Saturday, March 11, 2017

Review: At the Edge of the Universe

At the Edge of the Universe Cover

"You can choose to be happy with what life gives you...or spend your life miserable. I choose happiness. It’s really that simple."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, At the Edge of the Universe

Tommy and Ozzie have been basically inseparable since elementary school, always dreaming about their escape from their small town in Florida. Suddenly--Tommy disappears, and is erased from everyone's memories. Everyone's except Ozzie, that is.

When Ozzie is paired with Calvin for a science project, he thinks Calvin might know more about Tommy's disappearance than he's letting on. As the two begin to spend more time together, Ozzie can't deny that he's developing feelings for Calvin, even though he's adamant about still loving Tommy.  And since the universe is shrinking, Ozzie is running out of time to figure out what exactly what happened to Tommy--and where he wants to go with Calvin.

Ever since I read We Are the Ants, Shaun David Hutchinson has been on my radar. Though these are the only two books that I've read by him, he has a knack for creating rounded characters that completely immerse the reader in the story. Hutchinson does the same thing in At the Edge of the Universe. They're unique and diverse, and I became intimately involved in their lives.

Told from the point of view of Ozzie, readers are just as perplexed at things that keep disappearing as Ozzie is; things like the moon, stars, other parts of the United States. While I thought this was an interesting and unique way to tell the story, but the end of the book I felt slightly frustrated. I am one that enjoys open-ended books, but it felt like this one didn't have much resolution. Though I think this was intentional, as we're supposed to wonder what was real and what wasn't (much like We Are the Ants), I didn't think it was as well executed as his previous book. I was left wanting more resolution at the end of the novel.

Despite this flaw, the diversity and execution of the characters made up for the flaws of the plot.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: Holding Up the Universe

"We can't fight another person's battle, no matter how much we want to."
-Jennifer Niven, Holding Up the Universe

Everyone thinks they know Libby Strout and Jack Masselin. No one takes the time to see past Libby's weight, and Jack puts up a facade that allows him to fit in, hiding his biggest secret: he can't recognize faces. After an incident at school, Libby and Jack become unlikely friends. They find that the more time they spend together, the less alone they feel. 

Jennifer Niven's All the Bright Places is one of my favorite young adult novels, so I was excited to finally get to read her latest novel. And I wasn't disappointed. Niven has a knack for creating complex characters that have more to them than meets the eye. Libby and Jack are both dealing with difficult things. However, it does represent a somewhat unfortunate trend in young adult literature that in order for the adolescent protagonists to feel accepted and wanted, they have to be in a romantic relationship. Nowadays, it's almost impossible to find a young adult novel in which the main characters do not end up together (except This Savage Song, which gets bonus points!).

Despite my annoyance at the romantic relationship, I really did enjoy this book overall, especially for the message that it sent: "You are wanted." Many teens need to hear that message, and I thought it was well done. Despite my views of it, this novel has apparently been getting a lot of bad press and reviews because some reviewers are saying that Niven uses her characters insecurities in order to create an angsty romance; that Libby doesn't wholly accept herself until she is with Jack. While yes, the romance aspect of the book wasn't necessarily my favorite, I don't think that this is the case. Libby stands up for herself when her and Jack aren't together, and I don't think she needs him to feel whole. 

Overall, the message of this book is powerful, but I do think it could have done without the romance. Not every novel needs to end in a relationship these days.

4/5 stars

Monday, February 20, 2017

Character Playlist: Libby Strout

Holding Up the Universe

One of the best messages from Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven is that you are wanted. Libby Strout distributes this message to her entire high school, after years of struggling with the way she looks. It's a message that she constantly has to tell herself, but it is worth the reminder.

Libby is all about dancing, expressing herself through movement. What better way to pay tribute to her character than to create a playlist for her?

Here's to being yourself and dancing without a care in the world.

"Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Pat Benatar
Libby begins the morning before she goes back to school for the first time in five years dancing to Pat Benatar, getting herself psyched for the day ahead. Anyone can face the day after a good Pat Benatar song.

"SexyBack" by Justin Timberlake
Perhaps this is more Jack's song than Libby's--but I think she'd dance to it just the same. With a beat like that, it's impossible not to. They're bringing sexy back.

"Hurricane" by Panic! At the Disco
I picked this song mainly for the lyrics, "You'll dance to anything," because I believe they fit Libby to a tee. But, it also has an excellent beat, which makes it excellent to dance to.

"I Love to Love" by Tina Charles
Libby starts singing this song in the car on the way to Bloomington with Jack, and the two have the most epic dance party in the car on the way there.

"Ben" by Michael Jackson
Libby and Jack dance to this song on their first date, and it accurately describes their relationship. They are two lonely people that need each other.

"The Way We Get By" by Spoon
Before Jack and Libby meet each other, before they give each other the courage to be themselves, they're just getting by. Hiding from themselves, hiding from other people, is the way they get by.

"Uptown Funk" by Bruno Mars
If there's any song that makes you want to get up and dance, it's this one. And it's about being comfortable in your own body, feeling confident in yourself. Which is exactly what Libby feels when she dances.

"It's Thunder and It's Lightning" by We Were Promised Jetpacks
Though Libby is trying to make things work, trying to hide her darkness and loneliness, sometimes that darkness shines through.

"Believer" by Imagine Dragons
When Libby finally takes things into her hands and stands up in front of her entire high school, preaching that everyone is wanted, I feel this song could have been coursing through her veins.

"We Are Young" by Fun.
By the end of the novel, I feel that Libby, and Jack, would sing this song from the rooftops, relishing in life. They are young, and they have so much to live for.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

5 Dystopias to Read During Trump's Presidency

Dystopian Book covers
Lately, it's definitely felt like we've been living in a dystopian world; Trump's lack of experience in the field of politics has created a wave of chaos in the first month of him being president. In fact, many of the news stories that pop up nowadays almost don't feel or seem like they're real--as long as it's not one of the many fake news stories that have been circulating the internet. From Trump silencing the EPA and other scientists to the blatant lies that his press is circulating, it's more important now than ever to stay well-read and informed.

This is where dystopian novels come in. Yes, they are fictionalized accounts of the future, however many of them have an eerie similarity to what the world has become. Reading these fictionalized accounts of dangerously oppressive governments can help us to try to stay one step ahead of the chaos that is unfolding around us. Literature can provide us with the knowledge and hope necessary to make it through the dystopic conditions we have found ourselves in.

Here are five books that you should put on your to-read list to stay ahead of the Trump administration:

1. 1984 by George Orwell

I actually wrote a post about the similarities between 1984 and Trump's presidency for the Radical Notion. The similarities are...terrifying. But they can make use more aware of the way Trump is using language to make the population more compliant.

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published before 1984, Brave New World depicts a different kind of society where people desire conformity and stability more than emotion or individual freedom. Brave New World depicts a society that has crumbled because of ignorance,  dominant technology, and an abundance of entertainment and material goods. Sound familiar?

3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Though Trump hasn't quite gotten to burning books (yet) he has engaged in censoring acts; he's silenced the National Parks, made multiple webpages disappear from the White House website (like the LGBTQ page, climate change, civil rights, etc.), and silenced anyone who speaks out against him. Perhaps he isn't burning books--but he's getting rid of knowledge just the same.

4. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's book depicts a society where women are mere vessels for reproduction, only wanted or needed for their bodies. Though Trump's presidency is not quite as severe as the one depicted in Gilead, many of Trump's comments show his inherent misogyny and reflect the misogyny shown in The Handmaid's Tale.  

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Okay, this one might be a little bit of a stretch; after all, Trump hasn't made a spectacle of children killing each other like President Snow does in Panem. In fact, Trump's administration announced a victory tour after his election win, because he loves nothing more than his thousands of adoring fans. Much like citizens of the Capitol in Panem.

While these books might depict a bleak future under Trump, reading them also show a core of resistance in humanity. By staying up to date and making our voices heard, we can be the resistance to Trump's dystopian tendencies. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: The Great American Whatever

The Great American Whatever Cover

"That's actually the most confusing part about being alive without knowing the end of your own hero's journey. You never know if it's time to go home or head into battle. You never know if you've already faced your biggest monster." -Tim Federle, The Great American Whatever

Quinn Roberts has spent the last six months in hibernation; after the accident, he didn't think he could ever face the world again. Enter: Geoff. Quinn's best friend. One haircut later and Quinn is on his way to his first ever college party. Where he meets a guy. The week that follows has Quinn imagining all sorts of scenarios until he can finally take the reigns back and control his own life story.

This book was given to me by a friend for Christmas, and it was thoroughly enjoyable! Quinn's witty, sarcastic take on life shines through the text and hooks the reader right from the beginning. But it isn't pushed to the extent that Quinn feels fake--in fact, they almost make Quinn feel more real, using his sarcasm and humor to hide his true feelings. They make him more rounded, and they make the book difficult to put down.

None of the characters in this story are flat--they all have their quirks that together, create a cast of characters that you wish could be your friends. Federle is able to write with such an authentic teen voice that this book will be sure to remain in your thoughts long after you finish it.

For a YA debut, Federle has definitely hit it out of the park.

5/5 stars

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Life: Changes

Chicago skyline at night
Since I've been absent on the blogging front the last couple of weeks, I thought I'd update on some pretty big changes that have been happening in my life. I accepted an internship with Booklist magazine, which I began last week. So, I've moved to Chicago with my cat, in a tiny studio apartment a little north of downtown. It's taken some getting used to, but I'm learning the ropes.

The internship has been excellent so far, though! I've only learned a couple of things and opened the mail, but I should get to start some other fun projects this week. But, the plus of working at the American Library Association, which is where Booklist is located--so many galleys. On Thursday, we cleaned out the old 2016 books that were reviewed, and basically they're free for the taking. How cool is that? I'll have to see if I can snag some good ones when I go back on Tuesday.

Hopefully now that I've transitioned smoothly, I'll be able to get reading again, making playlists, etc. I'm starting to settle into a schedule, so I'll be able to schedule posts more regularly, and update when cool things are happening. I'm hoping to be able to finish The Great American Whatever this week, which has been fantastic so far! I'll give a more full review in the next week or so.

Until then, I'm going to keep being immersed in all of the fantastic children's and young adult books that can be found at Booklist.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Review: This Savage Song

This Savage Song book cover
"He wasn't made of flesh and bone, or starlight. He was made of darkness." 
--Victoria Schwab, This Savage Song

In the city of Verity, violence has begun to breed monsters, monsters that lurk in the shadows. Kate Harker's father made a truce with the monsters, making certain areas of the city safe. Kate wants to live up to her father's ruthlessness, and is willing to go to any lengths to do so. August Flynn wants the opposite--born into a family of monsters, all August wants to be human. August goes undercover in order to spy on Kate, but when things go terribly wrong, the two must run for their lives.

Let me start out by saying--this book was dark. And violent. But so well written. Schwab created a whole atmosphere in This Savage Song that envelopes you right from the beginning. Verity is a city where you have to constantly look behind your shoulder wherever you go, and Schwab keeps up this suspense throughout the entire novel, through the unique voices of Kate and August.

I was also intrigued by the kinds of monsters that Schwab created, specifically the Sunai. The Sunai feed on people by stealing their souls through playing music, which is one of the things that August struggles with throughout the novel. He loves his violin, but is deeply tortured by the fact that playing his music can take the life of a human being.

These themes of struggling with what you're supposed to be are woven throughout the story, as Kate is desperately trying to gain the acceptance of her father, desperately trying to be what she thinks he wants her to be. This is what draws August and Kate together--but there's no romance! Gasp! I find that these days, it's extremely rare to find a YA novel that doesn't feature a romance, and it's extremely refreshing to find one that doesn't. Sure, there are hints of something between Kate and August at times, but instead of focusing on a blooming relationship, the novel is able to focus on their struggles as individual characters.

The only reason this book didn't receive 5 stars is because it took me a bit to get into it. Sure, the beginning scene with Kate setting a church on fire was captivating--but it took me a bit to figure out Verity and all its quirks. But once I did--I was hooked.

4/5 stars