Showing posts with label Realistic-Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Realistic-Fiction. Show all posts

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Review: Speak the Graphic Novel

"When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time."
-Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

Melinda starts out high school as an outcast; she was the one who called the police at the summer's biggest party, and no one is going to forget that. But she's afraid to speak up about the reason why. Her art is the only way she's able to express herself and finally get her story told.

Speak was first published in 1999 and has long been considered a classic of young adult literature. Laurie Halse Anderson wrote about rape before the time of the #MeToo movement, and she did so effectively and accurately. Reading this story, you feel immense empathy for Melinda--you just want her to be able to get the help she so desperately needs. You want her to find friends; you want her to fit in. Anderson creates such emotion with this story, and it's important that everyone reads it.

The graphic novel version just came out this year, and the images compliment the text beautifully. Emily Carroll does an excellent job with her artwork and does justice to the love Melinda has for art in the book. One of the things I liked the most about the art is the way that Carroll plays with shadow throughout. Melinda is haunted by what happened to her at that party, and this is portrayed through the shadow of her attacker. Everything works together really well in order to bring this story to another level.

After reading the graphic novel, I definitely want to revisit the book. I'm interested how close the text is between the both of them. Overall, I absolutely loved this and believe it's a great adaptation of a great book.

5/5 stars

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: This Darkness Mine

"All imperfections glare in the spotlight."
-Mindy McGinnis, This Darkness Mine

For all appearances, Sasha Stone's life is perfect: she's first chair clarinet, at the top of her class, and has a loyal boyfriend. Her path to Oberlin is still in place, at least until Isaac Harver comes into her life. When she's around him, she's trouble; when she learns that she absorbed her twin in her mother's womb, she's convinced it's her sister's heart that's in love with him. Sasha quickly begins to lose control on the perfect life that she had--will she be able to get it back?

I'm reviewing this a bit out of order because ever since I read this book, I needed to write something about it. It's....weird. Mindy McGinnis also wrote Female of the Species, which I absolutely loved, but this book was very different from that, for me. While the writing is strong and well-done, the overall effect of this book is odd, which you can definitely see by looking at the other reviews.

Though the plot itself is odd (and at times violently graphic), there's a message underneath the text, showing how terrible people can be to others. In fact, I would argue, the main character has almost no redeeming qualities. As you learn more about Sasha, the more you dislike her. She might be one of the least likable narrators that I have ever read, which most likely contributed to the fact that I feel so mediocre about this book.

The plot of this book is twisty and shocking, and the less you know about it, the better. There were parts, however, where I went back a few pages to re-read, because I thought: "did that really happen?" Every time, it did. It made the plot confusing at times, because some of the twists were jarring, but this didn't take away from the quality of the writing. The writing is extremely well done, I just didn't connect with the characters or the plot, taking away much of my connection to the narrative.

Overall, if you're looking for something weird, dark, and shocking, this book would probably be for you. For me, it's probably not something I'll ever revisit.

3/5 stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: All American Boys

"If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
-Jason Reynolds, All American Boys

Wrongly accused of shoplifting and assaulting a woman at a conveince story, Rashad is badly beaten by a police officer, all because of the color of his skin. Quinn observed the beating, from someone he thought was a friend, and knows that he can't stay silent about the injustice of it. As the situation takes their school by storm, everyone takes a side--Rashad and Quinn might have to risk everything in order to change the world.

This book has been on my to-read list for ages, because I've only heard good things about it. And it certainly didn't disappoint. Both of the narrators here were extremely well developed, and each of them had their own unique voices. The inclusion of two narrators also creates the opportunity for more teens to find themselves within the narrative, and see how they can create change (especially important in our current moment in history). 

As we're beginning to see a rise in diversity in young adult literature (check out my article about it here!), books talking about social justice and social change are becoming more commonplace. Young people are often the ones that bring about social change (something that the series I'm currently reading is definitely showing me), and reading these narratives are inspirational and eye opening. These things happen in real life. Reading these narratives and speaking up about injustice are the only ways that we can instill change the way we want it.

My only wish for this book is that we could have seen some of the effects of the protest at the end of the novel. Was it effective? Including a bit at the end would show readers that they can affect the world around them, just like the characters within the novel.

5/5 stars

Friday, December 8, 2017

Review: Girl in Pieces

"That's how hearts get broken, you know. When you believe in promises."
-Kathleen Glasgow, Girl in Pieces

Charlie uses pain in order to forget all of the people that she's lost over time. Her father, to the river. Her best friend. Your mother. Each loss pushes Charlie further to the edge, so she learns how to forget. But as she starts to heal from her trauma, forgetting might push her back to where she began.

This is another book that I listened to on audio, and I think the story worked beautifully in that format. The narrator of the audiobook, Julia Whelan, gives a unique voice to Charlie, while still giving unique voices to the other characters. The subject matter didn't make this the easier book to listen to, but it was still beautiful.

Cutting is a topic that is often covered in young adult literature, but this book felt the most realistic to me (of the ones that I've read). Glasgow has crafted realistic, flawed characters struggling through the act of recovery, struggling through their triggers. This is an important book for many teens to read because of how carefully Glasgow tackles the issue of mental illness, and how realistic it truly is for a lot of the teen population.

The author's note at the end of the book makes the book all the more personal, offering support to girls that may be in the same position. Though this book isn't plot heavy, the characters aptly make up for it. Each character has their own challenges to overcome, but they're not defined by their mental illnesses, which is so important for the book's readers. 

The combination of the characters and the delicacy with which the issues are tackled makes this one of the better young adult books on mental illness. I'd recommend also picking it up on audiobook, if you can. It's definitely worth a listen!

4.5/5 stars

Review: They Both Die at the End

"No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end."
-Adam Silvera, They Both Die at the End

Both Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio receive a call from Death-Cast that tells them they're going to die today. They both download the Last Friend app, desperate for a friend on their last day. Together, they're able to conquer their fears and pack a bunch of new adventures into their last day on Earth.

Death was a theme in the books I read this summer, apparently. Adam Silvera is currently the king of writing emotionally devastating books, because every single book he's written makes you feel. He has a way of writing this book that gives you hope that maybe Mateo and Rufus will find a way to defy the Death-Cast call even though you know that that's probably not the case. This is an Adam Silvera book, after all. You often end the book with a lot of different emotions.

The characters in this book are so relatable and well-developed, with characteristics that I think many teens will be drawn to. What's interesting about this book, and connected it to More Happy Than Not, was that we get no explanation as to how we get this technology that predicts death, it's just there. And while that might be frustrating and confusing to some people, I think Silvera's writing allows us to just accept that there's this new technology, and new vocabulary, which allows us to focus on the characters and the story.

Adam Silvera's books are so emotionally driven, and I'll definitely keep reading everything that he puts out. None of his books have disappointed me so far, and I hope that continues to be the case in the future. A beautifully written story about living life to the fullest.

5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Things I Should Have Known

"It's like people have a place in their brain for normal, and they have a place in their brain for something obviously wrong, but they can't deal with something just a little bit different. And that makes them uncomfortable. And when people are uncomfortable, they act like jerks."
-Claire LaZebnik, Things I Should Have Known

Chloe knew that her sister was lonely, and the only way to cure her loneliness was to help her make some friends--maybe even set her up on a date. So, she tries to play matchmaker, setting up Ivy (who is on the autism spectrum) with another boy from her special needs class, Ethan. However, Ivy and Ethan refuse to go out on their own, forcing Chloe to interact with Ethan's brother, David. The four quickly form a bond, making Chloe rethink her own romantic choices and realize it's okay not to follow everyone else's expectations.

Portrayals of autistic characters in YA literature is pretty non-existent--in fact, besides this book, I can't think of a book that has an autistic character off the top of my head. The fact that this book exists does inspire hope for the future, though, and YA fiction is slowly starting to become more inclusive. But that doesn't mean that it still doesn't have a long way to go. 

LaZebnik's creates really realistic characters in her novel, and while it would be even more progressive to have the book narrated by the autistic character, she shows the lengths siblings will go to in order to make their own sisters or brothers feel safe. The character that most intrigued me was David, who had two totally different sides depending on the people he was dealing with. He felt incredibly real to me, and once we learn his backstory, 

There's also a twist in the story that adds even more diversity (one of the characters ends up being gay), and is done in a realistic way. Though stories that deal with this many challenges might become bogged down by the negative aspects of the situation, this story still remains funny, endearing, and hopeful, making it even more true to life. This book definitely deserves more hype than it originally got--and I hope more people are able to discover it.

4/5 stars

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: We Are Still Tornadoes

We Are Still Tornadoes Cover

"If you can't forgive someone you're close to for making a mistake, then why do apologies even exist?" -Michael Kun and Susan Mullen, We Are Still Tornadoes

As Cath gets ready to leave for college, she promises to stay in touch with her best friend, Scott, as she starts her new adventure. Meanwhile, Scott is trying to get his band off the ground while he stays home and works at his dad's store. Neither of them realize how difficult their first year outside of high school is going to be.

Through their letters, the two are able to support each other through annoying roommates, dumb family drama, and broken hearts; not to mention they have to figure out what they want to do for the rest of their lives. As something more slowly grows between the two friends, are they sure that it's something they want to pursue?

I read this book a few months ago, finishing most of it on the train ride back to Chicago from Michigan. The letter format really helps to bring the characters to life, through their writing quirks, letter lengths, and gaps in writing. Some of the references they use throughout, especially music, help to place the reader more squarely in the time period (the 1980s).

The romance aspect of the book is slightly predictable, but that doesn't take away from the entertainment quality of the book itself. Readers who are fans of romance, especially young adult romance, will find this book endearing. Fans of writers like Sarah Dessen will definitely enjoy Kun and Mullen's writing.

3.5/5 stars

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: True Letters from a Fictional Life

"I've always wanted to wake up one day in a world where I liked the right people, and they liked me in return. I worry it'll never happen." --Kenneth Logan, True Letters from a Fictional Life

James Liddell's written and actual live are two very different things. To anyone who knows him, James is a well-rounded, well liked athlete, dating the equally well liked Theresa. But when he's alone, he tells a different story--he fills his drawers with letters to people that he never intends to send, about things that he could never say aloud. When these letters mysteriously start getting sent, he grows worried that everyone will find out his darkest secret: that he likes boys. Will James ever get to escape his life of fiction?

This book is much more lighthearted than most LGBTQ fiction that I've read, especially recently. I liked the concept of the story, as using fiction as an escape is a familiar notion for a fellow writer. James uses his letters to say things that he never thought he'd be able to say aloud--but, when they actually get out, they allow him to fully accept who he is.

Though he was the protagonist, James wasn't my favorite character in the book. At times, he felt a little flat to me, despite his vivid inner life shown through his writing. Some of the side characters, like James's love interest (the name is escaping me), I found to be more interesting, adding intrigue to the story.

Overall, I think this is a story that many teens will relate to, with heart-melting romantic moments that will please romance fans.

4/5 stars

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review: The Female of the Species

"You see it in all animals - the female of the species is more deadly than the male." 
-Mindy McGinnis, The Female of the Species

When Alex's older sister, Anna, was murdered, Alex unleashed what she knows best: violence. She knows how to kill someone. And though she doesn't feel bad about it, as her crime goes unpunished, she quickly folds into the shadows, hiding from her fellow classmates.

At least, so she thinks. Jack and Peekay see her. Jack, the star athlete, the jock that everyone wants, in the running for valedictorian. But all Jack wants is to know Alex. Peekay is the preacher's daughter, which doesn't stop her from acting out once in a while. Peekay and Alex begin working together at the animal shelter, where Peekay sees Alex's protective nature.

Brought together through unlikely circumstances, Alex, Jack, and Peekay navigate the waters of their senior year. Until Alex's true nature breaks out at a party one night, sending the three on a path that's going to change their lives forever.

Though probably not for the squeamish or sensitive, this book is an absolutely important read. Mindy McGinnis exposes rape culture through the story of Alex and her desire to get revenge for her sister. Alex's character in particular points out the flaws of our society when it comes to dealing with rape, especially in the way that we help to perpetuate it with things like "boys will be boys," as Alex points out:

"But boys will be boys, our favorite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll."

These kinds of statements punctuate the novel, forcing the reader to think about rape culture and gender and how they might contribute to that.

In addition to the morally grey center of the novel, McGinnis also creates realistically complex characters that aid in the exploration of important themes. Told in alternating perspectives from Alex, Jack, and Peekay, the reader gets a glimpse into each one of their characters, each one as complex as the next. The three main characters as supported by an almost equally complex supporting cast, expertly destroying the stereotype that teenagers can't be complex.

Overall, if you can get past some of the descriptions and violence against animals (which I'll admit was difficult for me), this is definitely a must-read. Add it to your TBR shelf immediately.

5/5 Stars

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Review: History Is All You Left Me

History Is All You Left Me Cover
"History is nothing. It can be recycled or thrown away completely. It isn't this sacred treasure chest I mistook it to be. We were something, but history isn't enough to keep something alive forever."
-Adam Silvera, History Is All You Left Me

Griffin doesn't know how to cope with his best friend and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dying in a tragic drowning accident. Though Griffin hasn't seen much of Theo since he moved to California for school and started dating Jackson, he believed that they would one day find their way back to each other. Now, that future has gone far off course and Griffin is quickly falling into a downward spiral. His obsessions are getting worse and he is lashing out at people that truly care. In order for Griffin to finally move passed Theo's death, he must confront their history and everything that's tearing him apart.

Adam Silvera has done it again. Though I didn't review it (apparently), More Happy Than Not was heartbreaking and beautiful and this book was no different. Silvera has a gift in writing raw teenage emotion, fully encompassing pain so well that it makes your heart hurt. The story feels effortless, and Silvera has created characters in Griffin, Theo, Jackson, and Wade that drive it forward, drawing you in deeper and deeper as you go. 

The complexity of the characters and the reality of their stories is what makes this novel, I think. Though none of the characters were particularly likable, with Wade as a possible exception, you still become invested in their stories and want them to turn out okay in the end. This is what makes them the most realistic, adding to the realism of the story as a whole.

All in all, this novel is absolutely heartbreaking, much like Silvera's other work as well. A bonus was the portrayal of OCD in the novel, which felt real to me and was something that Griffin always had to deal with. He couldn't just turn it on and off when he wanted, like is portrayed in some young adult literature. History Is All You Left Me feels real, which is essential for young adult literature.

P.S. What is with the theme of friends dying in young adult lit lately? I feel like I've read quite a few books like that recently, more so than usual. 

5/5 stars

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review: Goodbye Days

Goodbye Days Cover

"For the most part, you don't hold the people you love in your heart because they rescued you from drowning or pulled you from a burning house. Mostly you hold them in your heart because they save you, in a million quiet and perfect ways, from being alone."
-Goodbye Days, Jeff Zentner

Carver Briggs believes that he is the cause of the death of his three best friends, Mars, Eli, and Blake. He was the one who sent Mars the text that he was responding to when they got into a car accident, after all. And now Mars' father, a judge, is trying to pursue a criminal investigation against him. 

Through it all, Carver does have some allies: his sister, Eli's girlfriend, and even Blake's grandma, who asks Carver to spend a Goodbye Day with her, honoring Blake's memory. Soon, the other families are asking to do the same, all in the hope of finding some peace within the tragedy of loss.

This is Jeff Zentner's second novel, and I am yet again blown away by his ability to write emotions. The Serpent King (which I read last fall, but apparently didn't write a review for) slowly sunk its claws into you and grabbed hold, one of those books where you keep thinking about it for days after. Goodbye Days was no different. You start in the middle of Carver's tragedy, attending the last of the three funerals for his best friends, and are taken along with Carver as he experiences his grief throughout the novel.

Zentner's writing also realistically encapsulates anxiety and mental illness, especially with his descriptions of panic attacks. The way he introduces Carver to therapy is also a positive experience: Carver is hesitant at first, not believing that therapy will help. As they continue sessions, Carver realizes how helpful therapy can be, perhaps helping readers who might also be hesitant to see how helpful it can be as well.

Overall, I know that anytime Zentner publishes anything new, I will read it ASAP. He's definitely one to watch.

5/5 stars

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Review: Spontaneous

Spontaneous Cover

"And as long as the world spins on, we can still dance. No matter who we are, we can always dance."
-Aaron Starmer, Spontaneous

Imagine your senior year, saying goodbye to all of your friends, not knowing when you'll see them again--but then add in the suspense of not knowing who will actually make it through senior year. This becomes reality for Mara Carlyle when her fellow classmates begin to spontaneously combust, quickly drawing national attention. But Mara isn't going to let the impending doom of spontaneous combustion get her down. She lives her senior year to the fullest, falling in love, attending crazy parties, and organizing events so she gets to experience her senior year like every other senior in the country. 

I first heard about this book when John Green posted about it on Facebook, and it sounded hilarious and fantastic, and out of the box from what I've been reading lately. I was definitely not disappointed; I was drawn into Mara's narration right from the beginning. She's funny and witty and wildly sarcastic. Maybe she's not always likable, but you can always count on her to be honest and real. The story itself is unique and not something I've seen done before, and it was refreshing to read. The narration sucks you into the suspense of wondering who is going to combust next, and it's that aspect that really drives the plot forward.

However. Yes, there is a "however." Towards the end of the novel, some of the plot seems to fall apart, probably about the last 50ish pages or so. Mara goes off the deep end, and the explanations for the spontaneous combustion just get more and more ridiculous, in my opinion. I'm not sure how I wanted this novel to end, but it just kind of--ended. Normally, I'm a fan of open-ended stories, because it makes you continue to think about the story once it's finished, but this one just felt unfinished, leaving me confused more than anything else. I just wanted a bit more, and I wanted Mara to remain true to her character until the very end.

Despite the plot failings at the end, I still really enjoyed this book, and if you're looking for a fun, humorous read, definitely pick this one up!

4/5 stars

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: We Are the Ants

"Depression isn't a war you win. It's a battle you fight every day. You never stop, never get to rest."
-Shaun David Hutchinson, We Are the Ants

This is another book that I read with my friend Alyssa for a book club that she's doing for one of her classes. It's also a book that I've had my eye on for a while, and I'm glad that I finally got the chance to read it. It definitely didn't disappoint.

Henry Denton has had a rough year. His grandmother's Alzheimer's keeps getting worse, his brother just dropped out of college because his girlfriend is pregnant, his mother is struggling to keep the family together, and his boyfriend committed suicide. Among all of these things, Henry keeps getting abducted by aliens, who have given him the opportunity to save the world from impending disaster. Henry just doesn't know if its worth saving. Until he meets Diego Vega.

This story is just heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Shaun David Hutchinson has crafted a story that feels so realistic, yet it is intertwined with all of these theories about how the world is going to end, theories that pull the reader from important points in the story. In fact, these interruptions coincide with Henry's own interruptions from his own life, giving the reader a glimpse into Henry's mind and thought process. 

It's just so real. I can't really think of any other way to describe this book. Hutchinson's prose makes you feel so many emotions from beginning to end that by the time you finish the book, you are exhausted. Major book hangover. It was hard for me to get into my next book because I was still feeling all of these emotions from We Are the Ants

Hutchinson also deals with suicide in a very realistic and important way. He not only shows how suicide affects the friends and family left behind, but he shows that the depression that Henry's boyfriend (I think it was Jesse?) was feeling wasn't something that was just going to "go away;" it was a sickness, an illness that Jesse had to deal with, but in the end, he wasn't able to. I can't really think of any other YA books that deal with suicide in this way that I've read, and I think it's incredibly important that this one does.

This is a complex, insightful, all-encompassing book that will leave you thinking long after it's over. And maybe even prompt you to want to read it again.

5/5 stars

Friday, November 18, 2016

Review: None of the Above

None of the Above cover
"The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them." 
-I.W. Gregorio, None of the Above

This particular book was on my to-read list for a long time before I actually read it; school mostly got in the way, and then I forgot about it until I wrote an article about gender non-conforming individuals for The Nerdy Book Club (which will be posted on December 3rd). This might be one of the more important books that I've read recently, mostly because of one thing: it features an intersex individual.

Kristin Lattimer was just voted homecoming queen, and it finally feels like her life is going in the direction that she wants it to. The night of the dance, she feels that she's ready to take it to the next step with her boyfriend--but the moment isn't close to what she wanted it to be. Her experience brings her to the doctor, where she learns she is intersex, meaning that though she looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes and some male features. When her identity is outed to the school, Kristin questions her entire identity. Will she be able to continue on the path she was on before, even with everyone knowing the truth?

Aside from the fact that the plot of this novel is a little high school drama-esque, I think everyone should read this book. Intersex individuals are often left out of conversations discussing LGBTQ+ individuals, so most people are very unfamiliar with the identity. Though at times it leans a little more on the medical side, this book is important for teens who possibly find themselves in a similar situation to Kristin and could help them to explain to others exactly what being intersex means. 

I will say that even though I felt bad for the humiliation that Kristin has to endure, at times, she can be a little annoying and whiny. There were a few points in the book where I just wanted to yell "Get over it! You're just making things more difficult for yourself!" It fit the drama-esque tone of the plot, though. 

Overall, despite the flaws in plot, this book is important and shouldn't be left off high school shelves.

4/5 stars

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review: Every Last Word

My good friend Alyssa and I are both bloggers (her blog can be found here), and we decided to read a book together and collaborate on the blog post about it! Alyssa is currently pursuing her Masters at Ohio State in children's/young adult literature, and will eventually earn her PhD and become a professor. We chose Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone because Alyssa is doing research on the way mental illness is portrayed in YA literature, and Every Last Word focuses on a protagonist who struggles with OCD.

Every Last Word cover

A short summary of Every Last Word before I get into my interview with Alyssa: On the surface, Sam seems like all of the other popular girls in her class. However, underneath is a secret that Sam knows none of her popular friends will understand; she struggles with Purely-Obsessional OCD. Though Sam constantly second guesses herself around her friends, she knows that she needs the status associated with them. But when Sam meets Caroline, everything changes. Caroline introduces Sam to a group of misfits who are about to change Sam's life for the good, until she finds a new reason to question her sanity.

For this portion, I'll bold the questions I asked Alyssa, and her responses will appear below.

What aspects did you like best about Every Last Word?

A: I really like how it raised awareness of what OCD can be like for some people. A lot of people associate OCD with the compulsion side (cleaning, frequent washing of hands etc.). Sam's OCD is pure-obessional, which means that it is mostly internal. I think we really see this in the first chapter when she is afraid she'll cut her friend's hair. Also--her room is messy!

We definitely see it more as the novel goes on as well, with her examples of getting obsessed with guys too fast, etc. Going off of that--does Sam's tendancy to over think or over analyze situations make her an unreliable narrator? Why or why not?

A: I definitely thought at the beginning that she was unreliable because she would imagine scenarios and we (readers) wouldn't necessarily know that it was just happening in her head at first. It made me question what was happening at all times. I don't think this unreliability is a fault--it just helps us understand her disorder more.

It reminded me of Challenger Deep in that aspect, because in that book, the hallucinations and reality are woven together, so at times, it's hard to distinguish what is really happening, but it just helps to understand the character better really.

A: I haven't finished Challenger Deep, but I am hoping to soon!

It's so good! But in that vein, how might Every Last Word compare to other YA that features mental illness?

A: I haven't personally seen a lot of books that focus on OCD, so I think that is a unique aspect. Additionally, I really like that we get to see so much of Sam's relationship with her therapist. I think that part is done particularly well. I also think the twist at the end complicates the text in a way that I wasn't anticipating. This book represents mental health in a lot of positive ways, but it also is--at its core--simply a good story.

I agree! I think there's something in this novel for everyone; plus, the writing is done really well.

A: I agree! :)

Okay, final question: did you feel like there was anything missing from the text that should have been included?

A: This is more of something that I wish hadn't been there. There is a romance plot in the book, which is typical of a lot of YA lit. On one hand, I like it because it shows that people with mental health issues are capable and deserving of positive, supportive relationships. On the other hand, I would really like to see more books that feature heterosexual characters of different genders as friends (the reason I say that is because it would be nice for a friendship to exist where the only "reason" it does not evolve into something romance isn't because one of the characters is gay, bi, etc.).

I also wish that we got to hear the stories of the characters in Sam's friend group more. They aren't "evil," but they aren't shed in a good light. I think a lot of people at their school think of Sam the way we think of her friends because of the information given. However, we know that there is much more to Sam than meets the eye--so the same could be for her friends as well.

That's interesting, because we know that one of Sam's other friends is the odd one out too. Having multiple narrators would have definitely added a new perspective!

A: That's true. It might have been a bit much, too. I just always wonder about the other characters.

Especially when they're so one-sided.

A: Indeed!

Our overall consensus was that we would definitely recommend this book, because it brings up so many relevant issues and sheds a positive light on mental illness. Personally, I gave this book 5/5 stars.

You can check out my responses to Alyssa's questions here!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Review: Blankets

Blankets cover
"How satisfying it is to leave a mark on a blank surface. To make a map of my movement--no matter how temporary." -Craig Thompson, Blankets

If you're looking for a book that contains beautiful artwork and an even more beautiful story, you will find it in Craig Thompson's Blankets. Every little detail of this book creates a story about first love that is sure to continue to linger in your mind after you read it. Blankets deserves all of the awards it won back when it was first published.

Blankets follows the story of a first love and a sibling rivalry, placed among the backdrop of a blistery Wisconsin winter and fueled by a young boy's questions of faith. A coming-of-age story that's sure to strike a chord with many of its readers.

First of all, the artwork in this novel is just stunning. Thompson creates the landscape of Midwestern winters so artfully, and intermixes it with designs and symbols that help to create an almost magical feel. I mean, just take a look for yourself:

The artwork creates a setting that engulfs you in the story, that almost makes you feel like you're there with the characters.

The combination of the art and the writing here create a truly artistic experience for the reader. For example:

These types of quotes are interspersed throughout the book, focusing on growing up, first love, family loyalty, etc. They make the story relatable, they engross you in the story. I just can't say enough good things about this book. If you haven't read it yet, go and read it. Immediately.

5/5 stars