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'dTell 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.
Having been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with breHaving been an Elise Dembowski (and occasionally still feeling like her), I can state with certainty that Leila Sales captures the experience with brevity and understanding.
Tell Me More: When I was eight years old, I received my first Discman. Raised on Columbia Records catalogues, Dr. Hook, and Queen, I quickly became obsessed with music and I never looked back. So much of who I am as a person has been formed by the music I listen to, and Leila Sales not only captured that truth, but she also brought me back to some of the worst years of my life, when music was the only thing that could carry me through. But this time, I had a hand to hold, and a character who understood all too well how crazy scary being yourself could be. This Song Will Save Your Life was beautiful and hard and honest in all the best ways, and I am forever grateful that Leila Sales wrote this story.
I chose to read this book on a Sunday morning, stretched out on the balcony and basking in the July sunshine. I'm glad I did, because the synopsis only hinted at the depths of this novel and the emotions it would call up in me, and only the brightness of that summer day kept me from sinking back into a really bad headspace. Elise was me in 7th grade, desperate to fit in, and yet so other, so not part of the "normal" tween crowd that any attempt to change the status quo was laughable. And it never makes sense--sometimes it still doesn't, even years later--how some kids just get picked to be the punching bag, the entertainment, the never-quite-good-enough that assures the rest of the class that they're better. Elise's confusion and plain inability to understand what had happened to make her that person were two things I could identify with, and one of the last moments I remember before I fell into this book completely was spent wondering how Sales had captured my middle school experience so accurately. Elise's rock bottom felt all too real--Sales' writing style pinpointed the rawness of her emotions so well that I had to pause more than once to remove myself from the situation.
The transition from Elise, bottom step of the social ladder, to Elise, rock star DJ, is fascinating, and it is so easy to cheer for her as she begins to try again with Pippa and Vicky. A lesson most teens never realize they learn during adolescence is how important it is to keep trying, even when things look like they're never going to get any better. Society paints millennials as parasites, but it ignores how so many 20-somethings are still working to stabilize their lives with the added burden of student loans, horrifying social issues, and an unwelcoming job market. So much of the inner strength that's required to do that is built up when you're a teen, when it's hard to know who and what to trust. Elise's determination to be happy and to find a place to belong carried her through some tough moments, and it affirmed that she was capable of more.
In a world where teenage girls are ridiculed for their taste in music, the way they dress, and even the way they talk, Elise is a symbol of how easily we can misunderstand and ignore signs of loneliness and frustration. It's easy to forget that teenage girls dance a terrifying line between loving and hating themselves every day of their lives because of what society tells them, and if this book does anything, it reminds those girls that there is always something to love about yourself. The end of your life comes when you give up, when you stop trying. Elise might trip and stumble, but she keeps going. You don't have to agree with the some of the choices she makes, but I'll be damned if you won't understand the reasons she makes them.
The Final Say: Leila Sales proves that she is a contemporary author to reckon with in this emotional and commanding story of a girl on the brink of greatness. There is no doubt that readers the world over will find themselves in Elise and her journey.
Tell Me More:One of the very first YA novels I rememYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: One of the very first YA novels I remember reading was a dystopian novel, The Giver. Over the years, I've developed a soft spot for similar novels--and therefore always give them a chance--but sadly, Crewel did not live up to my expectations.
On the surface, Adelice's story appealed to the feminist in me: who wouldn't love to read a novel about women who used their talents to bring about a better world for everyone? I loved the magical quality of the Spinsters' work, and I wanted to know just what it would take to control and weave time. I loved the conspiracy and the danger that Adelice would find herself in. All in all, Crewel seemed to be exactly the kind of dystopian novel I was looking for.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't support its premise very well. Adelice's narration was muted at best, boring at worst. I couldn't get a clear sense of who she was within the first few chapters, which makes it difficult to go on in a dystopian, since it is particularly important for the reader to want the protagonist to succeed in their endeavours. If I don't know who Adelice is, and what she wants out of life, how can I throw my support behind her? How can I be sure that what she tries to do makes sense for her character? Part of the difficulty lies in Albin's choice to begin the novel in media res--the reader is immediately brought into Adelice's world in an alarming way, but it feels a lot like entering an empty film set and seeing the lack of a ceiling.
The plot itself is predictable, but again, I say this having read many dystopians. I don't mind the same kind of setup because I read those books for the characters, which quickly became a problem with Adelice. Because of the lackluster introduction to her character, I couldn't muster up enough interest to want to see her deal with the usual dystopian problems, not to mention the inevitable love triangle. Neither Jost nor Erik were intriguing enough to make me fall in love with them, and there were times that it felt like this specific plot device was just another checkmark on the Official Dystopian Tropes list. Likewise, the villains never felt all that dangerous or ruthless. The conflict never reached the promised high stakes, and by the last few chapters, I didn't hate the book, but I was ready to move on.
The Final Say:Crewel doesn't quite hold its own as a dystopian novel, but readers new to the genre may still find lots to love about Adelice and her dangerous world.
Tell Me More:Much of the conversation regarding termYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: Much of the conversation regarding terminal illness has focused on the patients themselves, understandably so. They are the ones that struggle through every breath, even as they try to live normal lives. Sarah Wylie's poignant debut novel highlights the parallel journey of a girl watching her sister be consumed by cancer, and the risks she takes to try to stop it.
The challenges posed by this novel are two-fold: 1) can the reader hang on through what can seem like lackluster prose? and 2) can the reader refrain from judging Dani before the story is over? I initially found both difficult to do, because All These Lives is not a book that vies for one's attention. The prose is quiet, unassuming, and surprisingly, not as emotional as I was expecting. Wylie is not a writer who tries to shock her readers, but neither does she fall into the tried-and-true cliches of stories about cancer. It's a tough, deadly business, and I appreciated her determination to keep it from falling into blatant sentimentality. The reader is never far off from the touch of death, and Wylie leaves nothing to hide behind. You either face the truth of Dani's family's life, or you give up.
Dani is one of the most flawed individuals I've ever met in literature, and her true nature is so carefully hidden in the story that I feel it will take me at least three more rereads to really understand her. There is a hesitation in everything she says and does that can go unnoticed, because readers may latch onto her reckless decisions. The way Wylie balances Dani's doubts and courage is a stunning act, and it reflects on how many of us live our lives. I would never recommend that teenagers follow Dani's path, but certainly they can find something to relate to in her determination to save her sister's life.
The Final Say: All These Lives is a novel that won't grab readers' attention straightaway, but those who stick with it will find much to consider and reflect upon, especially when it comes to the bond of a family.
Tell Me More:The quality that has always drawn me into any sort of fantastical, supernYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Tell Me More: The quality that has always drawn me into any sort of fantastical, supernatural story is the tenuous balance between life and death. Creatures such as vampires, werewolves, mermaids--they are Other, and yet their existence and the human belief in them reflect on humanity itself. They represent, among other things, what we like to think of as our baser instincts and their coiled violence is both the most appealing and revolting thing about them. In Monstrous Beauty, Elizabeth Fama draws on the connection between human nature and the otherworldly creatures that fascinate us to write a story of grief and hope in the midst of death.
Fama's prose may not be the familiar, easy first-person narrative that YA readers are used to, but it is the kind of writing that rewards patience and subsequent rereadings. In the last six months, I have reread Monstrous Beauty twice and each time, I find myself surprised by the depth of the sentences. The best stories have an unmistakable melody about them, one that flows naturally between the words, and this story absolutely achieves that. The third-person POV also provides distance, which helps to keep the reader from being swayed one way or the other between the characters. Alternating chapters keep the reader on their toes, and the pacing worked with the mood of the story to keep it interesting. Objectivity is important, because the story never goes where you think it will, and it never loses that element of surprise.
Likewise, the characters aren't flashy, but they are rich in nuances. I never knew if I was making a good decision to side with Syrenka, appropriately enough--after all, she is a dangerous mermaid. You will feel afraid of her, and I loved that I couldn't predict what she would do next. I never knew if Ezra was truly who he said he was, and that intrigued me far more than if he had been the usual charming YA hero. The only character I thought might have been "safe" was Hester, and even then, it was only because she and I were both trying to find answers to our questions. The relationships never dive into insta-love territory, which was a welcome change. Monstrous Beauty makes you think while you read, which may not make it a popular book, but certainly an excellent one.
Part of that excellence stems from the themes. This is not a paranormal story so much as a tale based solidly in history and family. Hester's job in a historical reenactment village ties her to both the community and her own family history. She isn't a lost soul looking for where she belongs, and there is a whole host of people that help ground her in the town. The ambiance is brilliantly set with little insights into the history and character of Hester's home, and it shifts the focus from mermaids to humanity. There is a warmth to the story that comforts the reader during the horrifying revelations that later occur, and I loved that Fama was willing to take a chance writing this kind of story.
Love-as-sacrifice also comes into play, and while I won't be talking about this particular theme as much for fear of spoiling it, suffice to say that the way Hester grows into that idea is absolutely stunning. Because there is a real growth, a change that comes over the characters as they move through the story, and I loved being able to reread the book and pinpoint where that growth began. The foreshadowing is present, but never overt, and it gives readers a puzzle to unlock. As the reader is led towards the shocking climax, Fama never lets the story threads fall to pieces, and holding such a tightly woven plot together is a challenge. Hester's fear of falling in love never feels contrived to fit the story, and the reasons behind that fear are revealed in a masterfully written denouement which may bring tears to readers' eyes.
The Final Say: Elizabeth Fama achieves an outstanding feat in Monstrous Beauty, with characters that never feel worn in and a plot that will surprise and startle even the most worldly readers.
Tell Me More:If I had to narrow down my experience wYou can find this review and many more at Mermaid Vision Books!
Source: ARC received from publisher
Tell Me More: If I had to narrow down my experience with this story to one word, it would definitely be "surprise." Jessica Brody's tale of a pampered, spoiled heiress may not sound like it has substance, but the layers of characterization, humour and just plain good writing made me believe in it from page one.
Surprise #1: Lexington Larrabee was a great character. While real-life people like her may be lambasted as much as they are adored in popular culture, I genuinely enjoyed Lexi's idiosyncrasies. I could relate to her frustrations, even if I've never worried about losing a multi-million dollar trust fund. It was obvious from the start that Lexi's self-esteem issues and attitude were the products of a not-so-healthy family life, and Brody handles each of these aspects with an understanding heart. There was a real optimistic teenage spirit to this story--you get the sense that Lexi's determination to get what she wants is also what's going to lead her to the right place. There's also a brilliant family dynamic that I won't discuss for fear of spoiling the plot, but suffice to say that this is a contemporary story that you could never have expected. And that leads us to...
Surprise #2: Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer hilarity of this book. Lexi is placed in awkward situation upon awkward situation, she deals with people who do jobs she never knew existed, she experiences the fallout of her own mistakes. All of these things are not only written well for the development of the story, but they are also really funny to read about. Brody has a way of finding the humour in any situation, and she plays it off Lexi's own honest lack of knowledge about the real world without being condescending. I loved knowing that readers from any part of the economic spectrum could find ways to relate to Lexi and her journey. Many of Lexi's experiences actually reminded me of my own, as I'd grown up with a nanny and housemaid who ensured that I didn't have to do chores. Remembering how I'd had to learn to do the laundry and clean the house properly made Lexi's experiences more real--and more funny--to me.
The Final Say: YA needs more genuinely funny and heartwarming stories like 52 Reasons. Take this one to the beach. And school. And L.A. And New York. Just take it and love it.