Tag Archives: character development

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!)


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.

1295102Title: Lock and Key
Author: Sarah Dessen
Pages: 422
Year: 2008
Publisher: Viking (Penguin Group)
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisRuby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return. That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?

This is the second book I’ve checked out from the Free Library of Philadelphia since I moved to Philly in July. This book wasn’t calling to me or anything, but their YA section is limited, so this is what I ended up with. Lock and Key is like most Sarah Dessen books: good. Just good. The writing is good. I found a few technical errors, as I often do, but Dessen’s voice is strong. There was a weird section near the beginning where some of the story is told out of order that I thought could have been avoided, but it was a small bump in the road. Also, I was really confused about whether or not Ruby gave Nate the key to the yellow house. I thought she did, but then she dropped it in the pond. What the heck happened with that? Someone please explain.

I appreciate Dessen’s attempt at a semi-feminist main character. Ruby is forced to go shopping, and at some point she snaps to the handsome boyfriend something like, “Oh, so just because I’m a girl I should like shopping?” Her reaction isn’t unwarranted, but it feels flat. Throughout the book I get the sense that Ruby thinks she’s better than other girls for exactly that reason. She’s the not-like-the-other-girls girl that I cannot stand and that lots of current feminists like myself once were. They’re the type that forget that, while being a girl doesn’t automatically mean you like pink, being a strong female doesn’t automatically mean you don’t like pink. (Personally, I LOVE pink. And yes, I once insisted that I hated it.) And it’s clear that that’s why Nate likes Ruby. He goes from dating perfect princess Heather (who actually seems like a really amazing person) to messing around with rugged Ruby. Now that I think about it, the color pink does make an appearance. Ruby notes that a girl in a pack of middle schoolers who is “wearing all pink” is “clearly the leader of this particular group” (388). It is evident by her tone that she thinks these girls and especially their leader are superficial and annoying. Ruby is super judgmental, and honestly, I guess I can see where she’s coming from. When you’ve been through hell, you feel a certain superiority over the people who you assume have not. But “assume” is the key. I also felt like Harriet’s character was borderline offensive. She seemed to be a personification of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that I really just didn’t appreciate. And I didn’t like that her main characteristic was overthrown by the end by the fact that she opened up to someone. It’s like the author just deleted the original Harriet to make way for a new-and-improved Harriet and called it character development, and it reeked of ignorance.

I’m also simply not a fan of the story that was told. I can’t feel sympathy for someone who just moved into an amazingly beautiful house with a balcony in her f*cking room and a fancy private school and a brother-in-law that’s the fictional equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg. In my mind, her problems are essentially solved. I no longer care about her. A story I would care about is the one told in the first five or so pages of backstory. I want to read about a teenage girl living and working with her mother (who clearly has Borderline Personality Disorder) who gets abandoned and has to live on her own. Being taken in by her loving and rich as f*ck sister should have been the happy ending. Actually, what would have been really cool is that story told from Ruby’s and Cora’s points of view, bouncing back and forth. (And I normally HATE multiple points of view.) That could have included some really interesting dramatic irony where we know that Cora wants to see Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t know. Overall, I think Dessen took the easy way out with this book.

My problem with Sarah Dessen books is that I’m never captivated. I never forget that I’m reading a book. I’m always aware of the fact that this is fiction, and I always know what’s going to happen. Dessen’s books can rarely get a rating higher that 3 out of 5 stars from me because, while the writing itself is good, the story is always boring and it’s always already been done. I think that, while Sarah Dessen is a good writer, she is a poor storyteller. Still, as a hopeful future YA author, I have to read all her books because she’s part of what’s popular in the YA world. It’s just a question of which mediocre and privilege-ridden story I’ll be picking up next.

(Wow, I’ve just noticed that my reviews tend to start out nice and end with 100% sass. Anyone else do the same thing?)

123106Title: Twisted
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson
Pages: 250
Year: 2007
Publisher: Speak (Penguin Group)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisHigh school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background—average student, average looks, average dysfunctional family. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy—and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in the school, in his family, and in the world.

I was hesitant to read this book because I’m not particularly interested in male perspectives. (This is not to say that I think all YA books should be from a female perspective. All perspectives are important. I just prefer to read stories told by females because obviously I can relate to them better.) I read it because I want to read all of LHA’s books and all of the books in the Penguin Group imprint named after my favorite book, Speak. This book went as I thought it would–it was less interesting to me because of the male perspective but it was still excellent because it’s LHA. As a feminist I understand that men are affected by misogyny as well as women. Tyler is struggling with thoughts of suicide on two levels. Besides the fact that he can’t stop these thoughts, he struggles with his masculinity in relation to them. He is feeling things that society has told him are not for men. He has to unlearn these sexist thoughts and come to terms with the fact that it’s okay for him to feel sad and scared and it’s okay for him to need help. I also enjoyed going through his moral struggles, like when he chose not to take advantage of Bethany. In my head, I was like, “You know what’s right, Tyler. You can do it. You can walk away from her.” And I was not disappointed. I felt like the character development was very clear. I am impressed with LHA for attempting a male perspective. I can’t say whether or not she did an accurate job because I’m not a teenage boy, but it was believable for me.

Tyler’s father is the worst character and also the most interesting. I was really on the edge of my seat waiting for him to blow up and hit Tyler or Tyler’s mother. I was actually hoping this would happen, because I wanted a scene with Tyler’s mother either kicking him out or leaving with her children. LHA did not give us this, but she did give us a breakdown/reconciliation with Tyler, and that scene was pretty good. I felt most strongly for Hannah because I know what it’s like to have a mentally ill sibling (and to be on the other side of that, of course), and I could feel her confusion and her fear. I thought the fact that she was dating her brother’s best friend was a little cliche, but I understand LHA’s need to condense characters and keep them all very closely involved, so it worked.

The writing was amazing as it always is with LHA. It’s a nice balance of funny and serious. I’m also a big fan of short chapters. This book wasn’t a favorite or anything, but I’m glad I read it.

18812437Title: Let’s Get Lost
Author: Adi Alsaid
Pages: 352
Year: 2014
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisFour teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named Leila. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most. Hudson, Bree, Elliot, and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila’s own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth—sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you’re looking for is to get lost along the way.

This was probably one of the most poorly written books I’ve ever read. I give it two stars instead of one because I feel like the idea was pretty good, however poorly executed, and Leila’s secret at the end was interesting. Also, it seemed like the author at least tried to add in some POC. Basically, though, the characters are unbelievably flat. Leila is a classic manic pixie dream girl, no question. She has all these cute, quirky things about her, but she is a plot device, not a person. As for Hudson, well, I was cringing during his whole story. Of course he would find her so incredibly beautiful (I believe he even says something like, not in a “different beautiful” kind of way but in a “hot beautiful” way, ugh). And of course she would love him right back. It was weird because at some point she started talking about how there was a guy that she missed and stuff, and I didn’t realize she was talking about Hudson because she actually didn’t seem that into him when they were together.

Anyway, Bree was fine, but I felt like it wasn’t likely that she would have survived 9 months of hitchhiking at her age, or at least it wasn’t likely that she wouldn’t have ended up in jail by now, since she had apparently been shoplifting for a while. I thought that the author started to mix up Bree’s and Leila’s personalities, because sometimes one of them would say something that sounded more like something the other one would say. I wanted to know more about why Bree kissed her sister’s fiance and whether or not he wanted to hook up with Bree as well. Elliot’s story was really stupid, maybe the worst one. I appreciate that he wanted to accept that Maribel didn’t like him, and I was pissed off at Leila for insisting that they had to “go get the girl”. Maribel said no, and Leila should have respected that, like Elliot sort of tried to. And the fact that Maribel eventually said yes is ridiculous. Like, I kind of knew it was coming, but it was totally illogical and cheap. Sonia’s story was complicated and confusing. She didn’t feel like she was Leila’s age. When her story began, I thought she was probably about 27. And their whole escapade through the forest was laughable. I don’t know much about border patrol, but I imagine that it’s much more difficult to get through without a passport than the author made it out to be.

As for the writing, I wondered if the editors actually paid any attention to this book while they were working on it. The sentences were poor and full of cliches. I can’t stand the phrase “as if…” being used very often, let alone on almost every page. It felt like this was written by a twelve year old, basically, and I can’t imagine what the draft must have looked like before the editors got ahold of it. Overall, this book was completely pathetic.