Tag Archives: fiction

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

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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

Catalina and the King’s Wall by Patty Costello

catalinaCatalina and the King’s Wall is full of BEAUTIFUL illustrations that you and a child can look at for several minutes to point out all of the amazing intricacies. While I did enjoy this book overall, I thought the second half of the book felt stronger and more ready for a young reader. The first half of the picture book introduced many baking terms without illustrations modeling the verbs, which might be difficult for a young reader to comprehend. The tale includes a message against building a wall to separate two lands and potential family members, but could have spent a little more space highlighting why this is cruel to clarify the message for a young reader. However, I can also understand why a message like this might be intentionally vague. All that considered, I don’t have kids, so maybe I’m a little out of touch.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from the author (Patty Costello) via email. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by the author.

Publication Date: 5 May 2018 by Eifrig PublishlingFormat: Ebook.

Author: Patty Costello web/@twitter/@instagram

Illustrator: Diana Cojocaru

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

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

image1 (11)Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is the best book that I have read in 2018 and I have already recommended it to at least 10 people in one week. I liked the novel so much that I’m trying to think of the best way to succinctly describe it without giving away too much of the story… the actual pieces of the story aren’t necessarily riveting enough to make you think that this will be one of the best reads you’ll stumble upon this year, but the nuts and bolts are brilliant! Don’t sleep on this book just because the synopsis isn’t immediately gripping!

The author, Ng, expertly weaves together several characters, revealing snippets of their consciences and actions effervescently. The characters, many of which have different, conflicting personalities and perspectives, are deftly captured, causing the reader to sympathize with characters they may have initially detested. A theme that recurs for many of the characters is their struggle to understand the priorities and beliefs of a character juxtaposed with them and their choice to either lean into rigidity and rules or to seemingly be float away from those expectations. Some of the main bits that characters consider during their sensemaking processes are the nature of parent-child relationships and the underpinning of race at a point in America where many people were claiming not to see race. The latter piece specifically manifests around the differing public opinions about a white couple adopting a Chinese baby, a local issue that ultimately divides the suburb.

Because of the novel’s insightful, biting critique of suburbia and the expectation that a suburb’s implicit ideals are universally upheld by its residents, the book reminded me slightly of Big Little Lies (minus the underlying murderous currents). Similar to that tale, Little Fires Everywhere is also being adapted into a television series with Reese Witherspoon attached and I cannot wait to watch it! I know the vague synopsis alone may not sound compelling enough to read this book, but please snatch it up to dive into this world before it’s on screen! I’ll be sure to also check out Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, before the year concludes too.

Publication Date: 12 September 2017 by Penguin PressFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Celeste Ng web/@twitter/@instagram