Tag Archives: young adult

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 1.43.58 PMThis book had me feeling some type of way: I had a nightmare the first night that I started reading the book AND it was the first book to make me cry in quite some time, so maybe my liquid emotions and anxiety dreams can speak for my feelings about the book? They’ll have to do.

We Are Okay, a novel that weaves a tangle of grief/becoming an orphan, desperately wishing for familial closeness that is lacking and desiring the loving families of your closest friends, was riveting in its details of the narrator, Marin, coming to terms with her new life and losses. While the story was beautifully constructed, I marveled at how well LaCour described Marin’s basic daily life, giving space to the minute actions and emotions one does as they navigate new life circumstances. The book hit close to home for me and rattled a lot of closed doors that live inside my body. Chapters 26 and 27 wrecked me in the best way. We Are Okay was good. Would the novel be good to someone who didn’t strongly identify with its contents? I don’t know. Would it hurt as much to read for someone who didn’t strongly identify? Hopefully not.

We Are Okay was gentle and brutal and beautiful simultaneously. I hope you give it a shot.

“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes your self, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore.” (p. 68)
“The most innocent things can call back the most terrible.” (p. 65)
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Mini Review: The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket

widewindowThe Wide Window falters in comparison to its predecessors. While I laughed out loud a few times with The Reptile Room, I never even chuckled with The Wide Window. While I obviously still love the series, this is one of the weaker showings because of a few bits: 1) as an adult, I find the grammar quirks of Aunt Josephine are awfully annoying, but I’m sure the youthful grammar snob that I was loved it as a kid, 2) the big plot twist with Aunt Josephine happens much earlier in the book than I would’ve thought which makes the narrative flow strange, and 3) the ending was resolved a bit too quickly and smoothly as if it were hastily strewn together.

All that said, there were some quotes that really stuck with me even if this story won’t. Most of my favorite quotes were coincidentally from Chapter 5.

“Tears are curious things, for like earthquakes or puppet shows they can occur at any time, without any warning and without any good reason.” (p. 79)

“Oftentimes, when people are miserable, they will want to make other people miserable, too. But it never helps.” (p. 74)

“To have each other in the midst of their unfortunate lives felt like having a sailboat in the middle of a hurricane, and to the Baudelaire orphans this felt very fortunate indeed.” (p. 214)

“Aunt Josephine had been so careful to avoid anything that she thought might harm her, but harm had still come her way.” (p. 79)

“She was so afraid of everything that she made it impossible to really enjoy anything at all.” (p. 193)

A Million Junes by Emily Henry

amillionjunesIf you were a fan of Emily Henry’s debut, The Love that Split the World , you will love A Million Junes, a story that exists in the same magical realistic world that will likely become the thread that weaves all of Henry’s works together.

When I began this novel, I was struck by the tale as old as time: Montague vs. Capulet; Hatfield vs. McCoy; Coopers vs. Blossoms (yes, I’m Riverdale trash); two families that have hated each other for generations finds the current youthful generation having ~feelings~ for the forbidden other. While this is the basis for the love story, there is SO much more than the romance in this little novel that I adored and quickly consumed! Henry’s first novel received some critique for featuring an instalove storyline, which also occurs in this novel… but isn’t that how some teenagers, and even certain adults, feel sometimes? Henry cleverly has her narrator refer to her blooming affection as an “insta-crush”, which perhaps acknowledges and circumvents the critique from before.

While the love story is foregrounded in this novel, this is primarily a story about grief and losing someone who was instrumental in making you who you are as a being. Losing that person causes a tangible feeling of missing a piece of yourself when the loved one passes. I will always be partial to these stories since my mother died when I was young, but this book felt like a solace for my little, grief-mangled heart. I would have loved to have this book as a teen. Grief can fill your every thought mentally, but can also overtake you physically. This novel did a great job of exploring that and illuminating the many sources of support that you need to depend upon to lift yourself through your grief and the mistakes you might make and harm you might cause as you struggle with your loss. I loved it. Have I said that yet? I LOVED it.

Also full of love? The best friendship featured in this novel. The two best friends frequently worked on putting each other back together and being a major pillar of support to each other, a side of friendship that I’m not sure everyone even opens themselves up enough to experience. The best friendship here built a base of support like a pseudo family for someone who can’t depend on actual family, either by choice or necessity, for that support. My best friends have always been the ones to help put me back together and remind me who I am when I feel lost. I loved that June, the main character, turns to her best friend in especially trying, emotionally charged situations when June is trying to uncover how she really feels.

Stylistically, Henry writes so beautifully that I think I would probably be in love with how she writes a grocery list. I want to be best friends with the author and talk about life and Big Things like loss and mourning and love, whilst sipping delicious warm beverages in the coziest coffee shop. Is that too much to ask for?? Probably, but that’s how this book makes me feel.

Snatch up this book on May 16, 2017, published by Razorbill!!

Some of my favorite quotes are below:

“This is how grief works. It watches; it waits; it hollows you out, again and again.” (p. 201)

“Talking about all this has stirred up memories I do my best to leave settled on the floor of my mind.” (p. 47)

“I wanted to forget this feeling forever. The feeling of being ripped into two people: the you of before and the one you’ll always be once you know what it is to lose something.” (p. 161)

“They don’t know that, the more time passes, the more you forget, and the more you forget, the more it hurts — less often, sure, but worse. You want to dig your fingernails and teeth into the ghost that’s slipping through your fingers.” (p. 114)

“But she always said what she loved best about dad was that, to him, she wasn’t a mystery at all.” (p. 54)

“You know life’s not like this. Even when it’s good, it’s hard and terrible and you lose things you can’t ever replace.” (p. 109)

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

Mini Review: Once Upon a Marigold by Jean Ferris

onceuponamarigoldMy high school bestie is recently engaged and I was trying to think of something I could send her to commemorate her snazzy new life stage. Enter: book we both loved during our childhood that has a marriage-centered plot. While this book doesn’t stand up as well in adulthood as I remembered it, it was still fun to re-dive into this read that we both enjoyed as kids. I scribbled in the margins things relevant to her own wedding planning so hopefully she views this as a fun gift and associates fond memories with it when she rereads it or sees it on her bookshelf in the future. Rereading was a bit of a slog through the first 100 pages, but it picked up quickly thereafter and was closer to the book I remember reading. It’s a very sanitized love story that an 8 – 10 year old would find cute.

This book is the first in a trilogy, but I never read the subsequent books as a child and have no desire to complete the series as an adult either.

5 Favorite Reads from 2016

After a seven month hiatus, I am FINALLY back!! My personal life was a bit of a whirlwind last year (i.e. 2016 the year that magically destroyed everyone in little ways) which led me to de-prioritize this blog. I fled to Europe for a month, leaving my home country for the first time ever (!!!), and visited Paris, London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam. I moved across the country from Brooklyn to Chicago and I became a PhD student! Lots of changes happened and now that I feel more settled in Chicago, I’ve decided to try to pick up some of the things that I allowed myself to drop in 2016.

Instead of trying to add reviews for all of the books I gobbled down in 2016, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite reads from 2016. These are not ranked in any order except for the first book being my absolute 2016 favorite! Of the 32 books I read in 2016, here are my favorite five.


alittlelifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

While I didn’t post a full review of this book on the blog, I did blog about attending a book event with the fantastic author here. I made my book club read and love this book. It was my read during a magical winter trip to Austin, TX where I escaped the winter blues in 2016. This book deserves a longer review than this, but it’s tied to too many emotions for me. I’ll leave you with the bite that I shared with people who messaged me on Tinder in 2016: it’s emotionally brutal, but beautifully written.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coatesbetweentheworldandme

This is the only book in the list that received a full review! My university is doing an event with the author at the end of January and I hope I’m able to secure a ticket to see him speak in person. Here’s a snippet from my longer review: The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Coates detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn in an incredibly moving way.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayedtinybeautifulthings

I will come back to this book again & again. I will recommend this to friends again & again. When I am hurting, I will return to this again & again. Each piece of this book made me think of different people I know who would benefit from reading each individual excerpt. All of the excerpts are deeply particular, yet universal. I’m not really a “self help” type and haven’t read something like this in ages, but this was perfect and helped me examine all of my jagged shards and choose to hold them with my bare hands anyway.

illgiveyouthesunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

This was my favorite YA read of 2016 and I love it even more because I procured it from a magical book shop in Paris. I have never read a book quite like this — there are paint splatters on pages that add depth to the stories and emphasize certain points and it’s so DAMN BEAUTIFUL. As is the story which features siblings and first loves and first mistakes and struggling with the love (or lack thereof) of a parent. It’s perfect. I loved it. Read it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandelstationeleven

I wish someone had made me read this sooner! This is a perfect dystopian novel that feels the most realistic of any I’ve read. Reading this will make you reflect on mortality, morality, and the potential unspooling of civilization. There were quite a few excerpts that were so well worded that I came back to them again and again because of the self reflection they encouraged. This novel could have easily been much longer, but it’s a tight, well constructed story. Read it! But probably not while flying on a plane…


& that’s all, folks! In the future, you can expect slightly more condensed reviews of the books I pursue in 2017. I’m reading and writing for fun less since so much of my daily life is reading and writing for graduate school which will be reflected in the reviews I post here. What were your favorite reads of 2016?

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

anemberintheashesThis book has been covered by several other bloggers and has received glowing reviews from most of them – I’m here to co-sign everything positive that has already been said about this book! I’m typing this review from the sky as I fly from Chicago (for a Thanksgiving visit to my partner) to San Diego (for work). When I fly, I always become reflective on life things because I’m usually visiting or leaving loved ones. For this flight, I decided to reflect on the nature of the Young Adult books I’ve been consuming this year as they relate to my most recent read.

Lately I’ve found myself disconnected and annoyed with most of the YA that I’ve encountered. Up until this moment, I’ve largely thought the disconnection I’ve felt when I read YA is because of my life stage: I’m no longer a teen and perhaps I emphasize less with the typical situations that tend to dominate the lives and stories of teenagers. In actuality, I think I’ve actually become more of a critical reader and am less forgiving to authors and their stories if I find them to be poorly constructed or lacking complex character development.

When I was younger, even if I didn’t completely enjoy a book, reading excited me so much that I was able to dismiss flaws that would irk me now. Now that my free time isn’t endless, I simply become annoyed when a book has wasted my time. An Ember in the Ashes did the opposite of wasting my time – at the conclusion of the novel, I was left wanting even more of the story! Unfortunately for me, no sequels to the novel have been released yet, but the internet tells me the author is developing the sequel!

The audiobook version of An Ember in the Ashes is absolutely riveting! Each chapter shifts back and forth between the points of view of two of the main characters and the audiobook version features two equally talented narrators weaving their tales together. I’ve been disappointed with other audiobooks featuring multiple narrators (I detest All the Bright Places by Jennifer Nevin), but this novel is a champion of what dual audiobook performances should aspire to emulate! The novel rotates between the perspective of two main characters, Laia, voiced by Fiona Hardingham, and Elias, voiced by Steve West.

Laia is a member of the Scholars, which is essentially the lowest caste of the society in the book. After her life is completely turned upside down at the beginning of the book and she is separated from her family, she must seek help from the Resistance. The Resistance is a group who disagrees with the existing system of power in the Martial Empire (land where the book takes place). The Resistance is attempting to disempower the Martial Empire’s leaders and high-ranking members of the Martials, the highest caste. In order to gain assistance with finding her separated brother and respect from the Resistance, Laia poses as a slave and unexpectedly learns some of her own family history along the way. When Laia is sold into slavery, she becomes a servant to a terrible, cruel leader known as the Commandant who is part of the Martial caste.

The Commandant is hated by most of the servants and by her son, Elias, a member of the elite Martials and a top student at Blackcliff Military Academy. Elias is the other main character and provides an inside look at how the Martials lives and how members of the Martials reinforce their systems of power. Elias is very critical of the Martials and harbors a strong desire to defect from his obligations as a member of the Martials. As one of the top students at Blackcliff, he and three other students are being considered candidates for emperor of the Martial Empire. Of course because of Empire’s desire to maintain its systems of power, democratic elections for emperor don’t exist and the four top students must battle to determine who will be crowned as the next emperor.

Along the way Elias and Laia’s stories begin to intertwine because of their connection to the Commandant. Throughout the novel, they come to realize that they share common interests and might be able to work together to accomplish their individual goals. While some authors withhold narrative depth until the two narrators come together, Tahir has woven an interesting tale from the very first page to the last (or in my case, very first to the last minute of audio).

The ending is a digestible cliffhanger, meaning it felt like a natural, exciting end for the first novel in a series. When I finished listening to the book, I was hungry for the next installment, but didn’t feel as if I was deprived of essential parts that would complete the story.

An Ember in the Ashes is a brilliant debut from Sabaa Tahir and I’ll be quick to gobble down her novels as they’re released. My fingers are crossed that they’re able to use the same narrators for additional books as the series continues.

Publication Date: 28 April 2015 by Razorbill. Format: Digital Audiobook from Listening Library.

Author: Sabaa Tahir web/@twitter/instagram

Narrators: Fiona Hardingham web/@twitter/iMDB and Steve West web/facebook/@twitter

don’t fail me now by una lamarche

dontfailmenowDon’t Fail Me Now by Una LaMarche was absolutely fantastic! Add this book to your TBR list immediately!! I’ve been reading my fair share of YA books this season and hadn’t really enjoyed any of them to the point that I was beginning to think that I’d gotten too old and jaded to connect with the storylines. However, Don’t Fail Me Now proved my hypothesis completely wrong! This book is going to be a lot of things for a lot of people, but I’ll settle with explaining what this book meant to me.

The book’s protagonist is Michelle, the 17-year-old eldest child of a temporarily incarcerated mother and a father who deserted her family when Michelle was young. Due to her absentee parents, Michelle is tasked with raising her two younger siblings, a 13-year-old sister who is struggling with being 13 amidst all of her family’s issues and a 6-year-old brother. For the duration of the novel, Michelle’s siblings are dependent on her minimum wage income from her part-time job at Taco Bell. Those circumstances alone would be enough to give Michelle a very complicated life, but the book continues to delve deeper.

The action starts when Michelle is approached by her sibling’s stepbrother… of a different sibling than the two that I’ve already described. When Michelle’s father left Michelle’s family, he shacked up with a new partner and had another daughter who is 13, the same age as the younger sister that lives with Michelle. Sound complicated, yet? The stepbrother explains that Michelle’s father is dying and wants to see her before he passes. After some grumblings, the group of five minors decides to trek across the country to see their shared, dying father. The struggles they encounter as they drive across the country and realize the differences that exist amongst the siblings are what makes this novel so spectacular.

The book also lightly brushes upon what it’s like to be mixed-race and the struggle of encountering peers who don’t check their privilege. Some reviewers have pointed out that they wanted the book to explore these issues more deeply, but I felt like they were detailed enough for their points to be made and I know they’ll likely serve as an entry point to understanding those issues for some readers. If LaMarche had stressed these points further, I think the book may have come off as too preachy to some readers.

I loved this book when I read it as a person in my early 20s, but I needed this book as a young teenager. As someone who had a similarly complicated life to Michelle that involved living paycheck-to-paycheck, doing more for my sibling than any eldest sibling should be asked to do, and having “secret” family members, I would have loved to have read a story that depicted a situation similar to mine. When I was growing up, I felt like my own story was so crazy that there was no way that any of my peers could ever relate. If I had been able to read a book like Don’t Fail Me Now, I would have known that, while my experience is still probably rare-ish, it’s not completely isolated and is a life that many have shared. I hope this book manages to fall into the hands of kids who have similar stories to mine and the protagonist’s and provides them the comfort and shared story that I felt was lacking from most of the books I read as a teen.

Since I so clearly adored this book, I’ve already acquired another book written by LaMarche! I was halfway through reading my e-galley of Don’t Fail Me Now when I attended the Bright Lines book launch event at Greenlight Bookstore. While I was waiting for the event to begin, I noticed Unabrow, Una LaMarche’s memoir, on the table in front of me. Because I was already enjoying my first LaMarche read so much, I decided to impulse buy LaMarche’s memoir and I’ll be reading it soon! If you’ve read Unabrow, let me know what you thought of it in the comments!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

Expected Publication Date: 1 September 2015 by Razorbill. Format: Format: Ebook from Penguin First to Read.

Author: Una LaMarche web/@twitter/instagram/facebook/youtube/blog