Category Archives: fiction

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.35.07 PMI watched the trailer for the adorable Netflix film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and decided I needed to read the novel that it was based upon before actually viewing the movie. I lucked out and scooped up a used copy at a cute bookstore in Los Angeles (The Last Bookstore) the same weekend the movie was released.

The book was a super fast read and full of fluff. While there’s a time and a place and a reader for that, I enjoyed the story much more in movie-form than its original state. In the movie, certain details about the characters and plot points were changed in a way that made me like the overall story better. 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before revolves around teenager Lara Jean who writes letters to her crushes in an attempt to squash her crushes and then stows the letters away in a box in her closet. Suddenly, the letters are released into the world and into the hands of the boys that she’s ~loved before~. Whilst this is going on, Lara Jean is also experiencing some big changes at home: her older sister who served as the family’s matriarch departed for college in another country, leaving Lara Jean to try to fill in the hole she’s vacated and help take care of her (very annoying in the book version) little sister Kitty. Family bits and bobs dominate b-plots of the story, but the main arcs revolve around Lara Jean trying to convince one boy (who received a letter) she no longer likes him by fake dating another boy (who also received a letter).

All in all, the story is pretty entertaining and fluffy for a YA tale, but I enjoyed the execution of it (and changed details) of the film version more than the novel. The biggest deviation that I enjoyed most was Lara Jean’s fake boyfriend, Peter Kavinsky. He is much more likable in the movie and seems to be someone actually crushworthy, whereas the novel version of Kavinsky had me physically cringing at the idea that this boy was supposed to be someone “desirable.” Additionally Lara Jean and her younger sister Kitty also had some cute, bonding moments in the movie, whereas they seemed perpetually at odds with no good balancing bits in the book to ice over the negative pieces.

So what’s my recommendation? Watch the movie if you haven’t already! And skip the book… unless you want to find out what happens next for Lara Jean in the trilogy or if your friends really want you to read it so they can talk about the details (i.e. what is probably going to happen to me).

Publication Date: 15 September 2014 by Simon & SchusterFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jenny Han  web/@twitter/@instagram

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 1.00.11 PMI’ve been on the hunt for a used copy of Everything I’ve Never Told You by Celeste Ng ALL SUMMER, after reading and devouring her second release Little Fires Everywhere. After finally finding it (thanks to a dear friend!) and reading her two books, I can confidently say I’ll be reading and devouring anything Ng writes for the rest of our days. 

Everything I loved about the writing style of Little Fires Everywhere also lives within Everything I’ve Never Told You. Ng weaves seamlessly between multiple characters and it appears effortless (though I’ve never read anything quite like this, so I suspect it takes immense effort to give off that vibe). All of the characters in this novel are in one family unit, each with their own problems, personalities, and perceptions of each other’s problems and personalities. Ng makes each of them feel incredibly real, giving nuance to every situation that you find yourself identifying with whoever is the current narrator. (Can you tell that I could harp about Ng’s talents for days?)

This story revolves around the Lee family: Marilyn is the stay at home mother, longing for the time when she was one of the only women pursuing a science career in higher education. Marilyn was born to a single home economics teacher who longed for her a life of being a stay at home mother. Marilyn grows up in Virginia, where racism against anyone who is not white, as she and her mother are, seep into interactions directly or slightly. At university, Marilyn falls for a doctoral student named Jason, who is Chinese. The two eventually form a family and have three children who go to a mostly white school. While they each have different struggles in their daily lives, the book is centered around the sudden death of one of the children. What follows is a fantastic narrative of a family navigating their grief and relationships with each other, with all of their sticky every day difficulties piled atop.

Ng poignantly and craftily captures family dynamics, grief, and identity in magnificent ways. I can’t wait to read what she writes next. 

Publication Date: 12 May 2015 by PenguinFormat: Paperback.

Author: Celeste Ng web/@twitter/@instagram

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

kissquotientLast summer I was obsessed with the funny and steamy Vow of Celibacy (which if you haven’t read yet, do so!!) and I was thrilled to find a book that had a similar vibe this summer, but was completely different.

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang is one of the sexiest books I have ever read, probably because I usually avoid steamy reads. However, this book came strongly recommended from all of my bookish IRL friends, so I scooped it up and it quickly made the rounds in one of my friend groups for very good reason. The novel twists between two main narrators, Stella, an extremely successful analyst who finds her work generally more interesting than any human connection or hobby, and Michael, a man who chooses to become an escort to repay financial debts that don’t seem to be going away anytime soon. 

Stella comes to believe that she isn’t well versed “enough” in romantic and physical relationships, so she hires Michael with the hopes that he will catch her up to speed. What follows is a fantastic story of Michael trying to help Stella comfortably engage in a relationship, at her speed, doing what she wants. In the process, they fall in love of course, but the nature of their meeting complicates their understanding of each other’s feelings. It was downright romantic and very sexy and I read this entire book way too quickly. 

While the physical parts of the relationship take up a chunk of the book, so do the plot points surrounding Stella’s general discomfort with becoming close to most people, how her Asperger’s impacts her interactions with the world, and how Michael’s secret profession is at odds with his strained relationship with his tight-knit family. Every piece of this novel felt well crafted and divine. The entire time I was reading this book, it felt like diving into one of the best romcoms I’ve encountered in a while. I thoroughly recommend!

Publication Date: 5 June 2018 by BerkleyFormat: Paperback.

Author: Helen Hoang web/@instagram/facebook/@twitter

The Haters by Jesse Andrews

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 8.11.45 AMMy boyfriend and I recently took a big step… we now share digital libraries! (Just funny to me? Okay…) Anyway, The Haters by Jesse Andrews is a book that I definitely wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but after the boyfriend’s prompting and it sitting in my e-reader waiting for me, it I wound up reading it.

Andrews is the author of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which I enjoyed enough, but liked the movie and the ability to visualize the story quite a bit more. From the two books I’ve read by Andrews, he seems to specialize in books about slightly awkward teenage boys and their tangled webs of friendship. I gotta say, in a world where we often discount boys’ emotions and downplay the meaningfulness in their friendships, I think these are great stories to be represented in today’s YA scene. The Haters is a similar note to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, but in a different key. While the other novel is about friends obsessed with movies and film making, The Haters is about friends obsessed with music and ~jazz~. 

The trio meets at a jazz camp (well… two of them were friends before the camp) and promptly form their friendship and a band. What follows is a very wild and improbable adventure as they escape from band camp, travel around the country, and try to play shows, despite not actually being good performers. I found the novel a bit annoying for the first 30 pages or so, but I enjoyed much more as it progressed. If you’re looking for a quick, funny YA read about the tumultuousness of teenage friendship and the strange path it can take when no adults are present, pick up The Haters by Jesse Andrews. 

Publication Date: 5 April 2016 by Amulet BooksFormat: E-book.

Author: Jesse Andrews web/@twitter

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

image1 (1)For the first 40 pages or so of this novel, I found myself laughing often and thinking “I love this book!” but once I moved deeper into Dear Committee Members, it became increasing redundant. The book is written as a series of letters of recommendation from a tenured professor, sitting in an English department that has lost most of its funding and slowly losing support for most of its students. All of the faculty seem on the cusp of fleeing or trying to seize power. The narrator’s letters are centered around fellow faculty, previous and current students, and other academic staffers, with whom the letter writer has had romantic entanglements that are described with many details in his letters.

This book will probably only be appealing to graduate students and those who work in university systems as it lampoons many of the archaic and slightly toxic rituals and norms within academia. The jokes that made me laugh the most were strongly tied back to academia insider woes, so I don’t think this one-note book will be worth it to those outside of this strange world.

Additionally, the book includes a rather jarring suicide toward the end of the book, which the reader will likely be unprepared for since they’re only reading things from the narrator’s letters of recommendations who is also caught off guard by one of the characters dying by suicide. I did not like the inclusion of this plot point and think it could have been treated more delicately if the author thought it was essential to include.

Overall, I liked this book for 40 pages, then wished it was over, and strongly felt that the ending was unnecessary. Dear Committee Members and the world it represents further contributed to my very messy feelings about academia as a current graduate student and perhaps will be a source of solace for others in this world.

Publiation Date: 19 August 2014 by DoubledayFormat: Paperback.

Author: Julie Schumacher web

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 12.23.34 PMThis book was delightful! I picked up this book with the intention of leveraging it into some conversations with my dear 12 year old cousin. Not only did it successfully allow us to have some really great conversations together (we talked at length about how it’s unfair that straight people don’t have to come out as straight, a topic mentioned throughout the book), it was a fantastic and fun book to read!

Simon, the main character, is comfortable with and certain of his sexuality (a welcome alternanarrative to a lot of YA books; questioning is definitely important to represent, but I liked getting the chance to read something different), but doesn’t feel compelled to share his romantic preference with others. That is, until he’s outed at school. After writing a series of “anonymous” emails to another high schooler who is also attracted to their same sex, his identity is leaked after someone stumbles upon his emails via an unlocked public computer disaster. Simon navigates being thrust into being out, whilst dealing with other typical teenage problems. 

While the main story is a great read, the backdrop is also fantastic. Simon and his friends quirkily quip amongst each other, leading to many laughs from me. His friends also spend ample time in a Waffle House, one of my favorite hangs while a high schooler, so I found those bits particularly enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read full of interesting and fun characters, this book is for you! It’s also a great way touchstone to use when talking to young people about certain experiences and I thoroughly recommend it for those purposes too! I still haven’t seen the movie that is based upon the book (and has received many glowing reviews), but it’s on my to do list!

Publication Date: 7 April 2015 by Penguin. Format: Paperback.

Author: Becky Albertalli web/@twitter/@instagram/@facebook

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

image1 (12)This is my third shot trying to board the Rainbow Rowell train and I’m finally ready to admit that I will not be buying a ticket to future trains. Despite knowing that I didn’t really jive with Rowell’s stories, I decided to give Fangirl a try after several people recommended that I read it. And I did like it! But only for the first half of the book.

Fangirl follows Cath as she stumbles into her first year of college and is figuring out what life looks like for herself as she is physically separated from her father, who she is very close to and sometimes feels emotionally responsibility for, and emotionally separated from her identical twin, Wren, who attends the same university but wants to instill some distance between them. Cath spends a lot of her time distracting herself from her own life by writing a wildly popular fanfiction for a franchise that is a thinly disguised Harry Potter knockoff.

I liked the stable of characters introduced here far more than I’ve liked those in Rowell’s other books, but I grew tired of everyone about halfway through the book when I became disengaged with the subsequent storylines. I also grew annoyed by the dabbles into the actual fanfiction text (but clearly I’m in the minority because Rowell has written a book based solely off this that has done very well). Of Rowell’s book, this is probably the one that I have liked the most, but I still didn’t like it enough to listen to my peers when they tell me in the future that I really must read Rowell’s works. That said, I will keep reading Rowell’s tweets because they are damn delightful!

Publication Date: 10 September 2013 by St. Martin’s PressFormat: ebook.

Author: Rainbow Rowell web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook