4671Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Pages: 180
Year: 1925
Publisher: Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: THE GREAT GATSBY, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

I remember being assigned this book in high school, reading the first two pages, and thinking, oh, hell no. There was no way I was getting through this one. I don’t think I even bothered to read the Sparknotes. I always planned to read it someday, though as it increased in popularity and eventually reached hipster status, I got a sort of satisfaction out of being able to say I had never read it. Yet, the intern director here at Writers House, who has become familiar with the concept of the book I’m writing (though I have yet to send him the full manuscript) suggested I give it a go, as he thinks my characters and their relationships are rather parallel to those in The Great Gatsby. I think he may be correct. In any case, I did in fact enjoy this.

I don’t much care for history, but I was really intrigued by the way the style of this book made me really think about life in America in the 20s. I think a lot of people have this idea that life in the past was so much simpler than it is today. Living in the Age of Information is overwhelming. Sometimes I want to trade in my iPhone for the flip phone I had back in 7th grade (though I want to make it known that I still have an iPhone 5c so I am kind of on the low end of smartphones). I’m not anti-technology in the least–I love being able to stay constantly connected to the people I love who live far away from me, and I wouldn’t want to be living in any other time period. Yet, the pressures of social media can be exhausting, and sometimes I do feel like I just want it all to go away. And I think novels like The Great Gatsby emphasize the idea that life before smartphones was simpler just because of the style and format. The dialogue and descriptions are straightforward, and the novel itself is very short. Nick tells us what is, and we infer the rest from his tone and from what we know about people without even realizing we’re doing it. So as I read this, I thought about what a simple life the characters had, and it took a while for me to step back and realize that I think I was wrong. Human beings are human beings regardless of the time period, and we are simple and complicated all at the same time, and we face the challenges of our day. Probably. I’ve never lived in another time period, so I suppose I can’t know for sure. Maybe I’ll ask my grandma.

Anyway, I was really captured by the voice of Nick and by his role as an observer. I loved the implications and the theme of the way people act versus the way they really are, and I loved the way the sparseness of this novel made all of that so striking. Though I’d say the best part of this book for me was the commentary on gender and race, and I wonder if Fitzgerald thought those issues would still be so pertinent nearly a hundred years in the future. I suppose I didn’t give it a full five stars because I didn’t totally grasp exactly what happened at the end and had to Google it, as one does in the Age of Information. Beautiful technology.

As I always say, I love a book that makes me think. Perhaps soon I’ll watch the movie version of this. I don’t believe it deserves the hype that hipster nerds give it, but I’m glad I read it. I feel as though it may have initiated a classics kick in me, though I just finished watching the Netflix version of Thirteen Reasons Why, so I am eager to reread that and compare.

11250847Title: Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Author: Conor Grennan
Pages: 320
Year: 2010
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (HarperCollins)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks, 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIn search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan embarked on a yearlong journey around the globe, beginning with a three-month stint volunteering at an orphanage in civil war-torn Nepal. But a shocking truth would forever change his life: these rambunctious, resilient children were not orphans at all but had been taken from their families by child traffickers who falsely promised to keep them safe from war before abandoning them in the teeming chaos of Kathmandu. For Conor, what started as a footloose ramble became a dangerous, dedicated mission to unite youngsters he had grown to love with the parents they had been stolen from—a breathtaking adventure, as Conor risked everything in the treacherous Nepalese mountains to bring the children home.

This is one of those books that I wished would never end.

The literary agent I used to work for, Trena, represents Conor, and she encouraged me to read this many times before I finally picked it up. And boy did I pick it up. I savored every word and tried to draw it out as much as possible because I wanted to read about the children of Nepal every day for the rest of my life. This book had me nearly in tears on the subway regularly over the last two weeks, at the same time that it had me laughing out loud. The kids sound so wonderful–they have such a fantastic sense of humor, especially Jagrit. I love the way they all make fun of Conor. And when the littlest girl who was so traumatized finally laughs for the first time, I completely broke. And when I got to the middle of the book where there were pictures…goodness, it really hit me then that these kids are real and they’re still out there, living and breathing, and I want to meet them. I’m, like, holding myself back from asking Trena to call up Conor and see if I can go to Nepal and help out somehow. Because I know that’s insane, and also the kids are nearly adults now, but there are probably more little ones, and I want to have this amazing connection that he had with them.

As for the actual writing–Conor’s voice is strong, and he really brings Nepal to life. I get the sense that if I read something else by him, I would know it was his writing. I didn’t care so much for the segments about Liz, but I was really moved by the part when he buys a bible as a means to get closer to her, and Farid, who is becoming a Buddhist, says, “We both saw that light, I think. We just saw different things in the light.” I’m not a religious person, and for me to try find one would be inauthentic, but everybody believes in something, even if that something is nothing, and I like to think that all those somethings are really all the same something. I don’t think that’s really what Farid meant, but I think it’s related. Either way, I like books that spark those thought processes in me.

I learned a lot from this book, and I’ve enjoyed sharing the story of these children with anyone I can get to listen (mostly my coworkers, ha). I definitely recommend this one. I’m also very excited to say that this is my 100th book review! Glad it landed on a good one. Happy reading, friends.

30065028Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Author: J. K. Rowling
Pages: 294
Year: 2016
Publisher: Little, Brown Books (Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone… Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. Featuring a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best.

Fun fact about me: I love Harry Potter more than anyone else in the entire world. Anyway. Last year I gave a brief review of The Cursed Child, although I didn’t rate it, and now that I’m rating this one, I must face the fact that I didn’t rate The Cursed Child because I didn’t want to admit that I…didn’t…like it. Whoops. Anyway. We’re not gonna talk about that. We’re gonna talk about the fact that Fantastic Beasts was AWESOME. (Note: I’m only speaking about the book–I have yet to see the movie.) Characters: awesome. Creatures: awesome. Story: full of emotions. And Newt is so funny, especially in his scenes with Jacob–I cannot wait to see that translated on screen. Newt’s friendship with Jacob is really touching, and I like that that seems to take precedence over any romantic relationships. There is some romance, but it’s subtle, just hinted at really. And the kids…I think that’ll hit me harder in the movie, but they were powerful. It’s interesting–with the Harry Potter series, I connect deeply with the books and the movies equally, but perhaps because of the script format, while I did really enjoy this, I think that deep connection was missing. Still, I really felt J.K. Rowling in this one (unlike our last script/book). Oh, I was also a little bit confused about some of the more minor-ish characters, like Graves for instance–I didn’t really understand what he was trying to achieve. I’m hoping the movie will clear that up. The script format is just not my thing.

Anyway, most Goodreads reviewers are suggesting to watch the movie first, but I kind of like that I did it the other way around because now I get to see how closely my imagination and interpretation will match up with what the Fantastic Beasts movie team created. Perhaps I’ll watch it this weekend? And on Monday there are auditions for The Cursed Child on Broadway and I’ve been in like one high school play so I’m not exactly “qualified”, but like, have y’all seen my hair? It’s the perfect combo of Ron and Hermione’s, sooo Rose Granger-Weasley auditions–here I come! (I might be serious. We’ll find out.)

 

15808493Title: Hand Me Down
Author: Melanie Thorne
Pages: 336
Year: 2013
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: Fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Reid has spent her life protecting her sister, Jaime, from their parents’ cruel mistakes and broken promises. When their mother chooses her second husband and their new family over raising her firstborn girls, Elizabeth and Jaime are separated and risk losing the shelter of each other. Hand Me Down indelibly captures a contemporary family journey–how two young people, against incredible odds, forge lives of their own in the face of an uncertain future.

I was gifted this book by the agent I work for. She represents Melanie, and she thought I’d like this contemporary-YA crossover. This is the type of book that makes you feel like a different person after you’ve read it. I honestly read the first three pages and had to put it down and wonder if I could really continue, because it’s very heavy–much heavier than the synopsis suggests. Now that I sit down to write this, I realize I really don’t have a lot to say about it because my experience with this book was deeply personal and painful. I will say that Liz is a really strong main character living in a world where nothing feels safe and no adults seem to have any control and few have any competence, and all her pain and confusion felt very real to me. I sort of feel the urge to keep the rest of my thoughts to myself and just tell all of you that you must read this one. It was hard to get through because of the emotional content, but it was worth it. What Ms. Thorne did here is very important, and I’m grateful for her courage in telling this story.

781110Title: Fever 1793
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Pages: 272
Year: 2000
Publisher: Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisIt’s late summer 1793, and the streets of Philadelphia are abuzz with mosquitoes and rumors of fever. Down near the docks, many have taken ill, and the fatalities are mounting. Now they include Polly, the serving girl at the Cook Coffeehouse. But fourteen-year-old Mattie Cook doesn’t get a moment to mourn the passing of her childhood playmate. New customers have overrun her family’s coffee shop, located far from the mosquito-infested river, and Mattie’s concerns of fever are all but overshadowed by dreams of growing her family’s small business into a thriving enterprise. But when the fever begins to strike closer to home, Mattie’s struggle to build a new life must give way to a new fight—the fight to stay alive.

I cannot believe we are 12 days into 2017 and I have only finished one book. I have been so ridiculously busy trying to plan my life that I’ve had no time to do anything fun. Plus, I spend 16 hours a day analyzing books at my internship so it’s hard to want to do any more of that than I have to–hence the life planning. Anyway, I started reading this in December and finished it a week ago and am just now sitting down to write about it.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again five hundred thousand times: Laurie Halse Anderson is the greatest human being on the planet and everything she does is wonderful. I never paid attention in history class so I’m not the right person to fact-check this, but I definitely trust her to have done her research, so I felt like I learned a lot while being thoroughly entertained, and also having my heart broken. Mattie’s relationship with her grandfather is very precious, and it is (satisfyingly) painful to see that taken away from her. And then when she finds Nell, my heart is put back together. And Mattie herself is so fierce and so full of love, and she makes for a great protagonist. Oh, and the other little thing that I thought really made this book stand out is the quotes at the beginning of every chapter from historical books and letters. Some of them were really funny, like the ones about girls and etiquette. And then there were quotes from actual characters in the book who I didn’t realize were real until I read the quotes. That was really cool. And I’m not surprised because my book mother is perfect and creative and amazing. I love you, Laurie.

I wish I had more to say about this, but I didn’t take notes while I was reading, and also regardless of who wrote it, historical fiction is not my thing. BUT if you want more fantastic opinions, please read the Goodreads reviews because it is full of precious little middle schoolers weighing in on their reading experiences and it makes me sooooo happy.

27272505Title: A World Without You
Author: Beth Revis
Pages: 384
Year: 2016
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 weeks, 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisSeventeen-year-old Bo has always had delusions that he can travel through time. When he was ten, Bo claimed to have witnessed the Titanic hit an iceberg, and at fifteen, he found himself on a Civil War battlefield, horrified by the bodies surrounding him. So when his worried parents send him to a school for troubled youth, Bo assumes he knows the truth: that he’s actually attending Berkshire Academy, a school for kids who, like Bo, have “superpowers.” At Berkshire, Bo falls in love with Sofía, a quiet girl with a tragic past and the superpower of invisibility. Sofía helps Bo open up in a way he never has before. In turn, Bo provides comfort to Sofía, who lost her mother and two sisters at a very young age. But even the strength of their love isn’t enough to help Sofia escape her deep depression. After she commits suicide, Bo is convinced that she’s not actually dead. He believes that she’s stuck somewhere in time—that he somehow left her in the past, and that now it’s his job to save her. And as Bo becomes more and more determined to save Sofía, he must decide whether to face his demons head-on or succumb to a psychosis that will let him be with the girl he loves.

It took me a really long time to get through because I’ve been mega busy, and a lot of the time, I need to choose between reading for fun and reading for my internship, and I have to do my work. Plus, my boyfriend has been staying with me while he’s on his winter break, so as a result, I probably will have read and reviewed only one book this whole month. Which is terrible, but life happens.

I kind of thought this was supposed to be like, you’re not really sure whether Bo has powers or is delusional, and you’d try to figure it out until it’s revealed at the end, but as I’m reading the synopsis here, I realize it’s supposed to be known from the beginning that he’s delusional. I guess I didn’t read it that closely before I started the book. I think it’s much more fun my way. I imagine I would have been a little bored if I felt like I already knew the ending. I thought this book was definitely a lot longer than it needed to be. There were a number of scenes, mostly scenes with Bo alone, that felt repetitive. In particular, I got really sick of hearing about the timestream. It felt like each time Bo “calls up” his timestream, he would go into intense descriptions of what it looks like to him, so we had to hear it all again so many times. It was pretty irritating. I would have liked to see a lot more of the other kids at Berkshire. I liked that we got to see some things from Phoebe’s perspective, and of course I typically hate changes in perspective, but seeing Bo from the outside was interesting. Phoebe was really the only character that was developed apart from Bo, and I really liked Phoebe, though I know many Goodreads reviewers did not. I think it was really important to see the family dynamic from a clear mind, and I really cared about Phoebe because she was scared for her brother, and she just wanted a better life for both of them. Sofía doesn’t even seem real. Like, I know we only really interact with a version of her that actually isn’t real, but it really felt like she was missing something. She felt real to Bo, so she should have felt real to the reader too.

I really liked the second to last chapter. That’s when you see the full power of Bo’s mental illness. This book is only six months old, so I won’t say what happens, but it’s pretty cool. Well, it’s not “cool,” because it’s very warm…. Anyway, I’m glad that I read this, and I enjoyed much of it. Though truthfully, if you’ve read the synopsis, there isn’t much of a point to reading this. I probably would have given it two stars if I had. I don’t want to say “don’t bother,” but…. Anyway, there’s not much time left in December, so y’all may not hear from me again until 2017! I managed to finish my Goodreads challenge of 50 books just in time, and I’ll be setting the same goal for the upcoming year. I’ve read a lot of great stuff this year, and I can’t wait to discover more amazing books in 2017. And I’d like to thank everyone who has followed me this year and has been reading my reviews. Hope to see you all on the other side.

25982869Title: Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here
Author: Anna Breslaw
Pages: 288
Year: 2016
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Meet Scarlett Epstein, BNF (Big Name Fan) in her online community of fanfiction writers, world-class nobody at Melville High. Her best (read: only) IRL friends are Avery, a painfully shy and annoyingly attractive bookworm, and Ruth, her weed-smoking, possibly insane seventy-three-year-old neighbor. When Scarlett’s beloved TV show is canceled and her longtime crush, Gideon, is sucked out of her orbit and into the dark and distant world of Populars, Scarlett turns to the fanfic message boards for comfort. This time, though, her subjects aren’t the swoon-worthy stars of her fave series—they’re the real-life kids from her high school. And if they ever find out what Scarlett truly thinks about them, she’ll be thrust into a situation far more dramatic than anything she’s ever seen on TV.

This is difficult. Throughout the first three-fourths of this book, I thought it was god awful. It was like somebody tried to write their own version of Fangirl but with a really obnoxious main character. Really, really obnoxious. I mean, Scarlett is infuriating. She’s actually really funny a lot of the time, but all she’s capable of doing is making fun of people who are more well-liked than her and feeling sorry for herself because she’s not one of them. I think the only reason her personality was tolerable was because people were consistently calling her out on it, which increased in frequency towards the last fourth of the book, which is why I started to hate it less then. And of course she learned her lesson and believes that Ashley is actually a human being now and is even going to be friends with her! I guess that’s character development, but it felt like weak, cheap, predictable character development. And speaking of weak writing…Scarlett’s fanfiction, the “Miss Ordinaria” story is horrifying. Was there no one along the process of publishing this book that felt like having a fictional subplot about teenage sex robots is disgusting and stupid? I mean, I was totally like Scarlett when I was really into Sherlock. I was a lunatic, and I wrote dumb fanfiction (that I’m still oddly proud of, truthfully), but even at my deepest point of cringe-y fandom, I would have thought this was weird. And I’d just like to point out that there were some fandom references, like certain acronyms and stuff, that even I didn’t get, so I can’t imagine how this book must have looked to a normal person.

Look, it’s not like there were no reasons for Scarlett to feel sorry for herself. Besides high school, she lived in a tiny apartment with an “absent” mother (who actually seemed pretty present and loving in my opinion). I don’t really know how to approach the subject of Scarlett being poor. She says it a lot, and I’m not going to say that no poor people have Converse, but it just felt like a detail that could have been used to emphasize Scarlett’s situation and did the exact opposite, and it threw in another unnecessary cliche on top of that. And I’d also like to note that in real high schools, people don’t actually openly get made fun of for being poor. I was very much part of the middle class when I was in high school, and you know who made fun of me? A girl who probably came from one of the poorest families in town. Another detail that bothered me: Scarlett complains that Gideon makes fun of fat people, and I get that they made fun of Leslie, and I guess Leslie was supposed to be the fat girl, but I don’t remember a mention of Leslie’s size, and even if there was one, it didn’t come from the guys making fun of her–it would have come from the narrator, Scarlett. In fact, Scarlett uses a term I have yet to hear, “skinny-fat,” which she describes as not being fat but also not being “toned” (148). And that left me thinking, am I skinny-fat? I’m not toned. Is she describing that girl that’s on the front and back covers? Because she’s just skinny. (And her glasses are super cliche. FYI, I’m a giant nerd, and I have perfect vision. But anyway, she looks like me, maybe slightly more stick-like, and considering the fact that I’m underweight, I don’t think I should be described by any word, hyphenated or otherwise, that has the word “fat” in it (despite the fact that I do feel that way about myself sometimes). Oh, and then there was the mention, near the beginning, of carbs, “even quinoa,” being so bad for you that it kills brain cells, cited by Avery’s father, a nutrition professor. You know where I was going while I was reading this on the train? Eating disorder therapy. You know what we had for dinner that night at eating disorder therapy? Quinoa. Yeah, I felt great. Listen, this is why I want to be an editor. I need YA authors to understand who is reading their books. These comments won’t affect everyone of course, but teenagers are fragile. When you write for teens, it is your job to use every word to build them up, or at the very least to make sure not one word is there that could tear them down. I’m officially instating a new rule for YA authors: you’re not allowed to mention food in a negative context or weight in any context unless it’s to celebrate body diversity.

In the end, I’m giving this three stars rather than two because even though this is a crappy version of Fangirl, I like to think that even normal girls who are really obsessed with TV shows are interesting enough to write books about, because I’ve been that girl. And because it’s pointed out more than once that Scarlett is a real asshole, often by Gideon, who is, like, a decent love interest. She barely talks about his looks, other to say that he was chubby at some point. There’s some good body diversity. This has been a review.