real-talk YA book reviews

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let it snow

Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp half gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2008

The blurb: “Sparkling white snowdrifts, beautiful presents wrapped in ribbons, and multicolored lights glittering in the night through the falling snow. A Christmas Eve snowstorm transforms one small town into a romantic haven, the kind you see only in movies. Well, kinda. After all, a cold and wet hike from a stranded train through the middle of nowhere would not normally end with a delicious kiss from a charming stranger. And no one would think that a trip to the Waffle House through four feet of snow would lead to love with an old friend. Or that the way back to true love begins with a painfully early morning shift at Starbucks. Thanks to three of today’s bestselling teen authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle—the magic of the holidays shines on these hilarious and charming interconnected tales of love, romance, and breathtaking kisses.”

               Hey, everybody! I’m college now! I’m posting this from my dorm as my dream catcher lays on the desk beside me because my command hook wasn’t man enough to stay on my cinderblock wall. If anybody knows of a satanic substance that will stick to the unstickable, please let me know, because this situation is unnacceptable. But anyhoo, on to the book. 

                Let It Snow was not as mushy as the blurb makes it sound. The only author of the three that I had any past experience with was John Green, but Johnson and Myracle passed the test—they fit in easily at the lunch table of the witty and talented YA writers that I already know and love.

                I liked and felt a connection to all three of the protagonists, and all three of the love stories were excellently fresh and strong— there’s a case to be made for formulaic swoony romances, but these connections weren’t those. Myracle’s story was the closest to that swoony zone, and I’ve been given to understand that some readers found it the weakest of the three, but I thought it was sincerely sweet and dodged clichés as well as the other two.

                The interweaving of the three stories was also very well and naturally done. If this book had been sold as the work of a single author, I think I would have believed it. Each story had its own flavor, but they tossed together into a tastefully cohesive salad. With the added bonus of the snowy, hot-chocolatey winter theme, this is the perfect pick for cold blanket-pile days and summery imaginings alike.

Special Awards:

sqee  Squee for romantic prowess.

comedy mask ROFL award because although I didn’t laugh out loud a lot, there was a lot of witty humor, especially in Green’s section.

What’s super fun and closing in three days? The I’ll Be the Judge Flash Fiction Flash Contest! You still have time to send me a super-short story!


queen geekEnjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts:brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 319  Copyright: 2006

          The blurb: If you’re somebody like Shelby Chappelle, a smart, witty, pretty geek army of one, you can’t just put a poster up at school and advertise for somebody to be your best friend. But now freakishly tall Becca Gallagher has moved to town, with her dragon tattoo and wild ideas. Suddenly Shelby’s mad scientist father and their robot, Euphoria, seem normal. They become best friends instantly. But Becca wants to shake things up at school and look for “others of our kind”…and decides to form the Queen Geek Social Club. The thing is, this guy Fletcher Berkowitz keeps nosing around, asking lots of questions about the Club. He’s cute, and interesting, and possibly likes Shelby. Therefore, she must torture him. One good thing about being a loner: no one can break your heart.” (NOTE: this book is actually the first in a trilogy, though it pretty much stands on its own.)

          I read the first few pages of The Queen Geek Social Club in a second-hand bookstore and was immediately captivated by Shelby. She was a girl who embodied a certain combination of traits that creators of fiction are too often unwilling to allow coexistence: interested in dating and relatively traditionally feminine, on the outskirts of high school society, and confident and powerful. And that’s pretty much the premise of the book: girls organizing to be powerful feminine geeks.

          In practice, the story had a certain safeness that kept it from reaching the full battle cry of edginess that girl-crusaders can rally behind. The problem is that I couldn’t fully buy in to Shelby (and her friends)’s geekhood. There were references to her liking old sci-fi movies, and each of her friends had their “thing”—colorful hair, intensely Type-A personality, passion for dark poetry—but I felt more like I was being told they were eccentric and expected to believe it than actually being shown the money. I would have liked their characters to have delved deeper beyond simple stock-quirk appearances and to have seemed like more genuine representations of the many kinds of girl that feel high school is not their turf.

          Even so, the heart was definitely in the right place in this book, and the message was, overall, executed in a way that I loved. The Queen Geeks recognized the pitfalls of teen girl life and fought against them without attempting to force themselves unnaturally in the other direction. Preble gives them permission to be everything: susceptible to the allure of cute boys, but determined not to change to impress them or to allow their lives to revolve around them. Put off by the negative messages of fashion magazines, but still inclined to spend a little too long choosing the perfect ensemble for an important social event. Smart, but not always glued to a textbook.

          Both Shelby and Becca’s difficulties with their family situations added depth to them and highlighted their complexities. Despite not really having that much in common with Shelby, I actually related to her a lot. I really enjoyed the friendship between the two, and I enjoyed waiting to see what Becca’s next Geek campaign would be, and how the group’s image in the eyes of the school would evolve.

          There was a slight packaged flavor to this book that kept it from fully blowing up for me, but there was a positivity, sweetness, and sense of fun that made me glad I read it.

          Don’t forget to send me your super-short story for the Flash Fiction Flash Contest!


A really awesome messEnjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 288   Copyright: 2013

     The Blurb: “Two teenagers. Two very bumpy roads taken that lead to Heartland Academy.
Justin was just having fun, but when his dad walked in on him with a girl in a very compromising position, Justin’s summer took a quick turn for the worse. His parents’ divorce put Justin on rocky mental ground, and after a handful of Tylenol lands him in the hospital, he has really hit rock bottom.

Emmy never felt like part of her family. She was adopted from China. Her parents and sister tower over her and look like they came out of a Ralph Lauren catalog– and Emmy definitely doesn’t. After a scandalous photo of Emmy leads to vicious rumors around school, she threatens the boy who started it all on Facebook.

Justin and Emmy arrive at Heartland Academy, a reform school that will force them to deal with their issues, damaged souls with little patience for authority. But along the way they will find a ragtag group of teens who are just as broken, stubborn, and full of sarcasm as themselves. In the end, they might even call each other friends.
A funny, sad, and remarkable story, A Really Awesome Mess is a journey of friendship and self-discovery that teen readers will surely sign up for.”

             I really enjoyed this book. It was a page turner for me, which is odd, since it wasn’t overtly suspenseful; but I guess because the characters were constantly and rapidly evolving, I was eager to see what the next shift would be for each of them.

            As an “issues book”, I don’t think A Really Awesome Mess was much of a groundbreaker. I liked the way anorexia was represented, because like Natasha Friend’s Perfect, it delved deeper into the affliction and explored causes other than the simple desire to meet societal depictions of female beauty. Yes, Emmy is insecure about her weight, but that insecurity stems from a much more complex knot of emotions within her and events in her life. But overall, the image of adolescent mental health issues risked coming off campy—a motley crew of unlikely friends, some heart to hearts, big revelations on top of Ferris wheels… I struggled to be 100% convinced. Still, it’s great to show teens that their problems are surmountable, and since I’ve been lucky enough not to deal with any of the circumstances represented, so I can’t really know how realistic it was or wasn’t.

            But as a teenage friendship adventure, I was sold. Each member of the Heartland Academy crew brought something different to the table (except for possibly Chip. I might have cut him… he was the least unique and the most dispensable for me. Sorry, Chip), and their personalities continually intermingled and bounced off each other in unpredictable ways.

            The shenanigans, also, were on point. The pandemonium that breaks out near the middle of the book was pretty delightful. Altogether, though it may not have revolutionized the way I see the world or set a massive unprecedented fire of inspiration ablaze, it was a very fun and well-done book that I thoroughly recommend.


9464733

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain2half brain outlinebrain outline transp 2

Pages: 400    Copyright: 2011

“The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream Pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?”           

                My expectations were awfully high.

                And not just because of that flawless, flawless cover art. Going Bovine is on the short list for my favorite books of ALL TIME. Like, I had to go to the sock superstore after I read Going Bovine, because it knocked all of mine off.

                Beauty Queens just wasn’t Going Bovine—it clearly wasn’t trying to be. Going Bovine explores the very nature of life, death, and the universe. Beauty Queens is a wacky, light-hearted comedy that also aims to bring up important social issues. But, unfortunately, even taking the difference in mission into account, Beauty Queens didn’t quite measure up for me.

              The central problem was heavy-handedness. Yes, the book is funny, and yes it handles social issues fairly well and is fearless about it, but at times, it was like the spice shakers got knocked over and spilled way more into the mixer than the recipe called for. Some of the moments of ditsyness from pageant girls or government agents just made me groan (“Um, I forgot. Why can’t we drink the ocean water again?”), and there were SO MANY social issues packed in, it risked being more a pamphlet than a novel. Sexism, racism, body images, homosexuality, transgenderism, hearing impairment, slut shaming, loss of virginity, sex ed in schools, teen pregnancy, the ugly side of capitalism, the ugly side of US foreign policy, the evils of the beauty industry, environmental destruction, displacement of native peoples, animal testing… oy. Maybe we should take it one book at a time? No one loves to be preached to.

               I really did love all of the messages Beauty Queens was sending; and most of the stuff I’ve written lately has had a political message at its core, so I definitely get the inclination to write that way. But there was just no subtlety whatsoever, and it was a little wearying. Maybe I felt a little condescended to, like it was intended for a younger reader in need of education.

               I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy Beauty Queens. The plot twisted enough to keep things fresh, the characters were strong enough that I wanted good things for them, and it was fun to see how pageant supplies– and pageant girls– were re-purposed for jungle survival. It was a good book to have with me during my recent travels, and it would be a pretty ideal beach read. But my socks stayed on my feet. If you only have time for one book, make it Going Bovine.


     Every Tuesday, the site The Broke and the Bookish posts a prompt for a top-ten-style list, and book bloggers around the web respond to it on their blogs. This week the prompt is Top Ten Books on your Spring TBR (to be read) list.

   Despite my valiant attempts to wear skirts and dresses, it’s still a little frigid to start any peppy Spring musical numbers with the birds and squirrels. Even so, a new season of reading is quickly heading our way, bringing, as always, many, many enticing titles. Here are the books I can’t wait to get my hands on this Spring.

United-we-spy_612x918beauty A really awesome mess

file92862 The Night Circus UK 15749186

  1. United We Spy by Ally Carter. I have it out from the library, but I’m making slow progress because I hate books that are the last in the series. Even if I feel ready to let the series wrap up, the sense of finality that permeates such books just gives me stress.

  2. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray. I loved Going Bovine so much, but I have yet to try her arguably more trumpeted and very intriguing work.

  3. A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin. I had heard good things about this book and was already interested, but when I realized it was by the same authors as Notes from the Blender, that sealed the deal.

  4. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell. I’ve read her other two, and kind of doubt Fangirl is going to be toppled from its position as my favorite, but we’ll see.

  5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve been ordered to read this book, it sounds pretty shiny and glamorous, and it’s pulling a relatively positive reaction from the often cranky folks on Goodreads, so I think I’ll give this a try.

  6. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. Apparently Jenny Han is very popular and has been compared to Sarah Dessen. And the premise for this one is very intriguing.

       There are some great covers in there, too. Can I somehow expand my mind to read them all at once? No? Well, I’ll get to them all eventually.


Untitled-1Enjoyability:      smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 352   Copyright: 2014

                The synopsis: “Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

              Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

             When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.” Note: Being Sloane Jacobs is told in alternating POV between the two Sloanes.

                This book had a polished finish and a sense of a strong, professional command over the writing and the story. However, I was prevented from giving it my all-out affection by some nagging issues in the plot.

                Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon were well-developed as clearly distinct from each other, and unlike a certain dystopian trilogy-finale that I will not be speaking of, I never had to flip back to the start of the chapter to check whose perspective I was reading from. The girls’ backstories were nicely woven in at choice moments to the adventure. I also really enjoyed reading the details of life at both camps, and the author seemed well informed about both hockey and figure skating—at the very least, enough to satisfy a reader who knows nothing about either.

                Here’s the hitch: like I said, I know nothing about either skating or hockey, but I have the impression they are very different from each other. They don’t even use the same kind of ice skate. So do I really buy that a girl who’s never worn figure skates before, hasn’t even had a dance lesson, could show up to a figure skating camp with nothing but a late-night, Youtube-fueled hotel room crash course under her belt, and not only pass as a skater, but actually be a competitive threat to kids who have been skating since before they could read? Kids who are probably aiming for the Olympics? I’m sorry, but no. No, I really don’t. Sloane Emily at least had a childhood as the sibling of a hockey star, so I’m a little more willing to buy her transformation, but I doubt it was entirely plausible either. These sports take time! No matter how much effort you gush out, there’s only so much you can speed up the process. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief quite that far.

                The other thing that bugged me is the fact that both Sloanes had boy drama. We all know I love a good romance, but it felt forced or gratuitous, like the author believed you can’t have a female protagonist without a love interest. These were short camps, and the girls had enough going on without juggling guys. If it had been me, I would have kept Sloane Devon’s relationship and cut Sloane Emily’s. Hers seemed rushed and unbelievable to me—they formed an awfully strong attachment based on only one or two menial interactions. I mean, Matt (the “hockey hottie”) kind of gave up his whole player lifestyle for Sloane. Why? Was she really that bewitching? And if it wasn’t Sloane Emily that made him change, what was it? I feel like we learned nothing about what makes Matt tick or what he wants from life. Sloane Devon’s romance was a lot more organic.

                I guess I tend to like Wicked-esque stories of two opposites meeting and changing each other for the better, and that’s what the Sloanes had. When all is said and done, this was a fun and engaging story about leaving your comfort zone and finding new facets of yourself because of it. I give this book the green light, but with a grain of salt. The details of the plot could have used another edit.


katherines Enjoyability:     smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 229   Copyright: 2006

        Colin Singleton has been two things all his life: a child prodigy, and a dater of Katherines. He has been romantically involved with nineteen girls over the course of his existence thus far, and all of them have been named Katherine– there just seems to be a correlation between the name and his compatibility with them. But now he’s been dumped by K-19, devastatingly ending the longest and most serious Katherine situation yet, and with his high school diploma in hand, his prodigy status is quickly becoming a thing of the past. 

      Seeing his emotional deterioration, Colin’s best (and only) friend Hassan, an overweight wise-cracking Muslim with a slacker attitude, peels him off his bedroom floor and takes him on a road trip. They have no idea at the start that they’ll end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, living in a pink mansion, working on an amateur oral history project, and in Colin’s case, attempting to formulate a Theorum of Underlying Katherine Predictability that will explain why he’s a perennial Dumpee, and might finally transform him from has-been prodigy to legitimate genius. 

     This is it, folks. The John Green book that I can unconditionally love. No death or destruction. Just pure unadulterated writing prowess, loveable characters, and quirky, unforgettable plot. I love premises that make you go “wow, I’ve never heard that before!”, and a guy dating only Katherines fits that bill; even better, the rest of the story lives up to the premise and matches it in originality. It doesn’t rest on those laurels like some flashy-premise books do, but keeps on bringing it, with Colin’s prodigy-hood and his fun footnotes1, Hassan and his constant jokes about his religion, the people of Gutshot, etc. Also, I think one of my favorite things about John Green is how he writes male friendships. Hassan and Colin has excellent friend-chemistry.

     I’ve been reading complaints that people thought Colin was whiny and unlikeable, but I disagree. Whiny, yes, but that’s the point. He has enough good qualities and supporting characters (and people calling him on it) to balance it out. I thought he seemed like a good guy at the core, and I was rooting for him. I also really enjoyed the Katherine stories that were smattered throughout the book– it was artful of John Green to do it that way, rather than just info-dumping the full Katherine lineup in the beginning. It was a good framework to keep things moving.

     If I have one big criticism for the book, it’s this: if I was a girl named Katherine, and a guy asked me out only to later admit that he’s dated as many as eighteen other Katherines before me, I  would run. I don’t believe that those girls would hear that and not assume he was some creep who ONLY liked them for their name. I could be talked into it with the magic of suspension of disbelief, I guess, but the book never addressed the issue even once. Maybe it was an issue of an adult man not being able to entirely sense the viewpoint of a teenage girl. But ah well.

     An Abundance of Katherines was short and sweet, and it’s definitely my favorite of the John Green books I’ve read. I hope he does more like this in the future and steers away from Depressingville. But that’s just me.

Special Awards:

comedy mask  ROFL award– Okay, it didn’t actually make me roll on the floor, but it did make me chuckle.

music notes Lyrical Award, just because John’s writing is always so slick. It disappears into the story.

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1Incidentally, I’m currently reading ANOTHER novel that uses footnotes (I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella). How strange is that? I like them; they really add whimsy.