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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.

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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.

468657Title: Skinny
Author: Ibi Kaslik
Pages: 256
Year: 2006
Publisher: Walker Children’s
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 1/5

Goodreads synopsis: Holly’s older sister, Giselle, is self-destructing. Haunted by her love-deprived relationship with her late father, this once strong role model and medical student, is gripped by anorexia. Holly, a track star, struggles to keep her own life in balance while coping with the mental and physical deterioration of her beloved sister. Together, they can feel themselves slipping and are holding on for dear life. This honest look at the special bond between sisters is told from the perspective of both girls, as they alternate narrating each chapter. Gritty and often wryly funny, Skinny explores family relationships, love, pain, and the hunger for acceptance that drives all of us.

Writers who often focus on mental health topics tend to have this very vivid, metaphorical style of writing that’s both dark and flowery at the same time. I get the appeal, and I think it can make for some really striking sentences, but I don’t like books like this that are full of that kind of language when it really needs to be more direct and literal. There is a lot of dark imagery that’s very physical in books like these. For example, characters often talk about bleeding, and they might mean they feel like their soul is bleeding emotions or something like that, but they also might mean that they are literally taking some sharp object to their skin and making blood come out of their body in the real world, and when authors use language that sounds metaphorical, I don’t know whether or not the character is using self-harm behaviors, and I want to know. All of that sounds like a super particular issue, but throughout this book I felt unsure if things were really happening or if it was just a metaphor. I felt detached from the story and the characters for this reason, which definitely kept me from being able to enjoy it.

The writing of this book was completely chaotic. We move back and forth through time with few clues available to help the reader understand where and when a scene is taking place. Additionally, Sol’s character made no sense to me. It seems like he’s someone from Giselle’s past that she reconnects with and starts dating again, but I don’t understand who he is and how they know each other and why they’re together. We never learn anything about him, so we never get to understand who he is as a person and how his relationship with Giselle is significant. And it takes almost the entire book for me to feel like I have any sense of who Holly is as a person. The whole plot line about Giselle trying to find out exactly who her father was and what her parents’ stories are is, simply put, boring. It takes over the mental illness plot enough that Giselle’s anorexia isn’t really explored at all. I think I understood what was happening better than most readers could because I’ve had the disorder too, but if I had never experienced anything like what Giselle is suffering from, I imagine I would have been 100% lost, instead of just 95% lost. I really wanted a story about a relationship between two sisters and how anorexia takes over that relationship, but I didn’t get anything close to that, especially because ultimately it’s a guy that ruins their relationship instead of the illness. I hate to be so mean, but I really do feel like reading this book was a waste of time, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

Truthfully, you guys, it’s been hard to read lately. I’m struggling to enter into worlds of fiction, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. And I think it’s because of the political situation in America right now. When I read fiction, especially realistic fiction like this, it doesn’t feel realistic to me anymore because everything in our lives today has this sort of film over it, and that film is the fact that Trump is our President. Books don’t have that film. No one has their characters watching CNN and dealing with all the crises we’re facing on a daily basis today. Trump’s election has made every aspect of my life different, and when I read fiction, I see people who are living in a normal world–a world that doesn’t exist anymore. At least, it doesn’t exist for me and a lot of other people I know. So it’s hard to get immersed in a book to the point that it feels real, and that’s really what we all read for, isn’t it? So I don’t think I’ll achieve my Goodreads challenge this year. I’m on number 21 of 50 books with only three months left in 2017, and I’m guessing I won’t get much farther. I’m disappointed, but I’ve accepted it. Thanks to everyone who still reads my reviews as they’ve been getting less and less frequent. I hope you all can still get lost in a book.

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.

25528801Title: Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Author: E. K. Johnston
Pages: 248
Year: 2016
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisHermione Winters is captain of her cheerleading team, and in tiny Palermo Heights, this doesn’t mean what you think it means. At PHHS, the cheerleaders don’t cheer for the sports teams; they are the sports team—the pride and joy of a tiny town. The team’s summer training camp is Hermione’s last and marks the beginning of the end of…she’s not sure what. She does know this season could make her a legend. But during a camp party, someone slips something in her drink. And it all goes black. In every class, there’s a star cheerleader and a pariah pregnant girl. They’re never supposed to be the same person. Hermione struggles to regain the control she’s always had and faces a wrenching decision about how to move on. The assault wasn’t the beginning of Hermione Winters’s story and she’s not going to let it be the end. She won’t be anyone’s cautionary tale.

One day I will have read all the contemporary YA books on sexual assault that exist. I am still working up towards that day, and this was another step on my journey.

I feel a little torn about this one, especially concerning Hermione’s friendship with Polly. Hermione is a very strong girl. She goes through a terribly traumatic experience, and she holds her chin up and fights for herself every single day afterwards, and I love that. I think she’s a great role model for young girls who have gone through similar things. On the other hand, there are things about her life that make it easier for her to be strong than it is for other girls. She has Polly, a best friend who loves her unconditionally and is there for her every step of the way, even when her ex-boyfriend Leo is like the worst. But it doesn’t even matter that Leo is the worst because Hermione never really liked him all that much anyway. And she has cheerleading, something she loves, something that makes her feel powerful and in control in a very healthy way, and her coach is incredibly supportive. She has a number of cushions to fall back on when things get really hard, and that’s awesome, but not everybody has that. I can see young girls reading this and thinking, “Sure, I’d love to be like Hermione, but she has help and I don’t, so I can’t be like her.” However, remember how I mentioned I’m still working on reading every YA about sexual assault out there? That’s because a lot of people care about this issue, and a lot of writers want to tell their versions. Hermione Winters has a lot of support. Melinda Sordino has less. So, this is my message to any girl who reads this and feels like she’s still alone: try another book. And if you still can’t see yourself in the pages, write your own.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear is not perfect, but I liked it. I was rooting for Hermione, and I thought that though there were a lot of things that went almost too well, it balanced out with the horror of the situation and simply made for a less broody book than others that deal with the same topic. I think if there were a scale of majorly depressing to uplifting books about sexual assault, The Way I Used to Be would be on the far left, and Exit, Pursued by a Bear would be the far right, and some people don’t need the books on the right, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. Essentially, this book did the thing it was supposed to do, which was tell this story.

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!)

26118005Title: My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Author: Grady Hendrix
Pages: 336
Year: 2016
Publisher: Quirk Books
Time taken to read: 1 week
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsis: Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

I’m not even sure where to start with this one. This book thrilled me. The day I finished it, I was reading it on the subway holding my breath, so desperate to get to the end and find out if everyone was going to be okay or not. I didn’t realize how literal the title of this book is, and let me tell you, her best friend’s exorcism is intense. The whole book is intense. There were a few moments more towards the end that really shocked me, and I have to talk about it a little bit, so please skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read this book and don’t want any spoilers…. Okay, the best part in my opinion is when Gretchen kills her dog. Like, all the pieces of what she’s doing to her friends are slowly coming together, and by this point you realize she’s become totally evil, but like, you really don’t know until she kills her freaking dog. Like even when you realize she’s setting things up to kill her dog, you don’t believe she’s really gonna do it, and I don’t even like dogs that much (SORRY) but I was really hoping she wasn’t gonna do it, but then she DID and I was like, holy moly. So then when the exorcism was happening I was FREAKING out because I was like, oh my god, what if she’s not possessed, what if she’s just evil, because the exorcist can’t get it out, and my stomach was in knots as I was tearing through the pages like OH MY GOD WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN and then it happened and then I could breathe again, and it was wild.

Anyway, I was particularly struck by how well the main characters are developed. There are four best friends around which this story is centered, and they are all very unique characters with distinct voices. And their distinct voices felt so real. Everything about their dialogue and Abby’s inner monologue sounded so authentic, so much that I was really shocked when I realized this was written by a man, and I wonder how he learned to write teenage girls so well. So I will have to read his other book, I think, and see if that one is just as good.

The only thing I didn’t like was the epilogue that shows, like, the entire rest of their lives. I totally did not need that. I didn’t really want to think of these kids as adults. I just wanted to see this moment in their lives. But overall it was fantastic, and I am definitely adding it to my list of favorites. And I will be recommending it to everyone who starts a conversation with me for, like, the next month. Also, bonus points for a dope cover. Anyway, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is horrifyingly wonderful, so please read it and then come back and tell me that you also loved it.