REVIEW: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

From Goodreads:

This is a world divided by blood – red or silver.

The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the22328546 poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.

That is, until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.

Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view, declaring her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince. Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime.

But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance – Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart …

I picked up Red Queen at Yallfest. It’s one of the books I was most excited to read. I had heard so many good things and there’s just a general thrilling buzz surrounding it. Naturally, I had super high expectations for it as a result.

So when I read it, and wasn’t really that into it, I was surprised. I mean, I like it enough, but it wasn’t the visceral, full-body OHMYGOD that it had been puffed up to be. I liked the ending a lot more than the book as a whole. I think the ending must be what people are talking about when they describe how awesome it is. It really surprised me in the best ways, it was a total twist of the experience.

But I want to get back to the parts I didn’t totally love. It just felt like The Hunger Games, but everything was 25 percent different. So instead of the Capital and the Districts, there are the Reds and the Silvers. And instead of having a public Hunger Games, Mare gets thrown into this private war of survival. There’s the fact that she’s torn between two dudes. These are trends in YA that we see again and again. I’m not necessarily mad about these recurring themes—they’re recurring because they work so well—but it just wasn’t what I was expecting from this book. To its credit, these are all taken in radically new directions—which is what needs to happen when you’re using these constructs—but the storylines and characters, with a couple exceptions, don’t show their complications until the end of the story. I wish I had seen a bit more of that earlier. That was a choice, though, to make the readers think they’ve got everything figured out and then at the last minute, yank the rug out from under them. I get it, and the ending makes it work, but I wish the build-up had a little bit more going on.

I also felt like the book did a lot of over-explaining. I understand the inclination to spell thoughts and feelings out. You want to make sure you’re understood, but one of the best parts of reading is figuring those things out for yourself. It’s like gathering intel from weird looks and subtle dialogue.

That being said, I liked the book for the most part. The characters are intriguing and diverse and I want to know more about the society in which they live. It definitely gripped me, just maybe not as much as I had hoped it would. Are there things I wish were done differently? Yes, but it was still a fun read and I’ll probably read the next one!

 

 

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Review: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick

From Goodreads:

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
– find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
– need a liver transplant
– drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:18392495
– well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more.

You all know that I’m a sucker for Huntley Fitzpatrick. I impatiently awaited My Life Next Door and when it came out, I couldn’t deal. The same goes for What I Thought Was True and The Boy Most Likely To. I think she has an ability to taper down and find the root of people’s desires and write about them in appealingly realistic ways.

I am really afraid of spoiling this book, because it achieves what most contemporary novels don’t—it has crazy cliffhangers! SO I have to be vague, and I apologize.

What I like most about The Boy Most Likely To  is that it brings up questions about myself that I hadn’t thought to ask. Like, what would I do if I messed up this big? Or, how would I react if the person I wanted to be with had this unexpected, implacable baggage? WHAT WOULD I DO? But it also seeks to answer smaller, more universal questions that we all have to ask at some point. Who is worth forgiving? At what point is someone so far gone that they can’t be changed? Who’s worth fighting for? Am I worth fighting for?

And I like that about Fitzpatrick’s books. She doesn’t shy away from what’s heavy. She writes for a younger audience, but she doesn’t discredit them by ignoring broad, sweeping topics. She gets real, you guys. But she peppers her ~realness~ with humor, often in the forms of funny little kids, which is such an effective element, particularly in this book.

I like almost everything about this book. I think the characters are real, complex and flawed and I enjoyed re-entering the world of the Garretts that was established in My Life Next Door. It’s almost like a sequel, but with different leading characters and—dare I say it? A better story. I think Fitzpatrick’s plot works because she takes a storyline that you might think is a cliché, but she flips it on its head and makes it new. I think the same can be said of her other books as well.

The one aspect of her book that I’m not on board with is the way that some of her characters occasionally speak. Tim, in particular, nicknames almost every person he meets. I think that was Fitzpatrick’s attempt to make Tim feel 17 and young and flip, but I wasn’t convinced. I don’t think immediately nicknaming people comes naturally. I could see him giving a couple key characters nicknames out of fondness and after some time, but not everyone. It was a bit exhausting.

But other than that, I truly adored reading The Boy Most Likely To. Fitzpatrick crafted a deeply consuming story with characters I feel like I know. She gives girls an awesome role model in Alice and shows what certain sacrifices may be worth making. She’s finding my generation’s stories and she’s unabashedly flexing that for the world. We need books like this, ones that will give credit where credit’s due, and tell the stories we didn’t know we needed to be told.

I don’t know if that really sums up my feeling toward The Boy Most Likely To, so I’ll end it with this: The book just worked for me. It isn’t perfect and there are definitely parts that I would change, but the heart of it is just what I wanted. I feel like it understands me and I understand it, and that’s what we all want from a good book, right?

Review: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

From Goodreads:

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in 20821376rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

Meg Wolitzer’s young adult novel Belzhar has been poised at the top of my TBR pile since its release this time last year. But I hesitated. The summary is vague, I’m not that into Sylvia Plath (though since reading this book I might be). And, I have a hard time buying hardcover books—the paperback version isn’t out yet—because my name isn’t Colette MoneyBags Whitney. Let’s face it, hardcover books require the blood of your best friend’s first born. And I’m not into that. Also, my best friend doesn’t have any kids.

But then someone bought it for me. So no innocent blood needed. 

When I finished the book, my first thought was that it really reminded me of We Were Liars. You know how that book is told out of order and is pretty twisted and suspenseful? Well, Belzhar is basically We Were Liars minus the really twisted aspects, plus excellent characterization and a better story overall (imho).

The premise is that this girl, Jam, gets sent to a school for grieving teens because her boyfriend died and she doesn’t know how to deal. So she goes to this school, gets placed in a special English class for which she and her classmates have to write in  journals. It’s just that those journals aren’t normal; they transport the teenagers to an alternate reality, one in which their individual tragedies cease to exist. But when the glory of the journals transforms into something dark and strange, they’re each confronted with a choice.

I like this book for a lot of reasons. I think it’s an original story with ties to reality and to the past, which always makes a story richer and gives it permanence. I like how Wolitzer interweaves a fantastical idea—that of an alternate reality—with the cold, devastating truths of mortality and betrayal. In that way, an overdone story (dead boyfriend, divorced parents, etc.) becomes new and fresh and alive. It’s cool, it’s like a contemporary fantasy/reality fiction hybrid (again, there is probably a word for this and I need someone to please tell me).

I also think Wolitzer must have had a great time writing it. Some of the best books, the books that break your heart and stay with you, are those that begin or culminate in some kind of tragedy. Think Harry Potter, Graceling, any John Green book, The Boy Next Door, etc. And in Belzhar, Wolitzer gets to write a different, crashing tragedy for each character. That must be thrilling when you get it right, when you really nail a sad story and you know it’s going to get genuine reactions out of people. That has to be a great feeling.

Anyways, I really enjoyed reading Belzhar. I think it was thoughtful and respectful of the trauma that some teenagers unfortunately experience. There’s a weird thing that sometimes happens when teenagers get emotional or get sad or get depressed. Adults tend to disregard it, or try to minimize their suffering, which is totally not fair because when you’re a teenager, the smallest bad thing can be devastating and that’s okay. I think you’re allowed to be a little irrational at that age and I don’t think that occasional irrationality gives anyone the right to make light of truly, inarguably tragic things when they inevitably do happen.

I think Wolitzer understands that and through Belzhar, starts a new dialogue about how teenagers move through suffering. And how they make it out.

REVIEW: Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu

From Goodreads:

Montana and her sister, Arizona, are named after the mountainous states their mother left them for. But Montana is a New York City girl through and through, and as the city heats up, she’s stepping into the most intense summer of her life.

With Arizona wrapped up in her college world and their father distracted by yet another 22011484divorce, Montana’s been immersing herself in an intoxicating new friendship with a girl from her acting class. Karissa is bold, imperfectly beautiful, and unafraid of being vulnerable. She’s everything Montana would like to become. But the friendship with Karissa is driving a wedge between Montana and her sister, and the more of her own secrets Karissa reveals, the more Montana has to wonder if Karissa’s someone she can really trust.

In the midst of her uncertainty, Montana finds a heady distraction in Bernardo. He’s serious and spontaneous, and he looks at Montana in the way she wants to be seen. For the first time, Montana understands how you can become both lost and found in somebody else. But when that love becomes everything, where does it leave the rest of her imperfect life?

The back cover copy of Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu really convinced my that I would not like it. I am not a huge fan of supposedly intoxicating summer stories, just because they’re usually cliched and riddled with stereotypes. Making Pretty has a lot of that going on, especially with its crazy first relationship and friend drama.

Montana’s story is one about love and friendship, but it’s an even more thorough commentary on her family, how it’s cracked and different and okay.

The only parts in the book that I truly enjoyed are her family moments. I thought the love interest was overdone and a little bit too cheesy for my taste. The tension between Montana and Karissa is pretty interesting and kept me flipping pages. But the family moments, they are the most honest and intriguing.

Making Pretty definitely is not one of my favorite books of the year, but I still enjoyed it. Haydu has excellent one-liners and is really great at setting the scene in unexpected ways. If you are a fan of summer stories or New York stories and have some time on your hands, definitely check this out.

REVIEW: “Anatomy of a Misfit” by Andrea Portes

From Goodreads:

This emotional, hilarious, devastating, and ultimately triumphant YA debut, based on actual events, recounts one girl’s rejection of her high school’s hierarchy—and her discovery of her true self in the face of tragedy.

Fall’s buzzed-about, in-house favorite.

Outside, Anika Dragomir is all lip gloss and blond hair—the third most popular girl in school. Inside, she’s a freak: a mix of dark thoughts, diabolical plots, and, if local chatter is to be believed, vampire DNA (after all, her father is Romanian). But she keeps it under wraps to maintain her social position. One step out of line and Becky Vilhauer, first most popular girl in18340210 school, will make her life hell. So when former loner Logan McDonough shows up one September hotter, smarter, and more mysterious than ever, Anika knows she can’t get involved. It would be insane to throw away her social safety for a nerd. So what if that nerd is now a black-leather-jacket-wearing dreamboat, and his loner status is clearly the result of his troubled home life? Who cares if the right girl could help him with all that, maybe even save him from it? Who needs him when Jared Kline, the bad boy every girl dreams of, is asking her on dates? Who?

Anatomy of a Misfit is Mean Girls meets The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Anika’s hilariously deadpan delivery will appeal to readers for its honesty and depth. The so-sad-it’s-funny high school setting will pull readers in, but when the story’s dark foreboding gradually takes over, the devastating penultimate tragedy hits like a punch to the gut. Readers will ride the highs and lows alongside funny, flawed Anika — from laughter to tears, and everything in between.

“Anatomy of a Misfit” is one of the books I was given at the Epic Reads Fall Book Tour. I finished it about a week ago, and I have been struggling with what to say about it since. When I met Andrea Portes, she said that her book is based on a true story, something that happened to her in high school, and this book was her way of telling it.

I liked the book. I liked what she was trying to do. It’s told in first-person, through the voice of Anika, a 15-year-old girl struggling to sustain her popularity despite her “vampire” Romanian ancestry.

My only problem with it is the language. So much of how the characters speak to each other is in this strange, supposedly “high school” way of talking and I just didn’t buy it. The diction was so simplified that I had a hard time connecting with it at certain points. I understand what she was trying to do, I’m just not sure I agree with it or its effectiveness.

Despite that, the novel is an intriguing analysis on modern-day high school behaviors. I say analysis, because that’s really what it is. It’s not necessarily a plot-driven book; it’s much more observant and powered by hindsight.

While I was at times a bit distracted by the language, for the most part, I loved the book. It’s entertaining and brave.

I’m really excited because I am doing a presentation on “Anatomy of a Misfit” for my YA lit class and I can’t wait to share it with my peers and see what they have to say about what it (and see what they disagree with me about!).

Thoughts on “The Berlin Boxing Club,” Holocaust books as a genre (?), and my YA lit class

This semester, I am enrolled in a Young Adult literature course, which I have to say, is pretty rad. We’re reading one book each week, analyzing characters and plot constructs and examining them through less obvious lenses. I like to think I know a good amount about the genre, but this class is structured and taught in a really innovative way, so it’s going to be a new experience. And I’ll probably learn that I actually know nothing. It’s all good. The teacher rocks, which I firmly believe makes a class worthwhile.

The first book we read was “Between Shades of Gray” by Ruta Sepetys, and then “The Berlin Boxing Club” by Robert Sharenow, which I just finished earlier today. I’m feeling quite raw. It’s been a bit since I finished “Between Shades of Gray,” so I won’t spend much time on it, but I will say it was an incredible and harrowing historical fiction novel about the atrocities committed against the Baltic nations by the NKVD and then by the KGB. I don’t know why we aren’t taught about the Baltic genocides in schools, but they happened and they shouldn’t be ignored anymore. Sepetys, who has Lithuanian roots, traced her family’s history and from that, drew inspiration for her novel. I was entranced by her story. It affected me in odd ways, in that I felt guilty for being so ignorant, while also feeling hopeful. Hopeful about what, I can’t pin down. But I think that’s the main point of the book: to persist in hoping. For whatever it is you want. Her characters and words are ravaged by an indomitable hope that inevitably gives them the strength to keep on going. Everyone should read this. 

Moving on…

Berlin_Boxing_Club_final_jkt[1]

“The Berlin Boxing Club.” Sheesh. I wasn’t really amped to read this, and then I read the first chapter and I was hooked. Karl is a 14 year-old German kid, totally in love with his hot neighbor and her tight sweaters and itching to distance himself from his gallery-owner dad. He has a relatively normal life in 1930s Berlin. He’s technically Jewish, but he’s never gone to a synagogue before and was raised to be agnostic. And he has blonde hair and blue eyes. Then Hitler comes into power and hints of aggression against Jewish people start growing in intensity until one day, his peers beat hom   up for being Jewish. 

I just love this book because it shows readers a new perspective on what it was like to be a Jewish kid in Nazi Germany. We have great and incredible books like Anne Frank’s diary and “Number the Stars,” but most literature is largely from the point of view of devout Jewish people. That’s not bad in any way, but looking at things and events in a new way is always a good thing. 

Karl is a character you can empathize with. He has family issues, questions about his friends, girl problems and a hard time figuring out who he is, all of which most people can understand. And giving us a story about Nazi Germany, through the voice and mind of such a relatable kid is almost more impactful than other Holocaust books. I don’t know what it’s like to be prosecuted. But I do know what it’s like to struggle with identity and friends and boys. I easily connect. You know what I mean? 

If you only read one book this year, read this one.

How Not to Write a First Novel — Lev Grossman via Buzzfeed

I don’t care what people say about BuzzFeed, I love it. I’m a sucker for it. Their extravagantly comical Matt Bellassai with his always on-point One Direction lists and their endless quizzes enchant my soul. But what I like most are their less frequent, equally entertaining, and doubly insightful feature pieces. Like this one by Lev Grossman: “How Not to Write a First Novel.”

It’s great, I mean really thoughtful and intelligent and enlightening. BuzzFeed has a unique opportunity in the world of digital media. They never had to deal with a transition from paper to the Web. They have practically unlimited space and a dedicated readership that they gained through their silly, albeit INCREDIBLY ACCURATE (I dare you to deny it), lists. And they’re taking advantage of their uncommon position by interweaving distraction pieces with actual stories.

The Lev Grossman one is just my most recent favorite. And for obvious reasons I thought you all might like it too. Even though I actually hate his books — like, really hate them —you should read this awesome, amazing, intelligent BuzzFeed story and then give his books a try. Maybe they’ll be your cuppa tea. Maybe they’ll freak you the f out and make you consider giving up your long lost dreams of being a badass witch who goes to Hogwarts and performs all sorts of spells and general badassery. Either way.

Let the deepness of this nice quote-on-ambiguous-photo sink in:

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Courtesy of BuzzFeed, obvi