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.

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.