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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.

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.

29093326Title: What Light
Author: Jay Asher
Pages: 256
Year: 2016
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 2 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Sierra’s family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon—it’s a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other. Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other. By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. But Sierra sees beyond Caleb’s past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. As disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra discover the one thing that transcends all else: true love.

I think everyone had pretty high expectations for this, since Thirteen Reasons Why was so iconic and great. I mean, when you think of YA as a genre, you think of that book. So I was really confused when I was about half of the way through What Light and I realized it was just not good. So, let’s jump right into all the reasons why.

I definitely want to talk about the minor characters, specifically Sierra’s three best friends, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Heather. I think if you take any of their quotes out of context, you won’t be able to tell which of the three girls it’s from, aside from, of course, any quote with specific identifiers. Maybe Elizabeth is slightly distinguishable–she’s a little more uptight than the other two. (And I don’t mean that in a negative way at all–I liked her better than Rachel and Heather for that reason.) But Rachel and Heather were absolutely interchangeable, and that was really disappointing. Other minor characters they’re painfully similar to include Caleb’s sister Abby and Jeremiah’s sister Cassandra. Cassandra’s just the angry version of the rest of the girls. Then there’s Andrew, whose only quality is being a dick, and Luis and Jeremiah, whose only qualities are being sullen and quiet and seemingly a little grumpy. And lastly, Sierra’s parents. Her dad is typically overly protective and just doesn’t want to see his little girl growing up, and her mom doesn’t totally agree but doesn’t want to upset her husband, because…I don’t even know why. Maybe he would get aggressive. Either way, these are boring, overdone parent characters, and I would like to see a more complicated family, please.

Next, the major characters and the plot. I feel like I can’t talk about Caleb and Sierra separately, because they really only exist in relation to each other. So Sierra starts off as the typical YA girl who has little interest in boys until the super hot guy shows up. Caleb appears with his dimples, which Sierra will not shut up about, and then she finds out that he attacked his sister with a knife and even that does not deter her from obsessing about the dimples. This is a little complicated for me because I’ve been in a similar situation, in which I was interested in a guy and then I found out he had one violent incident. I was disturbed but I heard him out, and I know it’s not really who he is. There are a few differences. 1. I knew him for longer than like a week, 2. He came to me with the story first, so I never felt like he was hiding anything, and 3. I’m a freak too, and I knew there were things that he’d also have to accept about me. Sierra is normal. Or at least, there are no indications of mental illness. I’m not the most knowledgeable about what it’s like to be a normal person, but I feel like that should have been a deal-breaker for her. (Are there any normal people out there who can weigh in on this?) And I really felt like Caleb needed to be more flawed. I know–is knife violence not enough of a flaw? But it’s not. Because nothing about present day Caleb is bad. He is charitable and attractive and kind. Sometimes he beats himself up too much about what happened when clearly everyone else in his family is over it, if you can call that a flaw.

And aside from whether or not she should have been interested in him, Caleb and Sierra’s relationship was so predictable when it really shouldn’t have been, and I don’t mean just because that’s not how books should be. I mean, I shouldn’t have expected them to be happily in love after four weeks of knowing each other, but I did. And then I realized that I did, and I was horrified. With the pacing and the language and all the cliches, you have to know what’s coming. I kept forgetting that they had only known each other for two, three, four weeks. They acted like they had been secretly eyeing each other across the hall at school for years or something like that. I really expected more from Sierra because she’s portrayed as very mature and sensible and logical, and she tries to tell herself that this relationship can’t last, but she doesn’t do a very good job of that, and I feel like that fact doesn’t add up with everything else we know about her. It made it hard for me to connect with her because I felt like we were set up with her personality and then given all this information that contradicted it. I don’t know. I mean, I partially get it. Teenagers are ridiculously influenced by possible mates (and so are adults). And if she was able to stick to her promise to herself that she wouldn’t get involved with anyone, there would be no story. But it just didn’t feel real.

I don’t normally suggest to not read a book, even if it’s not a good one, because you can learn a lot from bad books. But this story has been told so many times, I just don’t see it being worth it. Yeesh, this might be my longest review ever. Bless your heart if you read the whole thing. I hope you all are having a happy Thanksgiving full of self-love and self-care!

29236380Title: Girl in Pieces
Author: Kathleen Glasgow
Pages: 416
Year: 2016
Publisher: Delacorte (Random House)
Time taken to read: 5 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisCharlotte Davis is in pieces. At seventeen she’s already lost more than most people lose in a lifetime. But she’s learned how to forget. The broken glass washes away the sorrow until there is nothing but calm. You don’t have to think about your father and the river. Your best friend, who is gone forever. Or your mother, who has nothing left to give you. Every new scar hardens Charlie’s heart just a little more, yet it still hurts so much. It hurts enough to not care anymore, which is sometimes what has to happen before you can find your way back from the edge. A deeply moving portrait of a teenage girl on the verge of losing herself and the journey she must take to survive in her own skin, Kathleen Glasgow’s debut is heartbreakingly real and unflinchingly honest. It’s a story you won’t be able to look away from.

I read an excerpt from this in the Buzz Books 2016 YA fall/winter edition, and I was really excited for it to come out. The majority of the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not sure I agree with them. For the most part, I enjoyed reading this, but I was really frustrated with Charlie. It was painful for me to watch her make poor decisions over and over. I felt bad for her, but that was really all I could feel because there was so much going on. I think it’s amazing that writers are tackling difficult issues like self-harm and abuse, but I also think the messages that these books need to send are far more effective if a writer tackles on issue at a time. I was so overwhelmed by all the crap in Charlie’s life that it didn’t leave me much space to really think about the issues at hand. None of the events or the issues really mean anything to me, and it’s hard to connect with Charlie. I thought Riley was a terrible person but a pretty good character. I really enjoyed hating him, and I was thrilled every time he f***ed up even worse, because then I could hate him more. His sister Julie is the best person in this book and she honestly deserves an award.

A lot of people on Goodreads are comparing this to Girl, Interrupted, which didn’t even occur to me until I read some reviews because this is fiction and Susanna Kaysen’s book is not. And then I realized, the portion of this book that takes place in a psych ward is exactly like Girl, Interrupted. Like, Blue is Lisa, and Louisa is Daisy. That bothers me a bit because it feels like Glasgow kind of stole not only from Kaysen’s book but from her life. Truthfully, the scenes in the hospital were my favorite, and I wish the book would have stayed there longer, but maybe with some more original characters. Unlike a lot of reviewers, I did enjoy the writing style. I particularly liked the tiny recurring chapters where it was just a paragraph of Charlie’s thoughts with a lot of words in italics. That makes no sense unless you’ve read the book, but if you have, you know what I mean. For some reason those paragraphs felt like the way I think a lot. I read one review, though, that said that this book seemed to be more like a creative writing exercise than an actual book, which I feel is really accurate.

I think if you’re interested in YA books on mental health, I would give this one a go. It’s a good one to analyze and compare to other books on the topic. I want to say that you shouldn’t expect it to be all that great, but so many people seem to love it, so who knows.

15777621Title: This Song Will Save Your Life
Author: Leila Sales
Pages: 288
Year: 2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Macmillan)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsis: Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing. Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, This Song Will Save Your Life is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

This is another one of those books that’s been on my to-read list for like my entire life. By the end of the first chapter I loved Elise because her thought process is too much like mine. I love that she’s like, you know what, even the nice girls are mean, and that’s just too much for me in this cruel world, so I’m just gonna end it. She’s so calm and methodical about attempting suicide, and to me it was funny because I’ve totally been there. I also got super excited at her comment on being pro gun control! And I love how obsessed she is with being good at things, and being good at them quickly, because again, I’m the same way. Honestly Elise was a perfect character until the thing with Alex and the poetry castle. That almost completely ruined her for me, because that was the most messed up thing ever.

I’m not a big music person (except when it comes to Nicki Minaj and Disney soundtracks), so the whole DJing/music aspect was a little lost on me because I didn’t know any of the songs they were talking about, but it was still interesting. Vicky is a great character and a great person, and I love the representation of amazing heavy girls. And Char is obviously the worst in every way, which was why it was so satisfying when she uncovers his real life at the end and realizes he is not worth it at all. I think this book teaches a lot of great lessons about what’s really important in life, and it could be really useful to high school girls who are feeling left out and invisible. I probably would be giving it five stars if it was about something like writing instead of music, because then I could identify even more with Elise, but that’s just my personal thing.

Anyway, happy Friday, readers! I am working on writing one of these reviews for a manuscript sent to me by a literary agency as sort of a test for an internship there, so I must get back to that quickly, because it’s due in about 24 hours. Wish me luck!