted to hear more about was her struggles with addiction. I’ve dealt with many of the same issues as the author, but I’ve never experienced an alcohol/drug addiction, so I was really curious to know more about what that was like for her. Yet, I felt she didn’t go into it very deeply, and I think the book would be a lot stronger if she had included some more discussion on that topic instead of so many sexts.

Okay, so I wrote all of that about a week ago, and I felt like I was going in circles and I needed to take a step back from it. And coming back to it, I have more definitive things to say about it. It was brave of the author to share all the things that she did, and I hope it was cathartic and freeing for her. However, from a literary standpoint, she failed to tell her story in a way that was vivid and interesting, and her writing is repetitive and chaotic. Therefore, I did not enjoy reading this, and my rating is rather low. This review is rather chaotic itself, so thanks for bearing with me! This was a hard one. Happy reading, my friends.

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25987144Title: The Last Good Girl
Author: Allison Leotta
Pages: 292
Year: 2016
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisEmily, a freshman at a Michigan university, has gone missing. She was last seen leaving a bar near Sigma Pi, the prestigious and secretive fraternity known on campus as “the rape factory.” The main suspect is Dylan Highsmith, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. But so far the only clues are pieced-together surveillance footage of Emily leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her. Anna Curtis is on the case when she discovers the video diary Emily kept over her first few months at college, exposing the history she had with Dylan—and accusing him of rape before she disappeared. Emily’s disappearance gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Now Anna is looking for something, anything she can use to find Emily alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to think hard before she ruins the name of an “innocent young man.” Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.

This is not my typical genre, but I got the book from Writers House when I was working there and I needed something to take to the beach last week so I went for it and I am definitely glad that I did. This book tackles an issue that is really important. Statistics on sexual assault on college campuses–and everywhere else, for that matter–are terrifying, and I’d say most colleges don’t handle it well, as we see in The Last Good Girl when the president of Tower University continuously chooses his school’s reputation and funds over the safety and well-being of his own daughter. His daughter’s rapist comes from a wealthy family that is one of the school’s top donors, and I think that makes for an incredible conflict and a plot that really made my stomach flip. I loved how purely hateable the villains in this book are. Many of Dylan’s scenes were so horrific, and Leotta did a great job painting terrifying and disturbing pictures so vivid that I felt like I was there. Which, I’m glad I wasn’t, but it’s still always satisfying to feel like you’re part of a book. On the other side, I could wholeheartedly root for Anna, her team, and all of Dylan’s victims. I think the way that Leotta showcased all the different ways that girls handle sexual assault is really important. There is no typical way to react to something like that. I know girls who have experienced sexual assault and had it ruin their lives, and I know girls who have shown no signs of PTSD afterwards and have been able to bounce back easily, and it has nothing to do with the severity of the crime. It really depends on the individual. I also really liked the varying styles of the book–we get a typical narrative interlaced with transcripts of video diaries that Emily made and various legal documents and emails pertaining to the case. It was a fun way to follow the story and learn new information.

I want to make sure I give a shoutout to Wyatt, who is one of the best characters in this book and has the most significant character arc. He learns the most throughout the story, and it is my hope that readers who aren’t knowledgable on the subject of sexual assault are able to learn alongside him. It was really uplifting to watch his empathy grow and his values change as he witnesses deeply disturbing crimes. Good job, Wyatt, and thank you for setting a good example for young men.

As much as I ultimately loved the premise and thought the characters were very well executed, I did have a few problems with the book. It took me a while to read because it didn’t really start to pick up until a little bit past the middle. I often find myself struggling to get through the first half of a book and racing through the second, so Leotta is not alone in this particular fault. However, I wouldn’t knock off a star just for that. I also felt that the dialogue in the book is rather stiff. Most of the regular dialogue is actually fine, but the language in Emily’s video diaries sounds nothing like real speech–especially speech that a teenage girl would say out loud to herself on camera. In one of the early videos, she describes her therapist as a “pretty psychologist with brown hair and a warm smile.” That would be a nice description, but who would ever say that out loud? It certainly didn’t feel right to me. That’s really what made me drop this book to four stars. Additionally, I feel a little iffy on the subplots with Anna’s various relationships. I definitely wanted to see more between her and her sister Jody. We get little hints that Jody was once arrested, but what exactly happened there was never revealed, which was a bit disappointing.

I was very nervous that the ending was going to let me down, but I felt very satisfied with the big reveal and how the whole case played out. I hadn’t realized this until I looked up the book on Goodreads today, but The Last Good Girl is actually number five in Leotta’s Anna Curtis series. This book can definitely be read as a stand alone novel, but I will be going to the library to look for more Anna Curtis adventures. Anna is a great feminist character, and I’m excited to see her serve some more justice to the world. I really recommend this book to anyone, because I guarantee you know someone who has experienced sexual assault, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, and it’s really important that we as a society learn about it and understand how and why it happens, how to prevent it (e.g., teaching boys to respect women), and how to heal from it and help others heal as well.

24266809Title: An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes
Author: Randy Ribay
Pages: 240
Year: 2015
Publisher: Merit Press (F&W)
Time taken to read: 1 week, 4 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisAs their senior year approaches, four diverse friends joined by their weekly Dungeons & Dragons game struggle to figure out real life. Archie’s trying to cope with the lingering effects of his parents’ divorce, Mari’s considering an opportunity to contact her biological mother, Dante’s working up the courage to come out to his friends, and Sam’s clinging to a failing relationship. The four eventually embark on a cross-country road trip in an attempt to solve–or to avoid–their problems. Told in the narrative style of Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMAN, AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES is at turns geeky, funny, and lyrical as it tells a story about that time in life when friends need each other to become more than just people that hang out.

It seems that most reviewers can agree on one thing about this book: it has a great amount of diversity in multiple ways. For me, that’s about the only strength of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Somehow this book is both cliche and too out there all at the same time. The characters are two-dimensional, stereotypical geeks, each one with their designated quirk, and they go on a road trip (and none of their parents call the police…?) where a bunch of really ridiculous things happen, perhaps in an attempt to counteract all the cliches. The kids go through a random yet thematically predictable series of events that does result in character development, but I think the author started them off far too problematic. Each one of them says something pretty offensive at some point, and though they all end up learning and apologizing, the development is rushed, and the things that some of them say are dreadful enough that I couldn’t feel certain while reading the book that the author actually did mean for this to be a critique of those ideas.

Additionally, I never felt connected to the characters–not as a group nor individually. Since we go through the perspectives of each of the four main characters and the book is rather short, we don’t get to spend very much time with any of them. Plus, they all make a point of the fact that though they play a game together regularly, they don’t actually know each other very well at all, so I think it’s a little farfetched that they all agree to go on this road trip from New Jersey to Seattle to help Sam and Sarah–not to mention the fact that earlier in the book they even say that they don’t actually like Sam and Sarah together. I felt very disconnected from both the plot and the characters because of this, and I ended up skimming the last third or so of the book because there was nothing to make me care. The only storyline I was moderately interested in was Mari’s reconnection with her birth mother and the progression of her adoptive mother’s cancer, and that really never went anywhere. Ultimately, this one fell very flat for me, but I hope that there are kids out there who benefited from the diversity of this book at least.

Side note: I know I haven’t posted many reviews lately–I recently moved and have been dealing with transferring my job and, well, the rest of my life, but I am getting settled and will hopefully be reviewing more now! Thanks for staying with me, readers.

25528801Title: Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pages: 248
Year: 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisHermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black. In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winters’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

One day I will have read all the contemporary YA books on sexual assault that exist. I am still working up towards that day, and this was another step on my journey.

I feel a little torn about this one, especially concerning Hermione’s friendship with Polly. Hermione is a very strong girl. She goes through a terribly traumatic experience, and she holds her chin up and fights for herself every single day afterwards, and I love that. I think she’s a great role model for young girls who have gone through similar things. On the other hand, there are things about her life that make it easier for her to be strong than it is for other girls. She has Polly, a best friend who loves her unconditionally and is there for her every step of the way, even when her ex-boyfriend Leo is like the worst. But it doesn’t even matter that Leo is the worst because Hermione never really liked him all that much anyway. And she has cheerleading, something she loves, something that makes her feel powerful and in control in a very healthy way, and her coach is incredibly supportive. She has a number of cushions to fall back on when things get really hard, and that’s awesome, but not everybody has that. I can see young girls reading this and thinking, “Sure, I’d love to be like Hermione, but she has help and I don’t, so I can’t be like her.” However, remember how I mentioned I’m still working on reading every YA about sexual assault out there? That’s because a lot of people care about this issue, and a lot of writers want to tell their versions. Hermione Winters has a lot of support. Melinda Sordino has less. So, this is my message to any girl who reads this and feels like she’s still alone: try another book. And if you still can’t see yourself in the pages, write your own.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is not perfect, but I liked it. I was rooting for Hermione, and I thought that though there were a lot of things that went almost too well, it balanced out with the horror of the situation and simply made for a less broody book than others that deal with the same topic. I think if there were a scale of majorly depressing to uplifting books about sexual assault, The Way I Used to Be would be on the far left, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear would be the far right, and some people don’t need the books on the right, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. Essentially, this book did the thing it was supposed to do, which was tell this story.

28440194Title: In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs
Author: Grace Bonney
Pages: 368
Year: 2016
Publisher: Artisan (Workman)
Time taken to read: 8 months, 10 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisAcross the globe, women are embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and starting creative businesses. In the Company of Women profiles over 100 of these influential and creative women from all ages, races, backgrounds, and industries. Chock-full of practical, inspirational advice for those looking to forge their own paths, these interviews detail the keys to success (for example, going with your gut; maintaining meaningful and lasting relationships), highlight the importance of everyday rituals (meditating; creating a daily to-do list), and dispense advice for the next generation of women entrepreneurs and makers (stay true to what you believe in; have patience). The book is rounded out with hundreds of lush, original photographs of the women in their work spaces.

So, I have a wonderful cousin (who owns a really cool greeting card company that you should totally check out) who took me to this event last fall where Grace Bonney and a few of the people she interviewed for this book talked about what success means to them and how they’ve come to create and grow these successful creative businesses, and it was really neat and a great example of why I love living in New York, because there are all these cool, creative things happening all the time, and I was lucky enough to be a part of this one. It’s also really cool to know that I’m living among so many of the women interviewed in the book who live in New York, and that inspires me to try to rise to be one of them in a way.

In the Company of Women is a beautiful book, and I mean that very literally–the photos of the women and their workspaces are so colorful and amazing, and the layout of the text and various quotes makes this a really aesthetically pleasing book. But of course, the words are beautiful too. Every page is filled with inspiration, and though I have never felt the urge to start a business exactly, it made me think of my writing goals as a sort of business, and once I made that connection, I was able to relate to each interview and use the advice and inspiration to strive to be more creative and productive with my writing. I always have to remind myself that no one else will make me a writer. I have to make myself a writer by doing it. And that’s what all these women did too. They made themselves the thing they wanted to be because nobody else could do it for them.

Reading about these strong, powerful, intelligent women has been a wonderful experience. I want to say that it’s been motivational and inspirational, but I don’t feel like I’ve really earned the right to say that since I haven’t been doing much of my own creative work over the eight months that I’ve been flipping through this book. I’ve been working hard but not on the project that I would consider to be my “business”. So I will say that I hope that, along with my internship being over and therefore having a lot more free time, finishing this book will give me the motivation and inspiration to be creative and hard-working just like these fantastic role models.

I was going to say that I think all women who want to work in a creative field should read this book. Then I was going to say that all women should read this book. Then I realized that really everyone should read this book. Inspirational women don’t do what they do to inspire only women. Men should be inspired by them as well. We can all draw strength from female power!

22608764Title: How It Ends
Author: Catherine Lo
Pages: 304
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisThere are two sides to every story. It’s friends-at-first-sight for Jessie and Annie, proving the old adage that opposites attract. Shy, anxious Jessie would give anything to have Annie’s beauty and confidence. And Annie thinks Jessie has the perfect life, with her close-knit family and killer grades. They’re BFFs…until suddenly they’re not. Told through alternating points of view, How It Ends is a wildly fast but deeply moving read about a friendship in crisis. Set against a tumultuous sophomore year of bullying, boys and backstabbing, the novel shows what can happen when friends choose assumptions and fear over each other.

It’s really important to me that there are more friendship stories in the world. I don’t care for YA romance whatsoever, so finding How It Ends was exciting for me. It’s exactly the type of thing I want to work to get on bookshelves in my career in publishing or writing or just living life as a person who likes books and regularly does things related to them. Anyway, there were a lot of things I liked about this book and a lot of things I didn’t like. So let’s get into it.

I normally don’t like books told in alternating perspectives, but I thought this one was a little unique because it sort of made me feel like the two main characters Jessie and Annie were actually talking to me. It was like I was friends with both of them and they were each coming to me at different times to complain about the other one, and I was happy to listen. I wish I could have given them some advice, but it would have been hard because I really understood both of their sides. I wanted Annie to see how much pain Jessie was in, and I wanted Jessie to be the bigger person and just try to see if being nice to Courtney would make things easier for everyone. I wanted to tell Jessie to be strong and let Courtney’s comments roll right off her back. But I also know it’s not that easy. I wanted to help them all compromise. I identified most strongly with Jessie, which led to a deep understanding of her side of things but also a frustration with her very similar to the frustration I have with myself. All that made this book very complicated for me, which is something I really value in a book. I like a book that makes me think and reflect on my own circumstances.

However, I didn’t fully buy into their friendship. I thought it developed too quickly and too randomly. A common thing we say in publishing is that the relationship wasn’t earned. Additionally, I thought Scott was intensely boring. I didn’t see why Annie or Jessie would be interested in him. The thing is, I’m sure there are reasons that the author had, but they weren’t on the page. I believe that there are things about all the characters that would draw them to each other, but my guess is that the author thought she wrote those things when she actually didn’t. My final issue with the book is a bit of a spoiler, so just skip to the last paragraph if you haven’t read this yet. Anyway, this may sound a little harsh, but the whole pregnancy thing at the end felt a little cheap. Teen pregnancy is a big thing, and I feel that if an author wants to address it, they have to fully address it. As in, make it your plot, not your ending. It came out of nowhere, and it felt a little bit like a puzzle piece that didn’t fit. While I want teen pregnancy to be talked about because it’s important to educate girls and to let them know that they’re not alone, I want the issue to be addressed with care and with the author’s whole heart behind it, devoted to helping girls understand the issue so they can make the best choices for them.

Those are my thoughts. I’m glad books like this are being written. I hope to see them continue to be improved upon as more and more people read and write and learn. I hope you all are enjoying the hot weather and staying cool in your local library, as I am doing right now! (P.S. If any New York City readers want to hang out with me in the Rose room at the library in Bryant Park, it’s my new favorite spot!)

31247023Title: Lucky Broken Girl
Author: Ruth Behar
Pages: 256
Year: 2017
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisBased on the author’s childhood in the 1960s, a young Cuban-Jewish immigrant girl is adjusting to her new life in New York City when her American dream is suddenly derailed. Ruthie Mizrahi and her family recently emigrated from Castro’s Cuba to New York City. Just when she’s finally beginning to gain confidence in her mastery of English and enjoying her reign as her neighborhood’s hopscotch queen, a horrific car accident leaves her in a body cast and confined her to her bed for a long recovery. As Ruthie’s world shrinks because of her inability to move, her powers of observation and her heart grow larger. She comes to understand how fragile life is, how vulnerable we all are as human beings, and how friends, neighbors, and the power of the arts can sweeten even the worst of times.

I think it’s so neat that this is a sort of fictionalization of the author’s own experience. In my time interning at literary agencies, I have read a lot of proposals for memoirs that people have written or planned to write that I think would work so much better as fiction, and this is a great example of that. It struck me how engaged I felt in the story where the main character could not leave her bed. And I really felt all the things that she felt. I was inspired by Chicho who shows her how to paint and teaches her about Frida Kahlo, and I was kind of annoyed by that snooty little Belgian girl that I knew was not being snooty on purpose, but sheesh, did she really need to wave her perfection in our faces? (Yes, I do get intimidated by ten-year-olds, okay?) I learned a lot about a lot of different cultures from this book, which is a great thing especially in a middle grade book. I only took my rating down to four stars because there was this little background issue where Ruthie’s mother was clearly being at least mildly psychologically abused by Ruthie’s father, but the author didn’t go anywhere with that. And maybe it never escalated to much in their real life, but I wanted some kind of progression. Ruthie’s mother didn’t necessarily have to leave him, but I at least wanted her to start to be able to acknowledge what was happening. But overall, I think this is a great book to give to any middle-school-aged people you know, as well as a good one to read yourself.

Speaking of interning, today is my last day at Writers House! I didn’t think I would feel so sad, but I do, and I will miss this place a lot. But I will always be reading and reviewing books, even if it’s just actual published books for a while. Who knows what I’ll be doing next! Happy reading, friends.