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25785649-1Title: The Way I Used to Be
Author: Amber Smith
Pages: 367
Year: 2016
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 30 hours
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisIn the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault. Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes. What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be. Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

I saw The Way I Used to Be on the shelf at B&N this past Sunday, and, drawn in by the cover, I read the synopsis. I really like Speak, and I was intrigued by the comparison. So, I got it from the library first thing the next day.

I struggled to rate this book. I originally gave it four stars because I think it could accomplish what I’m assuming it means to accomplish, which is helping victims of sexual assault gather the courage to speak up. And for that reason, sure, I’m glad it exists. I also liked that it takes place over four years, because I don’t think people realize how much these events affect people years and years after they happen. At the end of Eden’s senior year, this thing still controls her life, and that is the reality of it for a lot of people. I also think the way she turns to frivolous and even potentially dangerous sex is interesting. Everyone deals with PTSD differently. Everyone finds a different coping mechanism. And Eden’s is very active and vivid, which I think works well in novel.

Yet, I felt the relationships weren’t earned. I don’t understand why Josh ever liked Eden, for example. She was never nice to him. It bothered me so much every time she flipped out on him in a way that seemed totally random to him, and sure, she doesn’t want to tell him the truth, but she doesn’t even try to reassure him that it wasn’t his fault. And I get that all of it is hard for her. I really do. But Josh was a good guy, and if Eden had questioned that goodness, if she had doubted him and even feared him, I would have understood why she treated him so poorly. But she never really did question whether or not he was genuine. She’s using him and she knows it, and while I have sympathy for her, it still isn’t right to treat someone the way she does. But even besides whether or not I agree with her actions, I had trouble believing that Josh would put up with it for so long. He was the king of the school or whatever. I’m assuming he could date nearly any girl he wanted. Why Eden? He never says why he’s so drawn to her, just that he is, and I didn’t buy it.

But again, honestly, as much as I have sympathy for her, I was absolutely exhausted by the way she treated Josh and Steve and everyone else around her. And I could see glimpses of evidence that she’s exhausting herself too, throughout the book, and those moments were great. I wanted a lot more of that. I wanted a stronger sense of her being out of control and knowing she’s out of control but not being able to rein it in no matter how much she tries and how much she knows these people don’t deserve it. But that’s not her attitude. It really bothered me how she talks about her parents. They lash out at her because she lashes out at them first in a way that’s incredibly immature and unacceptable to me no matter what you’ve been through. Her mom shouldn’t ever have slapped her, obviously, but Eden treated them like crap long before that happened. And even if Eden recognized her actions for what they were more often, the way she lashes out at good people on every page got so repetitive. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say I was relieved by it, and it saved me from giving the book an even lower rating.

I saw a lot of reviews on Goodreads similar to mine where readers wanted to criticize Eden but felt guilty about it because of her PTSD. I think it’s important to note for me and for all of those reviewers that none of us is saying we don’t sympathize with Eden and understand that no one deals with sexual assault perfectly. I think when we talk about what Eden does that we didn’t like, we’re talking about her as a character, and I think her actions as a character start to overshadow the message the book is trying to send. If Eden was a more likable character, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking about how she’s unlikable–instead I would be talking about how much this book and others like it have the potential to change lives. But I’m not talking about that, nor are other reviewers, because this is in the way, and that’s why, while it’s really important to me to read about flawed characters, there has to be a balance, especially in instances like this.

25613472Title: A List of Cages
Author: Robin Roe
Pages: 320
Year: 2017
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives.

I got this as an ARC like a year ago, and, as I always do, I didn’t get around to it until after it was published. But it was published just a few months ago so I will try to make this not so spoiler-y.

This is a dual-perspective book, which I am famous for hating. I both liked it and did not like it in this book. I think it’s important to see both Adam’s and Julian’s worlds. It heightens the suspense when we can see what’s happening to Julian and at the same time see how unaware Adam is. My problem with it is that Adam’s and Julian’s voices sound too similar. I tend to completely ignore headers, so I didn’t realize what had happened the first time the perspective switched, and I was really confused when suddenly Julian was being called “Adam”. I flipped back and figured it out and was majorly annoyed. But I warmed up to it. I mean, they’re similar kids. They both sound a little juvenile, Adam because of his ADHD and Julian because of his abuse. To get them to sound very different was probably a really big challenge for the author, and I appreciate what she was able to do with them. Still, I do have to drop a star for it. Also, I’m annoyed because the author stole one of my character names. Rude. Anyway.

Teensy spoiler here, but I also thought the whole thing with Brett was completely useless. Emerald and Adam getting together was very intense and very brief, and I think it was a bit of a distraction. It would have been more effective if Emerald and Adam had already been together. That would both eliminate that distraction and make it a little more satisfying when their relationship starts to break down, since I feel more sympathy for an old relationship deteriorating than a new one. Additionally, I would have liked to see more of Julian’s mother’s notebook. Especially since that contributed to the title, I wanted to see those lists integrated in more of Julian’s thoughts, and I just wanted to witness more of the content of the notebook to get a better sense of what Julian’s mother was like. Plus, it would have been fun to guess what the lists were alongside Julian.

But overall, I thought the book was great. I love friendship stories, and it’s always interesting to me to read from a boy’s perspective. The language is really unique, and there are a lot of good quotes and clever one-liners. Nothing about this book felt cliché to me, which is very important to me. A List of Cages made me feel scared and sad and angry and happy and reflective and lots of other things, and I highly recommend it.

Also, my friend from my internship just started a book review blog as well! Hers is Alex’s Bookshelf Reads, and she is awesome, so you should read her book reviews too.

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.

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!