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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.

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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.

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.