Book Reviews, Contemporary, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Book of Unknown Americans – Cristina Henriquez Review

The Book of Unknown Americans: Amazon.co.uk: Cristina Henriquez ...

Rating: ★★★★★

This is a beautiful story of Latin American immigrants in America, learning to live in and love a country that doesn’t love them back. If you are looking for a new #ownvoices book to add to your TBR, add this one straight away!

After their daughter Maribel suffers a traumatic brain injury, the Riveras leave their native Mexico to move to America, where the offer of specialist education gives them hope that their daughter will one day be how she was before. In the same apartment block, Mayor, a Panamanian boy who struggles to live up to the high standards set by his older brother, the golden boy. Mayor is instantly taken with Maribel, and is one of the few people able to get through to her. However, when violence reaches the families and threatens everything they have fought so hard for, will Maribel and Mayor make it through? And will the Riveras’ move to America be worth it?

This book was so well written and some of the passages fully took my breath away and were so beautiful I had to re-read. I could relate to the stories in the book, which were so expertly crafted and realistic that they felt like true reflections of the stories of my family members and friends. You can really feel the benefit of an #ownvoices author in a book like this, that does not use immigration simply as a topic for discussion but understands the real lives behind the story.

Although Mayor and Mirabel are presented as main characters, I loved the whole cast. In particular, I really liked reading Maribel’s mum’s chapters, and her journey of struggling with motherhood, a new language, and grieving for the daughter she had before Mirabel’s injury. My favourite part of the book was the snapshots into the lives of the background characters, each of which was given a short chapter where you learn about where they’ve come from, why they left, and what they hoped to find in America. I couldn’t help but cry at some of the stories and it added a really moving and human touch to the book.

Overall, I could not recommend this book more. I am surprised that it has not received more attention, as it is honestly one of the most emotional books I’ve read.

Book Reviews, Contemporary

Such A Fun Age – Kiley Reid Review

Such a Fun Age: Reid, Kiley: 9780525541905: Amazon.com: Books

Rating: ★★★★

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, and so I jumped at the chance to read this for my book club. I nominated this book the moment it was released, and was so glad that I did! This book is a great read, with interesting characters and a really interesting plot.

Emira is a black babysitter working for Alix and Peter Chamberlain, a white family. She is looking after their toddler daughter one night when she is accused of having kidnapped the young child. She is furious and humiliated, but when a bystander films the incident and offers to post it online, she refuses. Instead, she returns to her job with the Chamberlain family, who are determined to make it right. Kelley – the bystander who filmed the incident – and Emira bump into each other and strike up a relationship. Although everything seems to have turned out for the better, it all begins to crumble.

The discussions about race were incredibly interesting. Alix prides herself on being “woke”. She is proud for having a group of racially diverse friends around her dinner table, and is determined to make Emira like her. Kelley wants Emira to go public with her ordeal, encouraging her to share the video, but can’t see why she simply wants to forget all about the incident. For much of the book, it seems like Emira is surrounded by people telling her how to be black or how to feel about the things that have happened to her and I loved seeing how she finds her own voice among all of these different voices.

Another element of the book that I really enjoyed was seeing Emira’s friendships. Emira’s group of friends are all embarking on successful, high paying careers. Meanwhlie, Emira is working multiple jobs, is about to lose her health insurance and shares a small apartment with others. She struggles with the conflict of feeling happy for her friends’ successes, whilst also feeling confused about her own life and lost as to where she wants to go. She loves babysitting the Chamberlain’s daughter, but is it really where she wants to spend the rest of her life. It was nice to see such a universal coming-of-age story line embedded so delicately into the story, and refreshing to see this in relation to a character in their 20s where it is usually the reserve of teen books. After all, there is no rule that says an adult must have their whole life sorted out!

There were so many elements of this book that I loved in addition to these. The writing was clear and flowed well and the characters were well crafted and felt like real people. The writing felt genuinely as if it was coming from the characters’ own mouths, and not as if Kiley Reid was putting words into their mouths to put across a particular opinion. I loved Alix’s complex character and trying to figure out whether or not she was untrustworthy or not. On the other hand, I felt like the plot sometimes got a little bit lost and I couldn’t always figure out where the book was going. Luckily, all of these other elements were strong enough to keep me entertained even where the plot felt lacking, so I have no complaints!

Book Reviews, Contemporary, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Dear Edward – Ann Napolitano Review

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Rating: ★★★★

Dear Edward is a touching story about a young boy finding his world in a world that has fallen apart.

Edward is 12 years old when his family decide to move from New York to California. The family are ready for a new start, but their plane crashes and Edward is the sole survivor. Suddenly, his life has changed completely. He is living with his aunt and uncle in New Jersey and he is broken in more ways than he can count. However, when he finds bags full of letters from the loved ones of the other 191 passengers who didn’t make it, these slowly stir him back into action and help him to find purpose.

Much of the book deals with very difficult and emotional topics such as Edward’s grief and his aunt and uncle’s relationship struggles. However, Ann Napolitano’s writing was really beautiful and meant that the passages were touching and not too heavy to bear. Similarly, much of the book deals with Edward getting used to his new daily routine – a new school, new friends. Napolitano manages to really explore what is going on in Edward’s brain in these moments without detracting from the story. This meant that the inward journey that Edward goes on is always balanced perfectly with the plot of the book, the two work alongside each other perfectly.

I really liked the cast of characters in this book. Edward’s friend Shay was fun and I felt like you saw her grow up from a precocious 12 year old into a bold and brash teenager. I felt personally invested in the relationship between Edward’s aunt and uncle, and I absolutely loved Edward’s school principal with his wisdom and love of plants. the characters all served a clear purpose, and were never overdone but simply felt like real people that you would want to know.

My only issue with Dear Edward was the pacing. The blurb of the book really emphasises the role that the letters play in the story, but Edward doesn’t discover these letters until more than halfway through the book. It’s not that the book was boring until this point was reached, in fact I still loved reading the lead up to this moment, but I felt a bit misled and like I spent most of the book waiting for something that happened quite near to the end. Perhaps if the blurb were more honest or the book had better pacing, I would have been able to really give myself over to the book without expectations.

Book Reviews, Historical

The Other Bennet Sister – Janice Hadlow Review

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

Rating: ★

The Other Bennet Sister is a retelling/sequel to Pride and Prejudice focusing on Mary Bennet, the plainest of the five Bennet sisters. It starts from just before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with the first part of the book telling the story of Pride and Prejudice, and then continuing on past the events of the book. Unfortunately, this book simply failed to keep me interested and as much as I wanted to love it, The Other Bennet Sister became my first DNF of 2020.

This book caught my eye straight away. I have always loved Pride and Prejudice and typically quite enjoy engaging with retellings and the like. I have always been intrigued by Mary, who is generally made fun of in the book and subsequent adaptations. However, I never saw her as a joke, and I wanted to know more about this girl who is serious, clever and wants to impress but is constantly made to feel like an embarrassment. That’s why I felt like I absolutely had to read The Other Bennet Sister.

Unfortunately, this book was such a disappointed to me. Initially, the concept of a book about Mary Bennet kept me going, but eventually the complete lack of plot and purpose made me give up. The book is split into several parts, each of which tells the story of Mary in a different setting. The first part aligns somewhat with the events of Pride & Prejudice, the second takes place some years after when Mary visits the Collins family, the third with her visiting her aunt, and so on. Unfortunately, in each setting we meet largely new characters and each section therefore feels completely detached and unrelated to the previous. Even though these parts when looked at individually felt well-written and interesting, I got bored of reading what felt like a succession of independent stories with no overarching plot. The closest thing to an overarching plot was Mary’s development a a character, but unfortunately this wasn’t clear or exciting enough to keep me excited and interested as a reader.

I really, really wanted to like this book and in fact I made it over halfway through the book, hoping and waiting for it to change my mind. Unfortunately, this character-driven book was just not strong enough to justify the lack of a clear plot, which is a shame because I think Mary Bennet has the potential to be a great character.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Opposite of You – Lou Morgan Review

The Opposite of You by Lou Morgan

Rating: ★★

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love books about sisters and their relationships, and so I was intrigued in The Opposite of You from the start. However, this book simply did not go deep enough when exploring the characters, and the plot was too cliched for me.

Bex and Naomi are identical twins who used to be best friends. They used to know everything the other was thinking and feeling, they used to finish each other’s sentences and communicate without words. However, for the last few years they have drifted apart, and the connection that they used to have seems to be firmly closed. When Naomi goes missing, Bex must find a way to reopen that connection to find her sister.

Bex and Naomi are cookie cutter characters, with little dimension to them. Bex is the ‘good’ twin, and Naomi is the ‘bad’ twin. Bex is perfect, does well at school, is responsible and sensible with a group of close, equally sensible friends. Naomi, the bad twin, sneaks out at night, drinks, and generally disappoints her parents in every way. The pair’s relationship has essentially disintegrated so that Bex has no idea what her sister is up to. Despite their characters being a bit two dimensional, I did find the portrayal of their relationship interesting at times and simply wish it could have been explored more. I was particularly intrigued by the sisters’ desire to be individual and distinct from the other, and if their characters had been more fleshed out this could have been explored more.

In terms of plot, I think the book was lacking in depth and rushed to tick off the boxes of what the author felt should be addressed in a young adult mystery without actually devoting the time to develop any aspect of the book. The ‘mystery’ of where Naomi was was dampened by the fact that Naomi was a narrator, so although Bex has no idea where her sister is, we always do. I think it would have been much better if we stuck to Bex’s perspective, and perhaps only heard Naomi’s side of the story in the form of the flashbacks to when the sisters were younger. The use of dual narrators also felt repetitive and boring at times, as sometimes we were shown the same scene from the two perspectives. I also found the use of the twins’ mental connection to be a bit of a cop out, as it simply meant that Bex could solve everything by ‘connecting’ to her sister’s mind. I also didn’t like the ‘romance’ sub-plot, which felt out of place and unrealistic – I simply couldn’t relate at all to Bex going for coffee with a guy she has just met the day that her twin sister goes missing.

Overall, this book had potential and could have been really interesting. It reminded me a bit of Goodbye, Perfectly by Sara Barnard (see my review here), but it simply did not go far enough.