Category Archives: young adult

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

image1 (17)Okay, okay, I know I didn’t really like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, but as I said in that review, I knew I would eventually end up picking up the sequel. Why? I need fluff sometimes, others I care about wanted to talk more about this series, and who didn’t fall a little in love with Peter Kavinsky in the film version of the movie and desperately want to read more moments about this fictional beau?

In this book, teen protagonist Lara Jean picks up where she left off with her high school, fake boyfriend Peter Kavinsky… on the path of becoming her real boyfriend because ~feelings emerged~. The plot mostly revolves around drama with his previous girlfriend and with a boy, John Ambrose McClaren, from Lara Jean’s past re-entering the picture. There’s some typical high school drama, crushes spinning every which way for all of the characters, until finally the main couple in the series must decide how and if to move forward together (though to be honestly while Peter Kavinsky is an adorable soft jock who seems fantastic for Lara Jean in the film version, John Ambrose McClaren’s compatibility with Lara Jean fair outshines Peter in the books).

Overall, I found P.S. I Still Love You to be more enjoyable than its predecessor. A lot of the bits that annoyed me with the first novel (Kitty being grating, Peter not being that desirable and actively being someone I would not want to have a crush on) were smoothed over with the sequel… or I have rose colored lenses from watching the movie-version of the characters and was more forgiving of their book counterparts. I honestly can’t tell you which of those it actually is.

I expect to pick up the third novel (Always and Forever, Lara Jean) when I need a break from the dense, academic reads I’m returning to as the school year picks up again.

Publication Date: 26 May 2015 by Simon & SchusterFormat: E-book.

Author: Jenny Han web/@twitter/@instagram

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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

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

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

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman

IMG_8489I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it wasn’t a match for me. I recognized the book and I were not jiving about 30 pages in, but I kept pushing through anyway (does anyone have tips for putting a book down when you know it’s not for you?? Please share with me!!). This book is full of pages and pages and pages of teenage longing from afar. Maybe it’s because I’m passed the point in my life of finding familiarity in these feelings, but I found the longing to be extremely boring.

In the novel, teenager Elio spends most of his time longing for young adult Oliver, a visiting scholar working on his manuscript while visiting Elio’s academic family in Italy. About three-quarters into the novel, the plot picks up when Oliver and Elio tentatively verbalize their perceived connection to each other and begin exploring it further. While I preferred this slightly to the prior pieces of the novel, it wasn’t enough to counteract my boring impression of the novel. The standout piece of the novel is when Elio goes to visit Oliver several years after their summer together and reflects on the many ways their lives could have been different, thinking of the ways lovers do and do not shape our lives even when they are no longer physically present. But was this one beautiful bit enough? Unfortunately no.

Altogether, Call Me by Your Name was simply too slow of a book for me. I didn’t like the characters enough to be satisfied with the slow pace and overall lack of plot for most of the novel. Maybe if I had seen the film version of this book, I would have been more forgiving.

Publication Date: 23 January 2007 by PicadorFormat: Paperback.

Author: André Aciman @twitter

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram