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!


all in need

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transp half graysmile transp graysmile transp gray

Deep Thoughts: brain2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2brain outline transp 2

Pages: 240   Copyright: 2013

The blurb: “Love is a journey with endless possibilities.

Skye wants to meet the boy who will change her life forever. Seth feels their instant connection the second he sees her. When Seth starts talking to Skye at the last beach party of the summer, it’s obvious to both of them that this is something real. But when Seth leaves for college before they exchange contact info, Skye wonders if he felt the same way she did—and if she will ever see him again. Even if they find their way back to each other, can they make a long-distance relationship work despite trust issues, ex drama, and some serious background differences?”

             Rachel, if you’re here, thank you so much for letting me borrow this, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me for the skeptical review ahead.

           Here comes the skepticism: hmmmmmm.

            I am a big romantic, and usually very generous when it comes to stretching of reality in love stories (I will defend Marius and Cosette’s insta-love to my deathbed.) But right off the bat, this one was a little shaky for me. Seth falls in love at first sight with Skye in a big way, and she goes along with it because she was already on the lookout for a summer love, which I get, but it was still all pretty speedy.

Omigod, technology is like, so fake??? We’re not like other teenagers, we’re like really special???

            Then there’s the fact that this was truly a pure romance book, in that there was really nothing else to the plot other than the progression of Skye and Seth’s relationship. Technically there was friend drama for Skye and college drama for Seth, but those storylines took a big backseat and were more like icing. That might have been okay, except for that their love story was so… simple. There wasn’t any kind of a twist, you know? They were just two regular American kids who started talking, liked each other, and went on cute dates. Neither of them was a werewolf, or a pop star, or a foreign exchange student. They didn’t meet at an airport or as swimmers on rival swim teams. Normally when somebody asks you “what’s that book about?”, you can give them a one-sentence premise that explains what the twist is, what’s interesting about this particular story. I guess for All I Need, it would be that they meet on vacation and then are separated without contact information, but (spoiler alert) that only lasts a few chapters. Then they’re still doing long-distance, but it doesn’t even really quite go there, because they’re close enough to see each other nearly every week.

            But I’ve read a few other people’s reviews, and one of the most common comments is also the one that is loudest in my own mind: the message tied up with the title is really very troubling. Skye literally says at one point that Seth’s love is “all I need.” Seth acts out a similar sentiment by frequently feeling guilty for choosing college-related opportunities that could be vital to his future over free time to be with Skye, and even begins to actively eschew those opportunities in favor of Skye. When Skye’s parents express concern for Skye over the same issue, they’re depicted as grumpy cynics who just don’t understand about true love. Near the climax of the story, Skye actually makes a MASSIVE life decision against what really interests her, so that she can be near Seth instead. And this is never depicted as a problem.

            No!! No, no, no! Young(-er than me) girls, if you are reading this review, please do not be Skye!

            Some people really do meet the loves of their lives when they’re teenagers, but even if you’re in that minority, it’s only true love if it stretches and flexes and waits to allow you to live your life the way you would if you were flying solo. When you’re a married adult, you make compromises in your choices to consider your spouse, but when you’re a 17-year-old who met a cute guy on the beach, you live your own dang life.

            Romantic love is not All You Need. Romantic love will not fix all your problems, and romantic love does not negate the need for fulfilling creative expression, a satisfying career, close friendships. There is even a large community of people who aren’t interested in romantic love in their lives at all, ever. This kind of harmful love-aholic message is exactly what the romantic genre is criticized and reviled for. Most of the time those allegations are uninformed and incorrect. Here, though, I was very hard-put to defend.

            Things that went right: Skye and Seth were both well-formed and distinct from each other. Their voices were different enough that I didn’t get lost in the alternating-voices format. Their friends, though secondary characters, were also well-developed and very interesting. And Skye and Seth did seem to be pretty supportive of each other, when not discussing opportunities that would separate them.

           I just couldn’t help but feel that this book was doing exactly the things that YA needs to be steering away from. I really enjoyed Susane’s book When it Happens, and I don’t remember being troubled by the themes in that one. I think she may have just gotten a little carried away here with the cute factor and stumbled into a bad territory.


15749186

Enjoyability:       smile transpsmile transpsmile transpsmile transp graysmile transp gray

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

Pages: 355   Copyright: 2014

               Lara Jean Covey is not a big fan of change. Her two sisters and her father have been comfortingly stable since her mother died, and now that her older sister Margot is going off to college in Scotland, she’s praying for some of her past to stay alive with her as she enters her junior year of high school.

                You know what they say: be careful what you wish for. Because Lara Jean’s wish comes true in a way she didn’t bargain for. She keeps five sealed unmailed letters in a hatbox in her closet: love letters to each of the boys she has loved. When she seals each letter, she says goodbye to the boy to whom it is addressed and moves on with her life. But when the letters are accidentally and mysteriously mailed, all that closure is suddenly blown wide open, and Lara Jean ends up in a strange situation with a boy from her childhood in an effort to hide the truth from a boy with an even older presence in her story.

                I’ve heard Jenny Han’s name before, but this was the first of her work that I’ve read. I really enjoyed it. In one way, none of the characters felt quite overwhelmingly realistic and breathing enough for me to lose myself in the world of the story or even to relate to them. But I did like that they had unexpected angles and that they had personalities of their own, rather than being empty vessels in which to insert people I know. At times I felt distant from Lara Jean, when she was prim or fussy in a very different way from me. But at other times, I could totally empathize with her—like when she felt pigeonholed as naïve and uptight, or when she otherwise struggled with her image.

                The thing that struck me as most refreshingly realistic about this book was the portrayal of young people’s relationships—not romantically, just in general. Lara Jean’s best friend Chris is sort of a “bad girl” who drinks alcohol, goes to crazy parties, and has lots of jaded and cynical (and perportedly experience-based) opinions about sex, but despite Lara Jean being so not like that, they’re still close, because they got to truly know each other when they were younger. Their friendship was unlike any I’ve seen really ever before in YA. Her interactions with Peter, a neighborhood friend turned popular sports guy, was similarly refreshing and evolved in really unexpected ways.

                There was something very sweet and sincere about this book. It also had strong plot flow and really kept me reading—the story never stayed too long in one place. It wasn’t a total stoundout for me, because I often felt aware that I was reading a story rather than losing myself in the world; but I’m not at all sorry that I read it, and I look forward to the resolution in the sequel next year.

                  PS: I love the cover. The model looks perfect for Lara Jean, and the title script seriously looks like they wrote it on with a Sharpie. Like, seriously. How do they do that? Look closely and you’ll see what I mean. The ink gets lighter and darker where it crosses or loops, like a marker does with varying hand pressure.

                 PPS Confession: The name Lara Jean annoys me. Sorry if any of my readers are named that. You have my permission to be annoyed by my name if you need retribution.


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.