Category Archives: fiction

Mini Review: The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

duffI acquired this from my library’s $1 book sale and snatched this up after enjoying the movie based on the novel. The DUFF follows Bianca, a high school student, who feels like the least glowing member of her group of girlfriends, especially after this is pointed out by the resident “hot guy” of her high school. Whilst this is going on, Bianca is also going through some tribulations at home: her sober father begins drinking again after some issues with his marriage emerge and Bianca must confront a previous, unhealthy relationship of her own and uses sex to distract herself. It took too long for me to get into The DUFF and it took over 100 pages for Bianca to challenge certain things (like her being labeled as the D.U.F.F. or “designated, ugly, fat friend”) and embrace empowerment. Once Bianca started challenging language that was being used and questioning how both girls and boys unfairly judge girls, the novel became a lot more digestible. The dialogue was full of suicide jokes (ugh) and while The DUFF was an okay story, it never really redeemed itself. The best thing about this novel is that its and another book I just finished (The Sky is Everywhere) frequent mentioning of Wuthering Heights has inspired me to add that classic to my To Read list.

Publication Date: 7 September 2010 by PoppyFormat: Paperback.

Author: Kody Keplinger web/@twitter

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Mini Review: The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson

theskyiseverywhereAfter being obsessed with Jandy Nelson’s most recent novel, I’ll Give You the Sun, one of my favorite reads of 2016, I was so excited to receive Nelson’s debut, The Sky is Everywhere. Unfortunately, I think my expectations were set a little too high for this. Nelson continues her magical way of slipping in different media formats into her books (this time around it’s poems and conversations written on slips of paper, crushed up paper cups, sides of buildings, etc.), but the actual story didn’t grip my heart in the same way as I’ll Give You the Sun. All that considered, this was a nice, innovative read about a young teenager who is struggling with understanding her own identity after experiencing the sudden death of her sister. I enjoyed reading The Sky is Everywhere, but I didn’t find myself fully consumed by the story like I was with Nelson’s other work.

Publication Date: 9 March 2010 by Dial BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jandy Nelson web/facebook

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

turtlesallthewaydownAcquiring Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was a bit of magical experience. While I don’t think we’ll ever have a book as demand as the Harry Potter series, encouraging midnight release parties and the like, the demand for Green’s latest novel was pretty high and the text was highly protected, no Advance Reader’s Copies or anything. Despite the publisher enacting a veil of secrecy around the book, I somehow found it accidentally on the shelf of a big box retailer a weekend before its release date. Of course I snatched it up, especially because I knew I shouldn’t have been able to procure it. Both my boyfriend and I had been eagerly anticipating this book and because I brought into both of our lives before the rest of the world got to enjoy it, we decided to take turns reading the novel aloud to each other. If you have never done this with someone you cherish, you should. It was one of the most oddly intimate things I’ve ever done and it felt special to do it with this novel specifically, considering the main character has certain mental health struggles that we had both experienced in different ways. I found it easier to talk about some of my experiences in context of the character and that was fantastic. If you have had experiences similar to what the main character Aza regularly lives with, I think you could give this to loved ones to help convey what may motivate certain thoughts, actions, and behaviors in your life in a simpler way than trying to articulate it yourself. In a weird way, this novel helped me think about some of my behaviors in a way I hadn’t contextualized them for myself before, which is pretty powerful. 

I’ve been a fan of Green’s works for more than 10 years, so it would take a lot for me not to enjoy one of his novels now. My positive bias accounted for, Turtles All the Way Down was great and fantastic and I loved it. The characters were witty and the storyline was completely engrossing. I loved dissecting it aloud as I moved forward with reading the book.

I put off writing this review for a long time, as if delaying the review would retain some of the magic of how I acquired and read this text, and that has unfortunately negatively affected the actual substance of my review because I remember the feeling of reading this book more than I remember all the odds and ends. I remember feeling comforted and understood and loved and all of that was special. I wish I could have read this book as a teen because I think it would have added some clarity to parts of my life that were all too confusing to me then, and I hope it is able to do that for teens who read it now. 

Publication Date: 10 October 2017 by Dutton Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author: John Green @twitter/facebook/instagram/YouTube

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

thehateugiveY’all, I really need to quit reading audiobooks because even when I LOVE them (like I LOVED The Hate U Give written by Angie Thomas and fantastically narrated by the amazing Banhi Turpin in the audiobook version), it takes me forever to finish audiobooks now! Alas, I’ve got a few more Downpour credits left on my account (and if you want an audiobook monthly subscription, this is vastly superior to the one produced by an online retail giant *cough*shmAudible*cough*), which is how I wound up consuming this amazing YA-debut via audio.

If you’ve spent any amount of time following popular books in the past year, you’ve heard the hype about this book and you need to believe the hype!! The novel follows Starr, a black American teenager, who is the sole witness to her friend being wrongfully and fatally shot by a police officer. The rest of the novel traces Starr and her family’s navigation of questioning police brutality (whilst having a family member who is a police officer), questioning blackness/whiteness and black identity (Starr goes to a school that is majority white and largely unaware of the shooting because it happened on the “wrong” side of town), and undergoing all of this while still being in one’s teenage years. About halfway through the book, the story jumps five weeks ahead and then fast forwards another five weeks ahead toward the end of the book around Chapter 21 so the reader ends up seeing how this story plays out and effects everyone at different points.

This book is GREAT on EVERY LEVEL!! How? Angie Thomas is a genius. Each pitch ends up being a home run and presents a nuanced view that will hopefully allow readers to thoughtfully expand their horizons. For readers who don’t need their horizons expanded, this read will hopefully be comforting and offer a slice of solidarity. 

While listening to the audiobook, my heart skipped a beat several times in fear of what would come next, illustrating the incredibly compelling writing of the author that elicits anxiety during certain scenes. The audiobook experience was further heightened by the talents of the narrator who performed so many distinct voices so well, which is often lacking in the YA audiobooks I’ve previously listened to.

I won’t go too much further into the details of the actual plot because many other book reviewers have done a better job at that than I ever could, but I did want to highlight some of my favorite bits. During the novel, Starr has a conversation with her father about “The Hate U Give,” something originally said by Tupac that inspired the title of the novel, where Starr’s father outlines oppression, the drug society, and the prison industry in such an accessible, informative way that I want to place this little gem of the book in every person’s hands!

The situations that the characters are thrown into throughout the book also model difficult conversations kids might experience in today’s world, like having a friend display that they have an all/police lives matter mindset and use police apologist actions and language. While a t(w)een might feel strange about confronting a situation like this with a real life friend, seeing it written about here will likely be helpful.

And my last love note to this great book is that it features one of the best burns I’ve ever heard when one character says to another that they are “Harry (Potter) and the Order of the Phoenix angry lately.”

Every piece of this book was delectable and extremely moving. Read it and then recommend it to everyone you know. 

Publication Date: 28 February 2017 by HarperCollinsFormat: Audiobook.

Author: Angie Thomas web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

Audiobook Narrator: Bahni Turpin @twitter/IMDB

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

letthegreatworldspinThis book is a difficult one to review because it took me more than a year to read in spurts, so my memory is faded about the first half of it. A friend gave me this book to read right before I started my graduate program in 2016.

The book follows a string of characters that interact and interweave with each other in different ways (think: Love Actually, but not Christmas and not so love-y) and involves a fictionalized account of Philippe Petit’s walk between the World Trade Center buildings. I remember thinking the first 100 pages, focused on the first character we’re introduced to (Corrigan) were an absolute slog, but I pushed through nevertheless and the book picked up when the story’s perspective shifted to different characters.

Then because graduate school is sometimes the worst and I was swimming in a pool of life uncertainty, I quit reading for fun and Let the Great World Spin languished on my night stand for more than a year. I picked it back up during the holiday season of 2017, determined to move this off of “Currently Reading” list on GoodReads. This book is well-written and overall enjoyable, but because it shifts narrators so frequently, I became annoyed when the book shifted away from someone’s perspective/story that I found to be a better read than the other characters.

The book is incredibly well constructed and it is very interesting to learn how the characters are related to each other and how their small actions can lead to very big impacts on the lives of the others. I found the character Gloria to be the most enrapturing and I looked forward to underlining pieces of her sections of the book more than the other characters.

If I had been able to read this book in a reasonable chunk of time or been in a different place mentally, I likely would’ve enjoyed this book much more than I did. But unfortunately, I didn’t and I wasn’t so I’m not really sure if I recommend this book or not. If the premise and writing style sounds exciting to you, go for it! If not, pass. 

Publication Date: 23 June 2009 by Random House. Format: Paperback.

Author: Colum McCann web/facebook

Mini Review: The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket

themiserablemillAfter being a little disappointed with The Wide Window, the third book in A Series of Unfortunate Events, I am pleased that The Miserable Mill by Lemony Snicket picked up the pace! The plot of this book revolves around our favorite Baudelaire orphans being sent to live at a wood mill, where they’re expected to serve as employees, despite obviously being children, to earn their keep. Their caretaker intends for them to work there until Violet, the eldest, turns 18 and inherits her family’s fortune and will have enough wealth to take care of herself and her siblings. Klaus gets mucked around the most in this novel, as there’s a major plot line regarding his glasses being broken and repaired several times. This book features a bit more physical/emotional/verbal abuse than either books 2 or 3 because the primary caretaker in this book does not care for the Baudelaire orphans at all, so there are no pleasant moments like those that sometimes occurred with Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine.

These are the perfect books to pick up when I feel like I’m in a reading rut — there’s so quick and familiar that they can add a little fun to my reading routine if it’s been lacking. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the fifth book, The Austere Academy, at a resale shop quite yet, so I’ll have to put off counting on this series to be my reading pick me up until I can get my hands on a good condition version of the book that matches the style of my other books in this collection.

And here is my favorite quote from Book the Fourth:

“As I’m sure you know, whenever there is a mirror around, it is almost impossible not to take a look at yourself. Even though we all know what we look like, we all like just to look at our reflections, if only to see how we’re doing.” (p. 45)

Publication Date: 15 April 2000 by ScholasticFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) web/facebook/twitter

Illustrator: Brett Helquist web

Mini Review: I Hate Everyone, but You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin

ihateeveryonebutyouThis book was ANNOYING!! Is it normal in teen friendships for one friend to be mostly terrible and one to be mostly great and for an outside observer (or reader in this case) to root for the two to stay friends? I think not. Instead of encouraging these two misfit friends to grow with other friends who align more with their interests, we see the two main characters (Aza and Gen) repeatedly force themselves to continue being friends with their closest friend from high school. While hints about this not being the best friendship came up a few times, I would have liked the toxicity of the friendship to have directly been addressed instead of slightly implied and magically resolved so that people reading this novel don’t think that represents a normal, healthy friendship that they should continue to contribute to.

I laughed a lot with Gen’s dialogue and found her to be a pretty enjoyable character that I would’ve liked to have seen in a different story. I really liked the novel format of the book, which is entirely consists of relayed emails and text messages. I really loved the concept of two high school best friends who are navigating the friendship growing pains of each friend individually going in a different direction, but I did not like the execution of this book at all. The two authors are pretty famous on the internet, particularly YouTube, but I was unfamiliar with them before I had read the book so my impressions of them didn’t make me read this with rose-colored lenses. The main characters also both have names that begin with the same letters as the authors’ names… make of that what you will.

 

Publication Date: 5 September 2017 by Wednesday BooksFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Gaby Dunn YouTube/@twitter/@instagram and Allison Raskin YouTube/@twitter/@instagram