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31752165Title: The One Memory of Flora Banks
Author: Emily Barr
Pages: 291
Year: 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town. Miraculously, this one memory breaks through Flora’s fractured mind, and sticks. Flora is convinced that Drake is responsible for restoring her memory and making her whole again. So when an encouraging email from Drake suggests she meet him on the other side of the world, Flora knows with certainty that this is the first step toward reclaiming her life. With little more than the words “be brave” inked into her skin, and written reminders of who she is and why her memory is so limited, Flora sets off on an impossible journey to Svalbard, Norway—the land of the midnight sun—determined to find Drake. But from the moment she arrives in the Arctic, nothing is quite as it seems, and Flora must “be brave” if she is ever to learn the truth about herself, and to make it safely home.

This book is a little repetitive. Okay, it’s a lot repetitive, but it only bugged me for a little while. Flora can’t remember anything after she was ten, so she has to reread her notes over and over to remind herself what’s going on in her life. And I found that extremely irritating at first, but I guess I got used to it. At the start of this book, I rolled my eyes so hard they almost came out of my head. I mean, really? A boy cures her amnesia? Too ridiculous. But (spoiler), when it turns out her amnesia was starting to get better anyway, I decided to accept it. I don’t want to include too many spoilers in this review because this book is still fairly new. What I will say is that I never saw a single plot twist coming. The last fourth of the book shocked me over and over again and I loved it. And it leaves off at a great spot, letting the reader imagine their own ending for sweet Flora.

I absolutely adored Flora’s voice. It’s one of the best voices I’ve ever read. She’s got a ten-year-old mind in a seventeen-year-old’s body, just coming to the realization that she’s seventeen. And her childlike tone is so precious. She does a lot of crazy things that she just doesn’t understand, and she has to wake up in her craziness over and over again.

I guess one little thing that really bothered me was the fact that the father didn’t really want her on her medication but went along with it. I kind of felt like, oh, of course the father is the one who’s on their side and the mother is the one who’s crazy and evil. I think mothers are often painted in an extremely negative way in comparison to fathers, and that’s something that I think is rooted in sexism, and it bothers me. Let’s have some nice mothers in literature, people.

And finally, RIP in peace sweet Jacob.

I loved this one, guys. Highly recommend.

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30199656Title: What to Say Next
Author: Julie Buxbaum
Pages: 292
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsis: Two struggling teenagers find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world. […] When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

Yikes…just, yikes. This book had a lot of potential, but I have to say, it was heavily disappointing. And I knew by the second chapter that I was going to be furious at this book. So let’s just dive right in.

  1. Like I said, by the second chapter I knew this was going to be rough. David is a sweet boy and a lovely character, and everything about this book is so unfair to him. Exhibit A: the notebook. Why did the author have to give him this ridiculous notebook? It makes him seem like such a creep. And I know that if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism, but I find it hard to believe that any person like David, autism or not, would care enough about all the people in the school to write down all these things about them. David seems more like the type to just mind his own business and keep his head down while trying to get through high school. I think the notebook is really out of character for him. Like, if he can’t be bothered to remember the football players’ names and calls them Meat Head instead, I don’t see him keeping a detailed notebook on everyone else in the school.
  2. There are so many stereotypes in this book. You get the nerd, the popular bitches, the jocks, and the girl who’s perfect and pretty and popular and kind, or at least kind enough to sit with the nerd. Did this author even go to high school, or did she just watch Mean Girls for four years?
  3. This whole book is a typical “unlikely couple” story, and it’s absurdly predictable. You can guess from the jacket copy how Kit and David’s friendship-turned-romance is going to go.
  4. What I didn’t predict is David’s makeover. What. The. Frick. Of course once he gets a haircut and new clothes, David’s totally hot. What???? Are we incapable of liking David for who he is???? He gets horrifyingly bullied, and suddenly he gets the right clothes that are physically uncomfortable for him, and now every girl is obsessed with him. I just, like, don’t even have words for how messed up that whole concept is for a neurotypical person, and then we add in the fact that David is on the autism spectrum. Just think about it for half a second, like the author apparently did not.

In conclusion, skip this one, my friends.

30971720Title: The Special Ones
Author: Em Bailey
Pages: 304
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisA mysterious cult leader has complete control over Esther’s life…or does he? Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? They are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside. Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. That means being replaced with another Esther. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. She also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, and is deeply troubled about her life in captivity. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

This book is incredibly satisfyingly creepy for the first half. For that reason, I struggled to rate it. In a lot of my reviews, I talk about the first half of the book being okay and the second half really sucking me in, but I had the opposite experience with this book. The beginning had me hooked right away. I was horrified by but so interested in Esther/Tess’s situation. The way she has to pretend and keep Felicity/Zoe in line for their survival is incredible.

And then they get the new Lucille. She freaks out at first, but she quickly becomes a part of their group and seems weirdly interested in the roles they’re meant to act out. And her change in behavior is never really explained. She doesn’t act anything like I imagine I would act if I were kidnapped and brought to the farm, although I guess I can’t really know what I’d do, and everyone is different. I just didn’t think any of her reactions made any sense.

And things don’t get better. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I can’t stand books that change perspectives. I’m tempted to forgive this book for that since there are things we need to learn about the abductor that would be hard to uncover otherwise. And in Criminal Minds they do jump to the killer’s perspective, and I love Criminal Minds. I’m not really sure about how I feel about the fact that there are no indicators on the page that the perspective is switching–you just have to figure it out from the text. But in the perspective of the abductor, we don’t really learn as much as I think we need to. He talks about the “tragedy” a few times, and maybe this is just me, but I still don’t know what that incident is. Clearly it has something to do with his parents, but what it is exactly, I don’t know. And then there’s the photograph. It’s hard for me to fully accept his motivations. He had no emotional ties to that photo. It all came from a drug-induced hallucination that I suppose the author means to say is strong enough at that moment that it makes him obsessed with the photo. I would have liked the photo to have had more significance to his life.

Ultimately, this is a very cool concept, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. Still, it was a fun, creepy read. On to the next book!

33843362Title: Genuine Fraud
Author: E. Lockhart
Pages: 264
Year: 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press (PRH)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat. Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete. An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three. Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

I read WE WERE LIARS a couple years ago, and I was less than thrilled. GENUINE FRAUD didn’t sound terribly interesting to me, but Lockhart’s agent once requested my full manuscript, so I thought, hey, why not? And once again, I was less than thrilled.

I think it is pretty cool how the chapters go backwards. It was confusing at first, but I started to get the hang of it about halfway through. I didn’t suspect any of the plot twists, and Jule was only a little bit irritating. And I was definitely curious about what exactly was going on. The thing is, though, I never really found out just what was going on. And I just can’t figure out why. Why did Jule do any of this? Is she just a psychopath? What was the point? Just to get her money? Is that really worth living in fear of being discovered? Honestly, the question of why should really come after the question of what. As in, what the heck actually happened? I don’t have a clue what was real and what was not. Maybe that was the point. I don’t know. I don’t really know what else to say about this book because the more I think about it, the more confused I get. I will say, overall I liked it better than WE WERE LIARS. I felt at least some sympathy for Jule, even though she’s actually nuts. In conclusion, I’d read another E. Lockhart book, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend this one.

33830437Title: Far from the Tree
Author: Robin Benway
Pages: 374
Year: 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Time taken to read: 1 week, 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsis: Being the middle child has its ups and downs. But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs. And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

Far from the Tree is a very cute story. I want to be an adoptive mother, so I’m interested in books about adoption. From that perspective, though, I was pretty disappointed. I’d really like to see a book about adoption that doesn’t cast away the adoptive family in favor of the biological family. But besides that, this book had some problems that are very common in YA literature.

I didn’t really understand the point of Rafe’s character. He seems to be one of those “perfect” YA characters with sharp wit and no flaw, and he never really connects to the story as a whole. The only character I really connected with is Grace, because she has a secret that we know but the others don’t, whereas Maya has no secrets and Joaquin has a secret that we also don’t know. Because of that, Grace feels like the only character that’s fully developed. And boy is she developed. Her pain feels so real. I was so heartbroken for her, so that’s a point in this book’s favor for sure.

There were a lot of big issues in this book, and I don’t know how to feel about it. We have alcoholism, LGBT themes, adoption and foster care, teen pregnancy, etc. It felt like a lot. I particularly struggle with the alcoholism part. We never really get to understand why Maya’s mom drinks so much. Maya’s parents fight. A lot. But why? That’s what really bothered me throughout the story. It just seems like the author wanted to make sure Maya’s life didn’t seem too perfect, so she threw that in.

I’d say the best things about this book are Grace and the cover. Because that is a seriously beautiful cover. And Grace is actually interesting. I wouldn’t say I don’t recommend this, but I don’t think it’s amazing. Happy reading, friends.

30312837Title: The You I’ve Never Known
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Pages: 590
Year: 2017
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 6 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisFor as long as she can remember, it’s been just Ariel and Dad. Ariel’s mom disappeared when she was a baby. Dad says home is wherever the two of them are, but Ariel is now seventeen and after years of new apartments, new schools, and new faces, all she wants is to put down some roots. Complicating things are Monica and Gabe, both of whom have stirred a different kind of desire. Maya’s a teenager who’s run from an abusive mother right into the arms of an older man she thinks she can trust. But now she’s isolated with a baby on the way, and life’s getting more complicated than Maya ever could have imagined. Ariel and Maya’s lives collide unexpectedly when Ariel’s mother shows up out of the blue with wild accusations: Ariel wasn’t abandoned. Her father kidnapped her fourteen years ago. What is Ariel supposed to believe? Is it possible Dad’s woven her entire history into a tapestry of lies? How can she choose between the mother she’s been taught to mistrust and the father who has taken care of her all these years?

This is not the first time I’ve started an Ellen Hopkins book, but it is the first time I’ve finished one. I’m not a poetry person. I’ve written poetry myself–I find it to be very cathartic–but I don’t like reading books of poetry. I love description, and Ellen Hopkins stories are just the bare bones of the story with none of the visuals. Some people may like that. Some might find it fun to create the visuals yourself. I get that. But I want to be told what the room looks like. What it smells like. And Ellen Hopkins leaves all of that up to our imaginations. Again, not my thing.

Yet, that wasn’t the worst part about this book. For me, the most glaring problem is the dialogue. Hopkins’s characters speak like no one else I’ve ever heard before. Here’s an exchange between Ariel and Gabe:

“You calling me selfish? Because here’s the thing. I’ve never, not ever, had that opportunity. What, in my lifetime, has given me anything to hold on to, to fight for? […] As for people, the few true connections I’ve been allowed are all right here in Sonora. Now I’m expected to sacrifice those, because of the woman who sacrificed me? No damn way.”

“[…] I’ll shut up now because I don’t want to upset you any more than you already are. Except one last thought: maybe your anger is misdirected?” (478-479)

Feel free to disagree with me, but I don’t think people put together sentences like that when they’re speaking out loud, and especially not when they’re heated.

Oh, also, you really remember things from when you were two and three years old, Ariel? Not likely.

Moving on.

Actually, now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing Ariel kind of sucks. She “loved” Monica so much, and they flirted constantly. No, they’re not in a monogamous relationship technically, but she was leading Monica on thinking she was devoted to Monica when she was really kind of hooking up with Gabe behind Monica’s back. Like, way to throw in some bisexual stereotypes. But I can’t even get into that. It takes too much of my bisexual brain power to think about how Hopkins could have done that better.

One thing I definitely can talk about is the synopsis. Hopkins tells us before we even start the book that Ariel was actually kidnapped. Which she doesn’t find out until after page 400. I’m actually kind of angry about how good that reveal could have been if it wasn’t in the synopsis. Like, my mind could have been blown if I had learned that at the same time as Ariel. But nope. The synopsis is a major spoiler, and that’s so disappointing.

Now, a moment to discuss the last 20 pages: holy moly. I really disliked 99% of this book, but reading those last pages, I swear I almost cried. Boy does that tug at some heartstrings. But I won’t spoil that for you. You’ve already got enough spoilers, as I mentioned!

In conclusion, I don’t expect to attempt another Ellen Hopkins book ever again.

24266809Title: An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes
Author: Randy Ribay
Pages: 240
Year: 2015
Publisher: Merit Press (F&W)
Time taken to read: 1 week, 4 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsisAs their senior year approaches, four diverse friends joined by their weekly Dungeons & Dragons game struggle to figure out real life. Archie’s trying to cope with the lingering effects of his parents’ divorce, Mari’s considering an opportunity to contact her biological mother, Dante’s working up the courage to come out to his friends, and Sam’s clinging to a failing relationship. The four eventually embark on a cross-country road trip in an attempt to solve–or to avoid–their problems. Told in the narrative style of Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMAN, AN INFINITE NUMBER OF PARALLEL UNIVERSES is at turns geeky, funny, and lyrical as it tells a story about that time in life when friends need each other to become more than just people that hang out.

It seems that most reviewers can agree on one thing about this book: it has a great amount of diversity in multiple ways. For me, that’s about the only strength of An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes. Somehow this book is both cliche and too out there all at the same time. The characters are two-dimensional, stereotypical geeks, each one with their designated quirk, and they go on a road trip (and none of their parents call the police…?) where a bunch of really ridiculous things happen, perhaps in an attempt to counteract all the cliches. The kids go through a random yet thematically predictable series of events that does result in character development, but I think the author started them off far too problematic. Each one of them says something pretty offensive at some point, and though they all end up learning and apologizing, the development is rushed, and the things that some of them say are dreadful enough that I couldn’t feel certain while reading the book that the author actually did mean for this to be a critique of those ideas.

Additionally, I never felt connected to the characters–not as a group nor individually. Since we go through the perspectives of each of the four main characters and the book is rather short, we don’t get to spend very much time with any of them. Plus, they all make a point of the fact that though they play a game together regularly, they don’t actually know each other very well at all, so I think it’s a little farfetched that they all agree to go on this road trip from New Jersey to Seattle to help Sam and Sarah–not to mention the fact that earlier in the book they even say that they don’t actually like Sam and Sarah together. I felt very disconnected from both the plot and the characters because of this, and I ended up skimming the last third or so of the book because there was nothing to make me care. The only storyline I was moderately interested in was Mari’s reconnection with her birth mother and the progression of her adoptive mother’s cancer, and that really never went anywhere. Ultimately, this one fell very flat for me, but I hope that there are kids out there who benefited from the diversity of this book at least.

Side note: I know I haven’t posted many reviews lately–I recently moved and have been dealing with transferring my job and, well, the rest of my life, but I am getting settled and will hopefully be reviewing more now! Thanks for staying with me, readers.