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.

29093326Title: What Light
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 256
Year: 2016
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 2 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon—it’s a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other. Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other. By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. But Sierra sees beyond Caleb’s past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. As disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra discover the one thing that transcends all else: true love.

I think everyone had pretty high expectations for this, since Thirteen Reasons Why was so iconic and great. I mean, when you think of YA as a genre, you think of that book. So I was really confused when I was about half of the way through What Light and I realized it was just not good. So, let’s jump right into all the reasons why.

I definitely want to talk about the minor characters, specifically Sierra’s three best friends, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Heather. I think if you take any of their quotes out of context, you won’t be able to tell which of the three girls it’s from, aside from, of course, any quote with specific identifiers. Maybe Elizabeth is slightly distinguishable–she’s a little more uptight than the other two. (And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all–I liked her better than Rachel and Heather for that reason.) But Rachel and Heather were absolutely interchangeable, and that was really disappointing. Other minor characters they’re painfully similar to include Caleb’s sister Abby and Jeremiah’s sister Cassandra. Cassandra’s just the angry version of the rest of the girls. Then there’s Andrew, whose only quality is being a dick, and Luis and Jeremiah, whose only qualities are being sullen and quiet and seemingly a little grumpy. And lastly, Sierra’s parents. Her dad is typically overly protective and just doesn’t want to see his little girl growing up, and her mom doesn’t totally agree but doesn’t want to upset her husband, because…I don’t even know why. Maybe he would get aggressive. Either way, these are boring, overdone parent characters, and I would like to see a more complicated family, please.

Next, the major characters and the plot. I feel like I can’t talk about Caleb and Sierra separately, because they really only exist in relation to each other. So Sierra starts off as the typical YA girl who has little interest in boys until the super hot guy shows up. Caleb appears with his dimples, which Sierra will not shut up about, and then she finds out that he attacked his sister with a knife and even that does not deter her from obsessing about the dimples. This is a little complicated for me because I’ve been in a similar situation, in which I was interested in a guy and then I found out he had one violent incident. I was disturbed but I heard him out, and I know it’s not really who he is. There are a few differences. 1. I knew him for longer than like a week, 2. He came to me with the story first, so I never felt like he was hiding anything, and 3. I’m a freak too, and I knew there were things that he’d also have to accept about me. Sierra is normal. Or at least, there are no indications of mental illness. I’m not the most knowledgeable about what it’s like to be a normal person, but I feel like that should have been a deal-breaker for her. (Are there any normal people out there who can weigh in on this?) And I really felt like Caleb needed to be more flawed. I know–is knife violence not enough of a flaw? But it’s not. Because nothing about present day Caleb is bad. He is charitable and attractive and kind. Sometimes he beats himself up too much about what happened when clearly everyone else in his family is over it, if you can call that a flaw.

And aside from whether or not she should have been interested in him, Caleb and Sierra’s relationship was so predictable when it really shouldn’t have been, and I don’t mean just because that’s not how books should be. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected them to be happily in love after four weeks of knowing each other, but I did. And then I realized that I did, and I was horrified. With the pacing and the language and all the cliches, you have to know what’s coming. I kept forgetting that they had only known each other for two, three, four weeks. They acted like they had been secretly eyeing each other across the hall at school for years or something like that. I really expected more from Sierra because she’s portrayed as very mature and sensible and logical, and she tries to tell herself that this relationship can’t last, but she doesn’t do a very good job of that, and I feel like that fact doesn’t add up with everything else we know about her. It made it hard for me to connect with her because I felt like we were set up with her personality and then given all this information that contradicted it. I don’t know. I mean, I partially get it. Teenagers are ridiculously influenced by possible mates (and so are adults). And if she was able to stick to her promise to herself that she wouldn’t get involved with anyone, there would be no story. But it just didn’t feel real.

I don’t normally suggest to not read a book, even if it’s not a good one, because you can learn a lot from bad books. But this story has been told so many times, I just don’t see it being worth it. Yeesh, this might be my longest review ever. Bless your heart if you read the whole thing. I hope you all are having a happy Thanksgiving full of self-love and self-care!

9781408834671Title: State of Wonder
Author: Ann Patchett
Pages: 384
Year: 2011
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Time taken to read: 10 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: In a narrative replete with poison arrows, devouring snakes, scientific miracles, and spiritual transformations, “State of Wonder” presents a world of stunning surprise and danger, rich in emotional resonance and moral complexity. As Dr. Marina Singh embarks upon an uncertain odyssey into the insect-infested Amazon, she will be forced to surrender herself to the lush but forbidding world that awaits within the jungle. Charged with finding her former mentor Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher who has disappeared while working on a valuable new drug, she will have to confront her own memories of tragedy and sacrifice as she journeys into the unforgiving heart of darkness. Stirring and luminous, “State of Wonder” is a world unto itself, where unlikely beauty stands beside unimaginable loss beneath the rain forest’s jeweled canopy.

I started out giving this four stars, but after a day to reflect, I am bumping it up to five stars. I never expected to like this at all. Adult fiction just isn’t my thing. Adults are boring. From my 22-year-old perspective, adults are lucky because they already have their lives figured out, so I don’t care about their stories. But the agent I work for absolutely loves Ann Patchett, and this one had the coolest cover and title, so I went for it, and I’ll tell you, State of Wonder was really incredible.

All the characters had me feeling so many emotions. I was surprised by how much I related to Marina despite the fact that we have pretty much nothing in common besides being human females. I think it was mostly her anxiety and the way her last surgery haunted her. I felt her embarrassment, her shame, her guilt. I felt it through every little time I’ve let someone down. And of course there was Easter–he melted my heart over and over. And even Anders, who was absent for about 99% of the book. The things he left behind affected me, all his letters and everything, and the remnants of his time with Easter, the notebooks with the words written out. I was also really fascinated by the science. As far as I can tell the Lakashi tribe is completely made up, and I don’t know if there are any tribes that can be pregnant well into old age, but I felt the intrigue and the need for answers right alongside Marina. And I felt Dr. Swenson’s urgency and passion. I think the book started off slow, but it becomes clear that it’s worth it pretty soon, and by the time you get to the end, it’s like you’re being punched in the face with emotions and hugged by the writing. I felt devastated when it was over–I wanted to stay in the jungle with Marina and the Lakashi forever. I just never felt like I was reading a book while I was reading this. It was always more like I was being swallowed by it.

Yeesh, these are hard to write after a full day of writing similar reviews of terrible/average manuscripts. My reviews have been slowing down anyway since I have manuscripts to read all the time now. Hash tag lit life.

16131489Title: The Last Star
Author: Rick Yancey
Pages: 338
Year: 2016
Publisher: G. P. Putman’s Sons for Young Readers (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: The enemy is Other. The enemy is us. They’re down here, they’re up there, they’re nowhere. They want the Earth, they want us to have it. They came to wipe us out, they came to save us. But beneath these riddles lies one truth: Cassie has been betrayed. So has Ringer. Zombie. Nugget. And all 7.5 billion people who used to live on our planet. Betrayed first by the Others, and now by ourselves. In these last days, Earth’s remaining survivors will need to decide what’s more important: saving themselves…or saving what makes us human.

I think I had the same problem with this book that I did with the last one, The Infinite Sea, where I don’t think I fully understand what happened. It sounded to me like the aliens put false memories in humans to make the humans think that they were members of this alien race and that their alien consciousnesses were put into these humans to wake up at a certain point in time to begin the Waves, but the actual aliens were long gone by this point. Either that or the aliens were watching from the big Manhattan-sized spaceship that Cassie ends up at. I had really lost track at this point of what the green light around people’s heads were supposed to be and whether it was good or bad if a person had a green light around them, and whether it was aliens or trained alien fighters who were trying to take out people without green lights. And I definitely did not follow the steps of their plan where Ringer pretends to be dead and breathes through a hose. Why couldn’t she just hide around the corner? I don’t really know what happens with Ben in the caverns either.

But despite all these things that I didn’t understand, I still really enjoyed reading this. (Spoilers ahead.) I didn’t hate Ringer as much this time around, probably due to the fact that she was pregnant!! I must have read that spoiler somewhere online because I knew that going in, but I forget how, and I wished I hadn’t because I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure it out. Sorry if I just ruined it for you, but I said there would be spoilers, and you’ve had six months to read this anyway. I loved Cassie and all her human flaws as always, which was why the ending made me REALLY SAD. I really wanted her to make it. Everyone else could have died for all I cared, but Cassie deserved life. Still, I was proud of her for the way she sacrificed herself for the rest of humanity. What an angel. I really liked Megan too. I liked how stubborn she was, and the way their military hierarchy was complete garbage to her. She was gonna do what she wanted to do, regardless of who thought they had some kind of authority, and she was so young. I really wish Yancey would have given us some chapters from her perspective! She had a lot of potential that Yancey missed out on.

This series is really impressive. The characters, the voices, the plot, the descriptions, it’s all done well. Not every book got five stars from me (just The 5th Wave did actually), but it is so far ahead of all the other major YA series that are popular right now, like The Hunger Games and Divergent. The next step for me is to check out the movie! I’ve always pictured Cassie as Clarke from The 100, so it’ll be interesting to see this portrayal of her.

15745753Title: Eleanor & Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Pages: 320
Year: 2013
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor. Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park. Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

This book reminded me why I don’t like romance/love stories, and the reason is that I just don’t. I really cared very deeply about Eleanor and all her siblings and her mom, and I was very interested in what was going to happen to them all. And I liked Park well enough, and I really liked his mom in particular. I just don’t enjoy pages and pages of these kids describing how cute they think the other is. I don’t care. I was really happy for the two of them, but their relationship was not interesting. I liked the diversity that appeared not only through race but also in size: Eleanor is heavy. And I don’t think Park even mentions that fact once, which is pretty cool, I think. I can imagine a lot of teen girls reading this and feeling like they can finally relate, and that’s what YA is all about.

I think it’s notable that I didn’t hate the alternating perspectives. I liked getting to listen to them both worrying about what the other one is thinking. It was sweet. And they both felt very realistic to me, in their thoughts and their actions. I think Rowell can really put herself in the teenage mindset. And I was satisfied with the ending, I think. Spoiler: I thought it was odd that she took so long to write to him. And I would have liked her to have tried harder to help her siblings as well. My littlest sister is eight, and I thought of her whenever Maisie entered the scene. I just can’t help but feel like if I had been Eleanor, I never would have left that child alone in that house. It shouldn’t have been Eleanor’s job to protect her, but it sort of was, at that point. And it seemed like the kids were safe in terms of their lives at least, but…I don’t know. I would have done more. But the focus was supposed to be the love story, and that’s why I don’t like love stories.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween! I will be closing at B&N tonight dressed (roughly) as my princess twin Merida. Happy reading!

18473997Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Pages: 180
Year: 2014
Publisher: Vintage (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I borrowed this book from my office–yes, I have an office now! Well, I am rather sort of a guest in an office. I have been an intern at Union Literary in Soho for two weeks now, and it is amazing (despite the fact that it pays $0.00 an hour). I love 1. not having to talk to anyone pretty much all day (customer service is exhausting) and 2. when I do talk to someone, we’re hashing out ideas about a manuscript and trying to figure out what to do with it, so it’s like my reviews here, except it actually matters. And even though I’ve only been there two weeks, my opinion is valued, and that feels indescribable. And it’s really cool that this book, which is such a big hit, came from my office.

When I read the back cover, I honestly thought it wasn’t going to be that interesting. It’s a husband and wife and their baby and their marriage is falling apart, blah blah. Why should I care? What about this story is different? Truthfully, nothing. It’s the words. This is no typical narrative. One Goodreads reviewer described it as a “mosaic,” which I think is the perfect word for it. The poetic style is really cool to me because while I like the concept of poetry, I just don’t really get it most of the time, and I like the rules of the English language, which poetry often discards. So this was like poetry with proper grammar and syntax, which I love. The hard part was that there were parts of the story that I didn’t understand because it was so poetic. (That’s also what I don’t like about most poetry: just say the thing you mean! It doesn’t have to be so cryptic!) Especially with the ending, I just didn’t understand what was happening and why, what the conclusion was supposed to be, and what was supposed to be implied for their future.

But overall, I enjoyed reading it, and there were so many great lines that I wanted to write down. I only ended up writing down one: “But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be” (114). Isn’t that just so real? I also loved when she talked about the “Little Theater of Hurt Feelings,” and I thought that might have even been a better title for the book. My favorite part, though, was when she started describing a scene of her life as though one of her students had written it as fiction and she was critiquing it. That was really something special. I suggest you give this one a go!

5107Title: The Catcher in the Rye
Author: J. D. Salinger
Pages: 277
Year: 1951
Publisher: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown; Hachette)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. […] His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation.

Yes, I have an English degree, and I only just read this book for the first time. People were always baffled when I told them I hadn’t read this one, but now I have, so I guess I’m a normal person now. What pushed me to read it was my interview with Writers House. The director of the program told me it’s his favorite book, and I ended up being selected as an “alternate,” but that’s a different story. I wish I had read it in high school, because I would love to know how my teenage self would have responded to it. Unfortunately, all I can discuss is now.

I think I really liked the stream of consciousness style, and I liked that there wasn’t much of a plot. There was a problem, and there was a character solving the problem, but it wasn’t a plot in the usual sense. I say I think I liked it because I’m not totally sure, but the more I think about it, the more I feel sure that I liked it. I know that a lot of people think Holden is a whiny emo bitch, and I see that. Whenever he complained about people who like movies, I wanted to smack him. But the reason I can’t say I like this book overall is his attitude towards women and girls. I do not care what time period this was written in, let me make that clear. I do not care. I don’t care if it’s the year 2000 B.C., you cannot talk about girls the way Holden does. He constantly talks about how “most girls” are stupid and “phony” (as apparently everyone is in Holden’s world) and blah blah, and I won’t have it.  And he even starts talking about how whenever he tries to have sex with girls, they want him to stop, and he does, but he talks about how he shouldn’t stop, and he wishes he wouldn’t, but he does anyway. He really makes it out to be a negative thing that he isn’t constantly sexually assaulting girls, and it’s horrific. Sure, it’s good that he’s not doing it, but everything about his mindset is wrong.

Another thing that’s rather infuriating is something I’ve found in some reviews on Goodreads. By the second half of the book, I had picked up on the fact that Holden clearly suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve talked about this illness a lot because I was given my diagnosis this March, although I’ve known I have it since I was eighteen. I’m not the only one who’s figured this out. It’s clear in the way that he professes his love for Sally and a paragraph later he hates her, and he does this with multiple characters. (It’s called “splitting”.) It’s clear in his impulsive behavior, like when he suddenly decides to leave Pencey, and later on when he suddenly decides to hitchhike out west and then suddenly decides to not do that, and he’s constantly having suicidal thoughts. A little thing I picked up on too is when he hangs out with this guy who he mentions says the word “certainly” a lot, and after that, Holden uses that word with increasing frequency. Because of a Borderline’s unstable sense of self, they tend to mirror the people that they’ve most recently spent time with. What infuriated me in the reviews is that people are swearing up and down that he can’t have BPD because he loves his sister, and Borderlines have no empathy. Excuse me?? Let me introduce you to someone. This is my baby sister:

Her name is Jane, and she’s turning eight years old next week. She is technically my half-sister, but she is basically my own child, and she has been the light of my life since the day she was born when I was fourteen. I do not know what kind of life I would be living if I didn’t have her. I don’t know if I would be living at all. Everything I do, I do for her, and it will always be that way. So I don’t want to hear for one second that Borderlines can’t love or can’t feel empathy. The whole thing about being a Borderline is that you feel EVERYTHING and you feel it hard, and while that can be mostly sadness and anger and guilt and fear, it is also love and happiness. I get to love Jane as fiercely as I do because I am a Borderline. I just really hate people who act like they know everything about mental illnesses when they actually know nothing.

Back to the actual book: I think I would be giving this a much higher rating if the whole girls/sex thing hadn’t really ruined it for me. You couldn’t have just cut that one paragraph, Salinger? Disappointing. But like I said, I liked the style, and I’m glad that I read it so at least now I can say that I have. Happy reading, friends! (Also, guess who liked my last review? Hint: it’s the author of the book!)