Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star Cover

"We're kindling amid lightning strikes, a lit match and dry wood, fire danger signs and a forest waiting to be burned."
-Nicola Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star

Natasha is a scientist. She has always believed in facts and figures, not in fate and destiny. And definitely not in love. Especially when her family is about to be deported to Jamaica. Daniel is a poet and a dreamer, though he puts aside his desires in order to be the good son, the son that his parents are proud of. But all of that changes when he meets Natasha. The two meet one fateful day in New York City--will the universe allow them to be together?

I've never really been one to believe in fate, in destiny, in love at first sight. To me, it's always been something that exists in books, that people read about in order to escape the harshness of reality. But this book made me want to believe in the power of fate and destiny. Nicola Yoon has crafted an exquisitely beautiful story about human nature, about why things happen the way that they do. I found myself completely lost in the story, desperate to know whether Natasha and Daniel make it.

Yoon also uses the point of view of other characters that Natasha and Daniel interact with in order to give us a more complete version of the story. Not only do we get depth in the two main characters, but we get depth in the background characters, showing that humanity is more intertwined than we might originally think.

Not only does Yoon craft a romantic love story, she also addresses issues like race, immigration, and family expectations. It delves deeper than the romance, and that's part of what made me love it so much.

A beautifully romantic exploration of fate and destiny.

5/5 stars 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

50 Best YA Books

As some (or most) of you may know, I am interning at Booklist in Chicago until the the end of May. In trying not to think about what's going to happen when that internship is over, I've been back at the blogging, trying to up my content on other social media sites and create more posts on here that aren't just book reviews. At Booklist currently, we are creating things that celebrate 50 years of young adult literature, as it has been 50 years since The Outsiders was published.

Booklist has created their own list of the 50 Best YA Books of All Time, including one on their Twitter everyday (you can follow them @BooklistYA). While I didn't help create the list, I've been doing little tasks throughout the course of my internship in order to help with the publication of the list. In doing so, I couldn't help but think that there were books that I would have included on the list that weren't there--so, I'm creating my own list! It, perhaps, will be skewed more to my own tastes as a reader, but many of these are books that I could read again and again. 

Here are, what I think, are 50 of the best young adult books to have been published, in no particular order. Because, let's face it, it's difficult to rank what books are your absolute favorite.

1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)*
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (1999)
4. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)*
5. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2005)
6. Looking for Alaska by John Green (2005)
7. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
8. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (1967)
9. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (1995)
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951)*
11. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)*
12. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (1974)
13. Feed by M.T. Anderson (2002)
14. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (1999)
15. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (2011)
16. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson) by Rick Riordan (2005)
17. Every Day by David Levithan (2012)
18. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (2011)
19. Going Bovine by Libba Bray (2009)
20. Blankets by Craig Thompson (2003)
21. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006)
22. The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner (2016)
23. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)
24. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)*
25. Deadline by Chris Crutcher (2007)
26. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007)
27. Graceling by Kristin Cashore (2008)
28. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (1968)
29. Forever by Judy Blume (1975)
30. It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (2006)
31. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (2002)
32. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
33. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2012)
34. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (2014)
35. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera (2016)
36. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)
37. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (2016)
38. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (2016)
39. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (2012)
40. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
41. I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (2014)
42. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven (2015)
43. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King (2011)
44. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)*
45. Postcards from No Man's Land by Aidan Chambers (1999)
46. Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (2007)
47. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (2011)
48. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (2008)*
49. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (1987)
50. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (2000)

*These are not traditionally classified as YA, but are often read by young adults. 

There's a pretty decent mix of older and newer books in here, but there's definitely been a surge of really good YA books published recently. We are in the second golden age of young adult literature, after all. What would you include in your top 50 YA books?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The 2017 Reading Challenge

While perusing Pinterest today, trying to figure out ways to promote my latest review, I came across the POPSUGAR 2017 Reading Challenge. Yes, I realize we are already a quarter of the way through 2017. But some of the books I've read check off some of the things on this list, and I thought it would be fun to try to read some things outside of what I usually read. They even have a Goodreads group for the challenge, which you can join here.

Some of the books I've read so far in 2017 fit into categories on the list, so I'll mention them here! I will continue to periodically update every few books I finish that fit into categories on the list, and then do a big post once I completely finish.

A book by a person of color: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I just reviewed this one yesterday, make sure to check it out!

A book that's published in 2017: Words on Bathroom Walls by Julia Walton
I actually wrote a review for this for Booklist, more when the review is officially published!

A book with career advice: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
I just finished this book the other day, review coming soon.

The first book in a series you haven't read before: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab
It still counts if the series isn't completely published yet, right?

It may seem that I'm not very far on the list (I'm not), but I still have plenty of time in 2017! What are your reading goals for this year?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give

The Hate U Give Cover
"Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right." 
-Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give

Starr Carter is situated between two different worlds: the prep school she attends and the poor neighborhood she lives in, overrun by gangs. The two worlds collide when Starr is the only witness of a police shooting in her neighborhood, killing her childhood best friend, Khalil. His death quickly becomes national news, and Starr must decide if she's going to stay in the sidelines or take a stand against the injustice.

This is probably one of the most important books that I've read so far this year, and will probably remain in that spot until the end of the year. Angie Thomas wrote this book inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, and it shows through every aspect of the novel. The injustice that seeps out of this book is an injustice that a lot of people live with every single day, and this novel (and the eventual movie) will help to bring it to light even more than before.

Thomas's prose is exquisitely written, making the reader feel like they are actually there, creating immersive scenes and crafting well-rounded characters that you become invested in the moment that you meet them. In an industry that has often been criticized for its lack of diversity, The Hate U Give shows that hopefully, the young adult literature realm is moving in the right direction.

As Thomas's debut novel, I think we can surely expect more great things from her as the future comes. I will absolutely recommend this to everyone, as I think it's an important glimpse into the way race works in our society.

5/5 stars

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Character Playlist: Simon Snow

Carry On Text and Cover

I read Carry On this past summer and absolutely fell in love with it. It was one of those instances where I couldn't put the book down--Rainbow Rowell has the talent for creating engrossing stories that you lose yourself in. And the talent for crafting beautiful relationships. Basically, I love Rainbow Rowell, and this playlist is a tribute to one of my favorite characters she's created so far, Simon Snow.

"Shots" by Imagine Dragons
This song represents the hole Simon feels he's trying to fill in himself, the expectations that he's trying to live up to.

"Thistles and Weeds" by Mumford & Sons
Simon holds onto hope, even when things may seem bleak.

"Human" by Of Monsters and Men
Simon has always been known as the Chosen One, but all he really wants is to be normal.

"Your Ex-Lover is Dead" by Stars
An homage to Simon's ex-girlfriend, Agatha Wellbelove.

"Oblivion" by Bastille
This reminds me of the danger Simon ends up in as the Chosen One, that he only has one fate and is resigned to that fate.

"Crinan Wood" by Alexi Murdoch
This song represents the woods around Watford, and the solace that Simon would sometimes find in them.

"Beginner's Luck" by Eels
This song reflects the beginning of Simon and Baz's relationship: "If you are willing, well, I think I'm qualified / And with beginner's luck we've gotta take the ride."

"I Found" by Amber Run
As Simon learns what he has to do in order to save the magical world, he uses Baz as his focal point in order to keep himself anchored.

"Kiss Me" by Ed Sheeran
When Simon realizes that he loves Baz, all he wants to do is be kissed by him.

"Can't Help Falling in Love" by Tyler Joseph (cover)
Simon couldn't help his feelings for Baz.

There you are! Hope you enjoy!

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