Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review: Leah on the Offbeat

"That has to be the best part of being in love--the feeling of having a home in someone else's brain."
-Becky Albertalli, Leah on the Offbeat

Picking up where Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda took off, this time we get to live inside Leah's brain. Generally less privileged than those in her friend group, Leah has yet to gather the courage to come out as bisexual. Which makes her crush on Abby Suso increasingly difficult. As they get closer to graduation, their friend group begins to falter. As relationships start to break, Leah doesn't know whether or not to act on her own feelings.

Let me begin with this: Becky Albertalli is one of the best at accurately capturing the voices of teenagers. Leah is snarky and honest and and her voice absolutely carries you through to the very end. The appearance of other characters from Simon help to make the world even stronger and easier to fall into. Those who loved Simon will absolutely love Leah.

Leah on the Offbeat is also packed with a lot of humor and typical high school drama. Leah is desperate to find a relationship like Simon's. Leah is having difficulty learning how to say goodbye to the friends she's surrounded herself with since middle school. Her feelings of being an outsider are extremely relatable as well, and Albertalli also gets props for her portrayal of bisexual characters.

Overall, I blew threw this because I absolutely love Albertalli's writing style and her characters are always well rounded, even the ones included in the background.

4.5/5 stars

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review: Violent Ends

"To realize it's not really about Kirby now, it's about what's left. And if you don't deal with it, it will deal with you."
-Violent Ends

Violent Ends follows the story of a school shooting, covering it from 17 different points of view. Instead of following the shooting itself, the different stories focus on the aftermath and the way that the shooting affects the victims. It only took Kirby Matheson 22 minutes to kill 6 students and injure 5 others before taking his own life. Featuring a variety of well-known young adult authors, all the characters are related through one thing: Kirby Matheson.

I thought the premise of this book was fascinating; having so many points of view gives you a lot of perspectives on one particular situation. It lets you get to know the setting, the high school culture, the other students involved, and the community surrounding the school. Each of the different authors gives all the characters a unique voice following their unique writing style. My favorite aspect of the story was these different voices, reflecting an actual high school community.

Though I liked the anthology aspect of this book, I'm not sure this particular kind of story lends itself to this style of writing. I enjoyed the different voices included, but I didn't feel like I could get invested in any of the characters specifically. Since I'm someone who reads for character, the small snippets didn't allow me to get invested in their story.

The subject matter also felt a bit out of touch to me, especially given how much attention school shootings have gotten in the media lately. It felt as though it lacked diversity, and any characters who were from diverse backgrounds and such are the ones that were killed. 

Overall, I liked some of the chapters, but all together the book didn't quite work for me.

3/5 stars

Monday, May 7, 2018

Character Playlist: Leah Burke

Leah Burke definitely deserves her own playlist (check out my Simon one here!), especially since I just finished Leah on the Offbeat. I'll hopefully get a review out for it by the end of the week, but I absolutely loved Leah after reading this book; I think it'll give me a better appreciation of Leah when re-reading Simon. Which I desperately want to do. Either way, here's a playlist dedicated to Leah and her coming-of-age journey.

"Girls/Girls/Boys" by Panic! at the Disco

"Drumming Song" by Florence + the Machine

"Perfect Places" by Lorde

"Take a Walk" by Passion Pit

"Stubborn Love" by the Lumineers

"Helpless" by Phillipa Soo (Hamilton)

"Dive" by Ed Sheeran

"White Blank Page" by Mumford & Sons

"You Will Be Found" from Dear Evan Hansen

"Flaws" by Bastille

Friday, May 4, 2018

Review: What I Leave Behind

Title: What I Leave Behind

Author: Alison McGhee

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Children's

Publication Date: May 15, 2018

This book was sent to me through NetGalley from Simon and Schuster in return for an honest review. At first, the format of the book threw me off, but by the end, I was impressed that the author was able to stick to these short bursts of story--and how well they worked together.

Will spends most of his days at his job at Dollar Only with Major Tom, stocking the isles with all sorts of new goodies. At night, he desperately tries to replicate his dad's cornbread recipe, working through his grief after his father's suicide. When he finds out that Playa was raped at a party where he was at, he begins looking for ways for to help her through her trauma as well. Through small acts of kindness to those around him, Will begins to learn how to cope with his own grief.

Told in series of one hundred words, Will's story is presented in a unique way that keeps you reading throughout the entire book. The writing itself almost feels like a graphic novel, without the images supporting the text. However, it didn't feel like the book was missing anything--in fact, the format felt refreshing to me.

The only critique I have of the text is that I could have used a bit more context at the beginning. Though the format makes it difficult to portray any background information, adding a section or two would help the reader to be better oriented right at the beginning of Will's story.

Despite the disorientation, I enjoyed Will's story, especially his desire to reach out to those that seem lost like him. Will's story shows the affects of little acts of kindness--and how much they mean to those that are hurting.

4/5 stars

Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: And She Was

As Dara begins making preparations to pursue her dream of becoming a career tennis player, she goes digging around in her mom's room in order to find her birth certificate to get her passport. But what she finds is something she was never expecting. Her mother, Mellie, is transgender. Feeling betrayed, Dara heads out on a road trip with her best friend in order to find her lost family--a trip where Dara discovers more about herself than she could have ever imagined.

I'm torn about this book. As someone who doesn't identify as transgender, I was curious about what others said about this book online. The reactions to this book are mixed, mostly because there is a lot of transphobia portrayed in this book, especially through Dara's grandparents. I do think this was done in order to illustrate how many people talk about and to transgender people. At times, though, it felt like it was a bit much and definitely could be triggering to people who read it.

The other thing that bothered me about this story was the main character. As soon as Dara finds out about her mom, she becomes incredibly selfish. Literally everything is about her--probably up until the last 20 or so pages of the book. And while I get that this experience was a growing/coming-of-age moment for her, it took her a little too long to get there. Especially if she was as close to her mother as she proclaimed. To me, it felt like it should have been much harder for her to just suddenly up and leave her mother.

What I did like about this book were the secondary characters and the sources provided at the end. It is clear that Verdi did her research about the transgender community, which I appreciated. I also though Mellie's story, told in emails to her daughter, was really compelling. I wanted more from this story--and almost wish the story was focused there.

Overall, a mixed reaction and a mixed review. I do caution those looking to pick up this book if you might be triggered by excessive transphobic language--there is a lot within this story.

3/5 stars

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Review: The Dangerous Art of Blending In

"I've squeezed as many bookcases in this tiny space as possible. Being surrounded by books and magazines makes me feel calm. It makes the room seemed wrapped in a layer of protection. As if nothing or no one can get to me."
-Angelo Surmelis, The Dangerous Art of Blending In

Evan Panos is constantly seen as a disappointment by his Greek-American mother. His non-confrontational father never steps in and defends him, so Evan spends most of his days trying to be invisible and do the right thing. But hiding is becoming exhausting, especially since Evan kissed a boy over the summer. And his best friend Henry is becoming more and more attractive to him. As the end of high school nears, Evan has to figure out how to live with his own voice.

So I saw this book at work, as well as Jeff Zentner's mention of it on Twitter, and I knew that I had to pick it up. I mean, just look at the cover. It's gorgeous. This is Angelo Surmelis's debut novel, and I'm hoping that this means we'll get more from him. His writing is so emotionally driven, crafting an impressive amount of empathy in the reader. You want good things to happen to Evan, someone who is constantly beaten down by his mother. His story is absolutely heartbreaking; but it is also ultimately a story of hope.

One of the only things that threw me off about this story was the jump in time in the middle. I think it was like three months or something, but the jump in time felt a bit out of place. I wanted to know what bridged this jump into the future. There were also scenes with Evan's mom that were difficult to read, but that was the point, I think. There are many teens that find themselves in these abusive situations because of their sexuality, and it's important that these stories are getting published.

Surmelis's debut is heartbreaking, brutal, and hopeful. It's this thread of hope that is the most important part. Evan has hope, and is eventually able to craft his own family.

4.5/5 stars

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review: Love Songs & Other Lies

Title: Love Songs & Other Lies

Author: Jessica Pennington

Publisher: Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tor Books

Release Date: April 24, 2018

I'm back reviewing books for Net Galley! Honestly, I had forgotten about this website until I saw someone mention it on Instagram, and I immediately went and requested some advanced copies. This is one I got approved for almost instantly, and I was really glad; the synopsis sounded interesting and the musical twist on their relationship grabbed my attention right from the beginning.

Virginia (Vee) Miller is looking forward to her summer on the road with her high school rock band friends, now known as Your Future X. What she doesn't know when she decides to join their tour is that her ex will be there; and those wounds definitely haven't healed yet. Now, Vee and Cam are forced to work through the problems that ended their relationship while the entire world is watching.

The structure of this novel is absolutely what works the best. Told in a then/now format, Pennington slowly reveals the beginnings of Vee and Cam's relationship, switching back to now to create even more intrigue. It made the plot more interesting, making the reader desperate to get to the end to figure out what put an end to what seemed like an incredibly compatible relationship. What may have been a predictable plot in a more straightforward novel becomes more interesting with this structure.

Having two points of view also helps in giving the reader a fuller picture of the relationship; if we got only Cam's or only Vee's point of view, we would be likely to be biased toward one or the other. The inclusion of both their voices makes the reader feel empathy for both sides of the relationship. They both have reasons for doing what they do.

With a cast of extremely relatable characters and an immersive plot structure, fans of summer romance and rock bands will find a home in Pennington's story.