Tell Me More:Secrets are the most valuable of high school social currency, andLife by Committeeis all about trading and burying them. Losing oneself i...moreTell Me More: Secrets are the most valuable of high school social currency, and Life by Committee is all about trading and burying them. Losing oneself in such a story isn't as easy with an unsympathetic character, however, and the story doesn't manage to raise itself above it.
Tabitha is an enigma of a character, and not always in a good way. The reasons for her sudden outcast status are murky, and leave a lot for the reader to imagine. It's confusing at best and frustrating at worst. Though I could put off the frustration while reading, there were definitely points where it was hard to muster up any empathy for her. To an extent, teens can be oblivious to important things--it's part and parcel of growing up. But Tabitha brought it to some unbelievable levels. Her love and appreciation for her parents comes in direct contrast with her actions later in the novel, and there just wasn't enough set up that it would make sense. She's still extremely compelling, and a longer, more detailed story would have served her well.
Life byCommittee's titular group is more difficult to pin down. The subtle peer pressure they exert over their members is familiar, but there's a more insidious nature to it. I didn't enjoy seeing Tabitha lose herself to the group, even as one might argue that she needed to hit rock bottom before she could begin to climb back up again. The group promises to keep its members' secrets, but continues to drive them further into isolation instead of constructive growth. Many of the issues that Tabitha struggles with are ones that could at least be acknowledged by communication, and it would have been interesting to see her struggle with that without the extra influence of the group.
And in the end, was all of the emotional torment necessary? It's hard to say. Joe is not half as compelling as Tabitha, and I had a hard time believing that he was worth everything she went through. His motivations weren't justified, and by the end of the book, I wanted nothing more than to see him disappear from Tabitha's life.
The Final Say: Life by Committee is a polarizing novel, but one in which teens may find more to learn from than older readers.
Tell Me More: For a story in which an entire race is at stake, Deep Blue is surprisingly light in tone and substance. As entertaining as some of the scenes and jokes could be, they weren't quite enough to stir lasting emotions in me.
The way that Deep Blue was marketed made it seem like its core audience would be the older spectrum of YA readers. Serafina's voice was younger than I had expected it to be, and the writing style itself seemed geared towards kids starting out in the fantasy/paranormal genre. Puns are generously scattered throughout the story, but as much as I love a good pun, it didn't take long for them to grate at me.
"I was talking about the crown prince and his merlfriend," she said. "Well, his latest one." "His...his merlfriend?"
An excerpt from Walt Whitman's "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" leads into the intriguing prologue, but the story doesn't manage to sustain its own momentum. The first few chapters are burdened by exposition and history, weighing the reader down with facts and names before they can start to care about the characters they're meeting. I would have much rather watched Serafina struggle with her songspell than read about her gossiping court. Again, this would probably work better for younger readers, who may have more need to build the world in their head before they can get invested.
The mysterious quest that Serafina and Neela is interesting enough, but it never felt all that compelling. I read mostly for the interactions between the two girls and the emphasis on friendship and sisterhood, especially since the romance remains flat. There are few surprises and plot twists, and even the ones that are meant to be game-changers are predictable. At the end of the day, the mermaids in Deep Blue weren't captivating enough to hook me into the series.
Tell Me More:Authenticity is a funny thing. Try too hard, and you create a caricature. Try too little, and your characters remain flat on the page. As...moreTell Me More: Authenticity is a funny thing. Try too hard, and you create a caricature. Try too little, and your characters remain flat on the page. As important as Fan Art's messages are, the story never quite rings true and the characters never feel like anything more than perfectly slotted tropes.
I can't comment on whether or not Tregay captures the full experience of discovering/struggling with one's sexuality, but I do think that the writing style that was employed wasn't rich enough for it. The reader is told over and over again that Jamie and Mason are perfect for each other, but is never really shown evidence of that perfection. As I write this, I struggle to remember what Jamie or Mason or any of the characters looked like, let alone things that would cement what the story tries to make us believe.
What does stick out is the generous use of gay stereotypes. Jamie insists on his own masculinity, and it seemed a little unnecessary considering how no one in his life questions that masculinity. Nevertheless, he talks about being disgusted with girls as if that disgust proves that he's gay beyond a doubt. As a reader, I don't ask characters to be anything more than what they are, and the constant railing against females/femininity made me wonder why this was so important to Jamie. I wanted to know if he was thinking this way to prove something to himself or to someone else. And maybe I'm not owed that kind of explanation, but without it, I'm left with a lot more questions than anything somewhat concrete to ponder.
The Final Say: It may start off as a cute romance, but Fan Art doesn't manage to find its footing among the easy stereotypes with which it surrounds itself.
As far as beach reads go, Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend is exactly the kind of book to while away your time while sipping a margarita...moreAs far as beach reads go, Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend is exactly the kind of book to while away your time while sipping a margarita in the sand. Gemma’s story is a pretty convoluted drama, with some over-the-top scenes I wasn’t expecting. Her experiences do ask for suspension of disbelief, and I found it hard to do that for most of the last half of the novel. So many of the scenes rely on Gemma being in exactly the right place at the right time, and for her to say exactly the right things to throw people off her secret.
Tell Me More:Love Letters to the Dead is a hard book to read. It takes up space in your mind, right where the shadows live. It calls up memories you'd...moreTell Me More: Love Letters to the Dead is a hard book to read. It takes up space in your mind, right where the shadows live. It calls up memories you'd probably rather have forgotten, ones that don't just stick in your head but make your hands shake, your lungs struggle for a breath. It's a lot like life that way.
Laurel is a difficult girl to get to know. She holds herself in tightly, and even as she tries to open up, her walls are too well fortified to do anything more than bend a little. Dellaira's writing style is tentative and delicate, and it lulls you into thinking that maybe this story is one you've heard before. And maybe it is, because stories like Laurel's are so common now, even with the hyper-connectivity that technology affords us. You can still feel completely alone and disconnected from the people around you, and you can still function somewhat normally. But Laurel's fear and guilt and unhappiness still swirl inside her, and the letters become the only place where she can touch them and try to understand them.
Epistolary novels have always been interesting to me because of the simple honesty that letters encourage in their writers. Anne Frank did not just write in her diary--she addressed all of her entries to a person named Kitty. Likewise, Laurel takes what could have been a one-off homework assignment and continues it beyond the due date, illustrating her need for companionship and understanding. The assignment was to write to dead people, and maybe that's what made it so appealing to Laurel: these people might be the only ones who can understand how she feels. For much of the novel, she doesn't quite know if she feels alive or dead, and there are moments throughout the story that swing the pendulum in both ways. The letters keep her grounded and help her work through those moments, her musings on what the addressees would think of and tell her poignant reminders that sometimes we just need someone to listen, even if it's the same old story.
The Final Say: Ava Dellaira is an astonishing new voice in YA fiction, and her words sear every page with honesty. Love Letters to the Dead doesn't give life to a familiar genre--it acknowledges the shadows that live beneath it, and the tiny pockets of light within.
I can only explain half of the reasons I love this book as much as I do, and the other half only Meghan will know because we're insane.
Tell Me More:...moreI can only explain half of the reasons I love this book as much as I do, and the other half only Meghan will know because we're insane.
Tell Me More: Distance doesn't always make the heart grow fonder. If anything, it clouds the heart, sweeping in fog that makes it all too easy to forget what was there to hold onto. And in a city of 8.3 million and climbing, even living in the same apartment building might not be enough to stir the potential for love into something more. The Geography of You and Me is that story, and more.
Like Owen, I moved around a lot. And when I say a lot, I mean it's only been three years since the last time I moved to another country, and being told I need to pack never fails to make me anxious. Owen's uncertainty and reluctance to get attached to anything is very familiar to me, and I found that I understood him more than Lucy at some points. The dialogue is a shining point in Geography--Lucy and Owen aren't overly witty, and their respective shyness still colours their words. Both of them are hesitant, unsure, and Jennifer E. Smith does such a glorious job of choosing exactly the right words and actions to portray that.
The thematic and emotional core of this story is obvious, however--it's right there in the title. In the middle of being sent on new paths and searching for home, Owen and Lucy learn to map their own hearts. Before they can be ready to learn each other, they have to learn the valleys and hills that make up their identities. They both have relationships with their parents that aren't quite ideal, but Smith doesn't just let those issues rest. Owen and his father relearn how to talk to each other after his mother's death; Lucy and her parents discover the ways distance has shaped them. The blackout is a catalyst, but they both have to make the choice to pursue what they've started. Smith doesn't expect her readers to automatically assume that Owen and Lucy will be together in the end, and in fact there are points where you might feel that maybe that sweet first rush of infatuation will just stay a memory in their minds. Not every meet-cute ends in happiness, after all. This is a story that lets its characters breathe.
The Final Say: Jennifer E. Smith is an artisan, her words delicate and strong as they sketch out a map of stories intertwining on a muggy summer night in The Geography of You and Me.
Trigger Warning:Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More:A common plot device among historicalnovels is the lack of female agency...moreTrigger Warning: Mentions of molestation/rape in the review below.
Tell Me More: A common plot device among historical novels is the lack of female agency, and in the stories I've enjoyed most, the female characters are able to either shake that off or use it to their advantage. Their ability to recognize that they are capable and smart and powerful gives those stories depth where you could otherwise have cardboard cutouts. Sadly, this is not the case in The Ring and the Crown.
Melissa de la Cruz's newest novel begins with two young women who are purported to hold power, and to an extent, they exercise some of that power. The mystery of how they would grow into their titles and magic drew me in, but the bulk of the story focused on romance and gossip. That won't necessarily be a bad thing for all readers, but I had expected a story about two girls on the threshold of their adult lives and the external conflict (read: war) that threatens them, not a historical version of Gossip Girl. Marie and Aelwyn make efforts to change things, but flip-flop so often between their choices that it could give one whiplash. Sexual acts are mentioned quite a bit, and molestation (of a character by her uncle) and rape occur in scenes, enough to make me wonder why there are no trigger warnings in place.
At the end of it all, my question remains: What was the point of all the struggle? If the choices that Marie and Aelwyn made would be negated and dismissed, then why would we continue to cheer for them? Obviously, because they want a different life than the one dictated for both of them, but I closed the book without feeling like their hearts wanted that. They settled, and I never got the sense they would fight beyond that. Perhaps that was the agency readers were supposed to see, the "serenity to accept the things they cannot change," but I find that hard to believe when the book opens with two epigraphs, one of them a call to action from Beyoncé. Aelwyn comes the closest to taking that action, but it doesn't feel satisfactory.
As a reader, the book asks me to at least be emotionally invested enough to want to know what happens to these characters and why. I did not find them unlikeable, but neither did I find them characters to cheer for and support. They simply exist, paper dolls swaying in the wind, their actions still dictated by the machinations of the court.
The Final Say: The Ring and the Crown will please readers looking for Tudor-lite fare, complete with intrigue and drama.
Started out strong, but the pacing felt really rushed once I was 1/3 of the way in, and the story ties itself up so quickly that I'm not sure the char...moreStarted out strong, but the pacing felt really rushed once I was 1/3 of the way in, and the story ties itself up so quickly that I'm not sure the characters changed all that much. Review to be posted closer to release date.(less)
Tell Me More: Sympathy for 1945 Germany may be a stretch for many people. History books and documentaries focus on the horrors committed by the Nazis,...moreTell Me More: Sympathy for 1945 Germany may be a stretch for many people. History books and documentaries focus on the horrors committed by the Nazis, and understandably so. But in Prisoner of Night and Fog, Anne Blankman asks readers to see the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany through the eyes of a young girl, and it's the kind of the story worth reading alongside history books.
Gretchen does not start as a sympathetic character. On my first read, I actually found her a difficult character to understand, because she didn't seem to care or be attached to anything. The second time around was easier, and much of the story also takes on new layers in a reread. She isn't worldly or street-smart, relying on what she's told to consider right versus wrong. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does later highlight how she begins to grow up. This isn't a book about Hitler, but his presence does weigh heavily on Gretchen's life, and it's his actions in the past that drive Gretchen's search for the truth about her father. What she does learn doesn't have to change her life, and indeed, she chooses to ignore the truth at first. But Gretchen is stronger than that, and while I initially found her back-and-forth frustrating, it makes sense for her character's eventual growth.
While the book is still written for a young audience, Blankman doesn't shy away from illustrating the horrors of the Nazi Party. Hitler's benevolent behaviour isn't quite enough to mask his ruthlessness, and even Gretchen is uncomfortable with him at times before she discovers the truth. The story asks both Gretchen and the reader to examine the idea of trust and loyalty to people and one's country, without overwhelming them with philosophical questions.
The Final Say: Anne Blankman's debut novel is a stark look at a girl growing up in the midst of shadows, and her choice to turn on the light to face them. Prisoner of Night and Fog will give readers an excellent and rarely seen perspective of the country and events that changed the world stage forever.
Tell Me More: McCormick Templeman's second novel is a story straight from the tradition of Angela Carter and other magic realists. But while it is chilling and suspenseful in parts, it doesn't quite manage to ground itself in an emotional core.
The narrative is the most interesting thing about The Glass Casket--it is unpredictable and dynamic, switching between points-of-view like a dragonfly on lily pads. The use of third-person points-of-view, both limited and omniscient, actually reminded me quite a bit of "A Company of Wolves." This comparison did not end there, as both the novel and Carter's short story share several similarities, though Glass Casket might have benefited from more pages.
As far as characterization, Templeman's cast is lackluster, and events seem to just happen to them with very little proactive action on their parts. The cover copy focuses on Rowan Rose, and yet she was one of the weaker characters, at least development-wise. There is far more weight placed on characters I thought were minor, and it did take me a while to adjust.
Thematically, The Glass Casket is quite ambitious, though it didn't manage to reach the heights it aspired for. In a village that interacts with the supernatural, there is very little that genuinely shocks or surprises the reader. Part of it might be how the characters never really seem to be all that shocked or surprised themselves, and the disconnect of it bleeds through. I would find myself forgetting what had happened in the previous chapter soon after starting a new one, and having to go back to reread became tedious.
The Final Say: Readers well versed in magic realism may not find much to consume in The Glass Casket, but there is definite potential for Templeman's future work, and I look forward to it.
Tell Me More: If you know me, you know I'd be hard-pressed to resist any tale that uses period elements, even if the main genre that the story resides...moreTell Me More: If you know me, you know I'd be hard-pressed to resist any tale that uses period elements, even if the main genre that the story resides in is dystopian. So yes, my hopes were high for Landry Park, but unfortunately I found it predictable at its best and offensive at its worst.
The life of Landry Park, literally, is dependent on the class issues that permeate the story. The reader is introduced to this peculiar new world through Madeline Landry, who enjoys the lifestyle powered by abuse of the lower classes, even as she expresses a vague desire to change it. In various exposition paragraphs, the reader learns that Jacob Landry, Madeline's ancestor, invented Cherenkov lanterns as a power source after a devastating war with the Eastern Empire. What's left of America is miserable, save for the 1%, now known as the gentry, who are not the government but more powerful.
Madeline is not a very memorable heroine, and neither are many of the other characters. She fits into the trope of a dissatisfied rich girl well enough, and I understand her desire to educate herself. But what is it all for? She tells her father that it will make her a better owner of Landry Park in the future, but even her attachment to the estate feels half-hearted. I never really felt like she was a fully-formed character, capable of standing on her own. I have read of heroines like her before, and she does not do much to distinguish herself from the rest. I never felt like she was in true danger, and I was not emotionally invested enough in her to worry either way. Even the relationship between her and David was dulled by how obvious it was that they would end up together.
On a more serious note, I am particularly bothered by the seeming demonization of Asians as the Eastern Empire, even as a character espouses that "race is no longer a factor" in this futuristic world. I believe this is the first book in a series (correct me if I'm wrong), so there may still be more information to be gleaned about this war in future installments, but what I have so far is just that China, Japan and the rest of Asia decided they'd had enough of America's environmental overreaching and invaded. If this is the war that has changed the landscape of the globe, describing its impact requires more than a few passing sentences. Race can never not be a factor. Including token black and Indian characters among the gentry is not enough to claim that, especially since America's "enemy" in this story is made up of Asians. The difference alone establishes that race is a factor. Frankly, I find it is easiest for those for whom race has never been a factor to imagine a world where it isn't. So why the Asians? Why this cause? I would love to know more about the background of this war, so that I can ground myself further in the story.
The class issues that Hagen attempts to address also fall flat because there just isn't enough solid worldbuilding to hold them up. So much of the book is set in a very small area, because Madeline herself is isolated from knowing much about her life. As a reader, this can quickly become frustrating, because there isn't enough ground covered to stabilize the world the author asks us to believe in. At the very least, why did fashion in this future world return to that of the 1800s? Was it meant as a sign of how out-of-touch the gentry are with the rest of the world? I can't be sure because we get no hints as to how the social norms developed hand-in-hand with the rise and fall of certain classes. Reading this book felt a lot like being surrounded by gorgeous, filmy curtains that aren't actually hiding anything substantial or valuable or even new.
The Final Say:Landry Park may dazzle readers new to the genre, but there is not much to see past the first few fireworks, and less to remember.