Category Archives: young adult

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

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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

Legendary by Stephanie Garber

IMG_8306Legandary by Stephanie Garber is the sequel to Caraval, a book with a beautiful cover that dominated everyone’s YA to-read lists. The plots of the series revolve around a very tricky game that is magical, but can have carry over effects into the characters’ lives beyond the games. Caraval introduces you to Scarlett (the narrator) and Tella (narrator’s little sister) and follows Scarlett as she plays the game for the first time. Legendary resumes the night after Caraval, and shifts narrators to Tella to follow her immersion into another round of the game. I much preferred Tella as a narrator over Scarlett, and the author captured their differences in this quote:

“Tella was the sister who would destroy the world if anything happened to Scarlett, but Scarlett’s world would be destroyed if anything happened to Tella.”

While I didn’t love Caraval (lots of world building, main character irked me frequently, the romance and the language was sugary and made me grit my teeth; see my full review here for more), I was interested enough to scoop up Legendary, assuming that the laborious world building in the first novel would pay off by letting the reader dive head first into the sequel. And for the most part, it did! The main difference between Caraval, is that many of the characters in this book resemble a group of Fates (kind of like immortal Gods) that once existed in the land where Legendary takes place and they crop up repeatedly throughout the plot. In case it’s hard to keep track of all of the Fates, there is a very handy glossary at the end of the novel, which I wish I had known about before I finished reading.

The world where the games take place is beautiful, but sometimes the descriptions within Legendary felt like a rendition of the same story from before, which to some extent, it has to be because the sisters are playing iterations of the same game. The settings are always colorfully described. Sets and plots considered, I think this would be a fantastic show on The CW if it were to ever be optioned as a series instead of a film.

While I liked the overal plot, I still got annoyed at the romantic interactions between the characters initially and warmed up to them slightly by the end of the book. The romance wasn’t as syrupy as Caraval, but still a bit much for my taste, especially because one of the lead romance figures was constantly described as “smelling like ink” which peeved me a bit and was incredibly redundant. As with Caraval, some of the written comparisons simply don’t make sense (i.e. “some faces were narrow and as sharp as curse words”), but maybe this will be appealing to certain readers.

All in all, I found Legendary to be completely captivating while I was reading, but kind of forgettable as soon as I put the book down. It reminded me of a piece of cake that you keep returning to and giving yourself more slices of, but when you really think about it, cake alone isn’t enough. I found many pieces of the book to be annoying, but was still entertained as a whole, so how to rate it? If the descriptions of the book sound like a gem to you, please pick it up because you’ll probably love every page! If the things I described irking me, might annoy you, perhaps consider this as a guilty pleasure read that might irritate you at points or pass on it altogether. 

The book concludes in a way that will make the reader wonder if the stories of this world are finished for the author, but I think, regardless of whether more novels continue this series, my time of visiting Caraval has come to end. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Flatiron Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Flatiron Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 29 May 2018 by Flatiron BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Stephanie Garber web/facebook/@twitter

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

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