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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.

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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!)

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.

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.