Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

My Heart and Other Black Holes – Jasmine Warga Review

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Rating:★★★★

I was concerned starting this book that it would fall into a lot of cliches, and to be fair, it did – a lot of cliches. However, I still enjoyed this book. The writing and the characters meant that the cliche plot didn’t stop me appreciating the book.

My Heart and Other Black Holes revolves around sixteen year old Aysel and Roman, who meet via a Suicide Partners website. Both want to die, and they agree to do it together, a month from their first meeting. They’re both running away from something, but as they spend more and more time together, Aysel starts to wonder if running away is really necessary, or if all you need is someone who understands you. Eventually, Aysel realises that there is more to live for than there is to run away from, but the clock is ticking, and Roman is much more committed to the plan than she is.

The first cliche that I was apprehensive of in this novel was the suicidal teen story. Obviously, suicide and depression are very important issues to address in fiction, but sometimes I worry that teen novels romanticise mental illness as characteristics and quirks. Warga addressed the feelings of both Aysel and Roman well enough that their problems didn’t feel like they were just being used to advance a plot. Aysel’s father committed a horrific crime a few years before, and she is running away from the fear that she is just as bad as he is. Roman is running away from guilt that he could have stopped a tragedy in his family. Warga wrote this after the death of a close friend and you can see clearly that her writing is influenced by real experiences. This novel is dark, because it honestly addresses the characters’ experiences, and while it is heart-wrenching at times, this means that overall, mental illness doesn’t feel like a prop.

Further, the characters both feel real and less like quirky caricatures than they sometimes feel in other teen novels that address characters with health problems. Instead of being one-dimensional and cookie-cutter characters that serve the author’s purpose of writing about their mental health problems, Aysel and Roman were multi-faceted and fun to read. Personally, I loved Aysel’s interest in physics and how it influences her narration of the story. She also talks us through some of her memories, and we see how these affect her, without an annoying info-dump or cringe-y flashback. Both Aysel and Roman have their own sense of humour and wit, and overall, they were just a lot of fun to read and very likeable characters.

All of these little cliches, however, developed into what felt like one big cliche. I don’t want to ruin the ending, but my feelings around the ending made me feel unsure about the  novel as a whole. On the one hand, all of the little cliches developed into a bigger cliche ending that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Lifetime movie. While this felt refreshing compared to other teen novels about mental health that sometimes feel like they romanticise huge tragedies, the ending isn’t objectively super happy. Rather, it is an open-ended and hopeful conclusion. However, the ending did feel a little rushed, and so the cliche aspect of the ending was emphasised until it was much stronger than it actually might have been.

Overall, it’s just my ambiguous feeling to the ending of My Heart and Other Black Holes that dampened my feelings to the novel overall. The characters were well-crafted and multi-faceted, and Jasmine Warga’s writing is excellent. While it was a really good read, I don’t feel like it made an impact in the same way that other novels on this topic has, but at the same time, I didn’t think that any aspects of her exposition of mental health and suicide was problematic or unresolved.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Holding Up the Universe – Jennifer Niven Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★

I was so certain that I was going to love this book – after all, I adored All the Bright Places (also by Jennifer Neven) and heard a lot of hype around this title when it was released last year. However, this book was such a disappointment. The characters were one-dimensional, the story felt contrived, and I just couldn’t get into the story.

Much like All the Bright Places, Holding Up the Universe includes two teenage protagonists, each with their own ‘issue’. Here, Libby Strout is returning to school after years of battling with weight problems, which were so bad that she had to be rescued from her house with a crane and was dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’. She is hoping to not only be a normal teenager again but also to pursue her dream of dancing. Meanwhile, Jack Masselin’s cool, popular, and slightly mean persona hides a secret – Jack has prosopagnosia, which means he can’t remember or recognise faces. He forgets a face the minute he turns away from it, meaning he can’t even recognise his own family.

I myself don’t quite understand where this novel went wrong, except that it all felt a little too formulaic, like Niven had followed a recipe for a good, angsty YA romance. Both protagonists have their unique traits, a goal, a secret and/or a tragedy. They meet and initially do not see eye to eye, but after being thrown together, they see past the mask that the other has put up to come to love the person underneath. Whilst they help each other in pursuing some goal, they also pursue goals independently, and so grow as people as well as as a couple. My issue was these characteristics all felt too pragmatic, like they were just there because Niven needed something to make her characters stand out, but the characters didn’t seem well developed outside of these traits. Libby is defined by her mother’s death, her weight, and her dancing, just as Jack is defined by his secret illness, his douche-y personality, and his goal of building a robot for his younger brother. They had friends outside of each other, and they had family members with their own problems, but these were all one-dimensional too. Jack’s girlfriend is just a cookie-cutter high school bitch, and I can’t even remember if Libby had one, two, or three friends because they were all basically just background characters that I couldn’t distinguish from each other. To make matters worse, the story’s development fell into huge cliches, like the characters happening to show up at the same party even though they operate in completely different circles, or like Libby’s being the only face that Jack can recognise (I almost choked).

I quickly grew disillusioned with this book because I could see from the beginning that this recipe for an angsty teen romance was being followed, and it felt like every other angsty teen romance where the characters are battling something feels. I kept pushing through in the hopes that something would happen that would perhaps change everything, a huge plot twist maybe, but nothing came. The characters that I met in the beginning were basically the same, and none of the problems that they faced felt that significant compared to what the characters had gone through before the story began. For example, the bullying that Libby faces is horrible, but compared to what we had been told she had already gone through (bullying on a national scale) and how she had gone on national television to defend herself, it didn’t feel like a big enough deal to drive the story. The ‘problem’ that the pair face as a couple is so negligible I couldn’t really understand why it was a thing, and I can’t even remember whether Jack faced any new problems that weren’t set out from the moment we met him, those being his prosopagnosia and his family situation.

Overall, this book was so disappointing for me. I expected so much more, but the characters were flat and didn’t come to life in the way that I saw Niven’s characters come to life in All the Bright Places, and the story was, frankly, bland. I always try to write as balanced reviews as possible, but this book just felt too run-of-the-mill and cliche for my liking.

Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Naondel – Maria Turtschaninoff Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★★

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

If you check out my review of Maria Turtschaninoff Maresi, the first book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, you’ll know how much I loved it. I had to read the second instalment in the series, and it was both more of what I wanted and something new and exciting. Maria’s writing is exquisite, and I love how she weaves her stories slowly and subtly, and the story in this book was so different to Maresi that it still felt new.

First of all, although this is the second book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel to Maresi and not a sequel. It tells the story of the first women who founded the Red Abbey, the women-only society on the island of Menos that Maresi is set in. The majority of the story takes place in the palace of Ohaddin and starts with Kabira. She visits the Sovereign’s palace and meets Iskan, the son of the Vizier who sweeps her off her feet. Iskan is intrigued and obsessed by the mysterious source of magical power in Kabira’s lands, the spirit of Anji, and tricks Kabira into marrying him for control over it. Over the years, we see Kabira as well as Iskan’s subsequent wives, concubines, and slaves, as they suffer mercilessly under his rule, until they finally decide to escape. There is a reason why the Red Abbey Chronicles are being hailed as ‘feminist fantasy’, and that is because these novels focus on women – their strengths, their dreams, their fears, and their stories.

The novel is told through many different perspectives and these various stories take us to many different locations in Maria’s world. Sometimes I am apprehensive when authors do multiple perspectives as it can often feel confusing and the characters can feel superficial, but Maria Turtschaninoff does not fall into this trap. I have absolutely loved the way that she writes since I first opened Maresi, particularly in that her novel’s form is that of written accounts by the characters, looking back on their experiences. This novel consists of the written account of the women once they have arrives on Menos, and it is easy to believe that these are real women remembering their lives. You really get a feel for them as human beings through this structure, and this way of telling the story means that the story builds up over time, just as the characters become clearer and more distinct to you as the novel goes on. I also love how this format means you get a really good idea of the characters’ personal journeys over time. For example, when the novel begins, Kabira is a teenager, and we see her age until she is an old woman, and we see her not only through her own eyes, but through those of the other women as well, so we get a really well fleshed out image of her.

I’m constantly amazed by how Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing seems so effortless. I’m sure that endless hours go into crafting her work to make it so perfect, but as a reader, I felt like every choice of word was perfect, and even though the words are simple, there were many passages that blew me away. She also expertly manages to craft a unique magical world whilst not making it feel overcomplicated or confusing using the different characters to teach us this. Instead of having a huge info-dump, we learn through each of the characters’ different skills. Kabira has grown up with Anji, Garai has grown up with a close affinity to the land, Orseola is a dreamweaver (one of my favourite stories), and Sulani is a warrior woman. They each bring their own knowledge, talents and skills to the story and to the team, so that by the end of the novel, we see women who don’t even all like each other that much form a strong community together.

I honestly feel like I could talk forever about how much I love Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. I enjoyed Naondel not only for the self-contained story within its pages but also because it adds another wonderful layer to the story that we see in Maresi. Learning about the origins of the Red Abbey and the way of life that Maresi lives was interesting and exciting. As I said with Maresi, I think a wide range of people could love this series. It has something for everyone, whether you are new to the fantasy genre or you have loved it for years as I have, whether you read adult or YA, whether you don’t read a lot at all. There is something in the Red Abbey Chronicles for everyone.

Book Reviews, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

Flame in the Mist – Renee Ahdieh Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

I knew absolutely nothing about this book when I went into it. The only thing I knew was that I really, really wanted to read Renee Ahdieh’s previous series The Wrath and the Dawn, and so I hoped Flame in the Mist would grab my attention in the same way. Renee’s writing is really wonderful, and I liked the characters and the setting of this novel, but some aspects of the story and the fantasy system fell flat to me and didn’t feel properly brought to life.

Flame in the Mist is about Mariko, the daughter of a prominent samurai, who is attacked by the mysterious bandits the Black Clan as she travels to marry a man she has never met in the imperial city. Furious and determined to prove her worth to her family as more than a pawn to be sold in marriage, Mariko sets out on a mission to find the Black Clan, infiltrate them, and find out who paid them to kill her. She dons the disguise of a boy and does just that, and delves into a world of secrets, lies, intrigue and war.

I enjoyed Mariko’s character and the Black Clan as a group. At first, I thought that Mariko might be a typical feisty strong female lead, but she is more than that. I appreciated that her strength lay more in her mind than in her physical abilities – she is not a fighter, although she tries. I also liked that we see her grapple with doubts and questions, as well as with a desire to be brave even though she cannot escape the fact that she is terrified. Okami and Ranmaru are the other two central characters in the Black Clan, and Mariko’s brother, who we follow as he tries to track his missing sister. I enjoyed reading about the connections between these characters, and especially that there were different types of relationships. The romance does not overpower the story at all, but instead there is just the right amount of love for me, and there are also great friendships in the novel. My main issue was that the book swaps perspectives between these characters quite a bit, as well as some other minor characters, and sometimes the way this was done felt disjointed and confusing, and I felt like Renee Ahdieh spread the narration too thinly among too many characters.

I have tried to pick apart exactly why I couldn’t connect to this story fully, and I couldn’t find a single reason. The opening half of the story felt very flat to me, principally because I couldn’t really understand why Mariko was doing what she was doing. I understood that she resented being married off, and I understood that she wanted to prove that she was more than just a weak girl, but I couldn’t understand how she made the link from that to infiltrating the Black Clan to discover why they had tried to kill her. After the initial section of Mariko trying to find the Clan, we then have to sit through a large chunk which consists of her being treated as a sort of servant, and read as Okami and Ranmaru question whether they trust her. I think that because I was bored in this first section, I missed some vital details about the characters Okami and Ranmaru that made the second part harder to understand and get excited about, even though I felt like the story was picking up. I couldn’t remember the details about the pair’s history, and I’m still not sure I understand it.

The fantasy was also a bit vague. I found it so intriguing – there were trees that suck the blood out of people, and foxes made of smoke, and characters that could fly. But I had no idea where any of this came from and how it worked. I felt like the magical aspects of the book were quite randomly dropped into the book and for quite a large chunk of the book I wasn’t sure if this was a fantasy novel or a sort of historical novel. When magic did turn up, it was merely shown for a passage, then it vanished again. It felt so random that I felt like it could have been taken out of the novel altogether and the story would have still functioned equally well without it.

Overall, there were parts of this book that I liked a lot and others that, although I didn’t dislike, I just didn’t really get. I would have loved for the story to have picked up quicker and for aspects of the novel to have been a bit clearer, specifically the magic system and the characters’ pasts and goals. Although I didn’t love this book, I think that I will read the second instalment of this duology when it is released just to see where the characters end up and where the story goes.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

When Dimple Met Rishi – Sandhya Menon Review

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Rating; ★★★★★

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

I was so excited to read this novel and when I finally got a copy, I was overjoyed. The synopsis had me feeling some noughties rom-com meets Bend It Like Beckham vibes, and that’s exactly what I got. I loved the blend of the lighthearted teen romance with the infusion of Dimple and Rishi’s cultural backgrounds and their families, and the whole story really comes to life as you read it.

Dimple and Rishi have both been sent to Insomnia Con, a prestigious summer camp, to meet each other by their parents. The only problem is that only Rishi knows that this is a set-up. He is excited to meet his potential future wife and spend six wonderful weeks with her, but when he meets Dimple, he realises that she knew nothing of the plan. Dimple was under the impression that her parents were finally letting her focus on her career, and she’s furious that she’s been tricked. When Dimple and Rishi get paired together on a project, it seems like things couldn’t get any worse. Except they do. Dimple realises that perhaps she’s let her anger blind her, and she starts to wonder if perhaps she and Rishi and more compatible than she thought.

My favourite part of this novel was the characters. Dimple and Rishi are both so different. Dimple is feisty, independent, and stubborn. She dreams of being a web developers and I loved how passionate she is about her goals. Despite the romance storyline, I never felt like Dimple’s personality and goals were being sacrificed or like her character was being diluted in any way which I often feel in romance novels. Rishi on the other hand is a romantic and he loves all of the traditions that Dimple feels constrained by. He can’t wait to marry and have kids, everything that his parents want, but he doesn’t know if he’s following in their footsteps rather than pursuing his own dream – comics.  I loved reading about their families and their Indian culture. You can really tell that this novel is own voices in my opinion, because it never felt forced or superficial, the descriptions and conversations between family members felt real.

I loved that despite the storylines of the romance between Dimple and Rishi and the Insomnia Con competition there was also the interior battles that the characters are facing. Both Dimple and Rishi have to learn what it is exactly that they want, not what they’ve been told they should want or what they’ve told themselves they should want. It is a storyline that I think plenty of readers could relate to, and I definitely could myself.  I also love that despite the two of them obviously helping each other learn things along the way, neither one’s achievements were completely dependent on the other. Both Dimple and Rishi are extremely talented at what they do, and they both love it. Sometimes they just need a little shove to realise that they need to dive in.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a really fun and lighthearted novel, a great read for the summer. It gave me noughties romcom vibes to the extent that I was imagining  movie sequences in my head as I read it. It was easy to hand out 5-stars to this as I had such a good time reading it, and I hope you look into a getting a copy yourself soon!

For fans of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Way Back Home – Allan Stratton Review

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Rating; ★★★★

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

The Way Back Home is about a young girl called Zoe Bird who loves her grandmother more than anything and is furious when she is put into a care home. Fed up with her own life in the town, where she is bullied relentlessly and her parents don’t listen to her, she decides to escape with her mother to Toronto, where her long-lost uncle lives. There were parts of this book that I really liked, and other parts that I just didn’t really feel made an impact on me, and overall it balanced out to be just that. Good, but not great.

Zoe’s relationship with her grandmother is one of the best parts of this novel. Zoe on her own was not a character that I liked. I really do not connect to characters who are rude for no reason, and I felt like, although I can relate to the struggles of seeing a loved one be put into a care home, Zoe’s anger and attitude to her parents felt a bit exaggerated at times. Generally, the parts of Zoe’s life that did not directly link to the story with her grandmother felt a little two-dimensional, like her cousin Madi’s character. I guess none of it felt real enough to me, it all just felt a bit too much of a caricature. However, seeing Zoe with her aunt on their trip was really endearing or Zoe’s character. We see that Zoe is kind and loyal behind all the anger that she harbours, and her desire to look after her grandmother isn’t a pipe dream, but she actually does it.

On the other hand, I felt like this is a perfect example of a character that is just too dumb to live. The whole way through this book I was waiting for the moment where someone would shake Zoe by the shoulders and ask her what the hell she was doing. I admire the way that Zoe and her grandmother’s relationship was written, but it also felt a bit ridiculous. Having seen Alzheimer’s in my own family, I know how difficult it is to deal with, and I find it hard even now, let alone when I was fourteen or fifteen. The whole story in this respects felt a bit naive, but once you look past the recklessness of it and how unreal the situation is, you can sort of enjoy the story.

Finally, the best part for me was the story with Uncle Teddy. I loved seeing the story unfold and the family come back together and especially Zoe discovering the truth of the family secret. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who goes onto read this book, but it was refreshing and I felt like it was handled well, exposing some common experiences whilst not being insensitive. However, I was really confused at how the rest of the storylines played out around this. Zoe’s family reunite with one side of their family, only to turn around to the other side of their family and completely cut them off. When you read the book, you do see that their relationships are not exactly healthy, but I felt like for a book about families coming back together and looking past each other’s problem, perhaps this could have made an effort at humanising Aunt Jess and cousin Madi a little more to make it feel more cohesive.

Overall, I didn’t love this book, but I didn’t not like it. It was okay, with good bits and bad bits. I think perhaps my own experiences with the subject matter made it difficult to connect to because it felt silly to me, but it didn’t ruin the book for me.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Spontaneous – Aaron Starmer Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

This book has a lot going for it. I went into this novel not knowing much about it, and was blown away by the originality of the concept. A town where teenagers begin spontaneously combusting? Well, you have caught my attention right there! The author really caught the voice of Mara, and there was a great balance between humour and the not-so-humorous concept of kids blowing up. However, the plot petered out about halfway through and I couldn’t find my flow with this book again.

Now, I usually keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, but there are some vague spoilers in this review, so if you want to be really surprised when you read this book, be warned.

Mara is a senior when one of her classmates blows up right before her eyes. Soon, kids are blowing up all over Covington. At school, at parties, at home, in cars. It’s a tragedy, a mystery, a curse – the Covington Curse. The police get involved, the President is sending messages of goodwill, reporters are flocking to Covington, but nobody can figure out how to stop the curse. It seems like all the youth of Covington are destined to a gory end. As if this isn’t bad enough, school has been closed down for safety reasons, Covington has become a quarantine town, and the senior students are pariahs in their own town. Can Mara get to the bottom of the curse, and will she survive?

The first half of this book was so much fun. This is going to sound really weird, but Starmer had a really great way of making these repeated cases of spontaneous combustion sound hilarious. Mara is a sarcastic, cynical girl with wit deserving of a daytime chat show. I loved reading her comments on the situation, her descriptions of the different people around town, and her crude sense of humour. However, at around the halfway point, understandably, the story became less about people randomly blowing up and more about trying to figure out why. This was where, in my opinion, the book started to drift, until by the end, it was just a bit of a mess.

I think my main issue was that the issue of the curse was left unresolved. There was so much mystery around the curse, and there were so many different theories being thrown around, from the students, from the police, from journalists and every single other character in the novel, that it felt like the author had just decided he couldn’t be bothered to finish the storyline. The middle section of the book completely abandoned this story. Instead, we read chapters and chapters of the seniors of Covington getting their lives back on track by reopening their school and convincing teachers to come back to teach them. This was cute for a few chapters, but eventually, I wanted to get back to the real story. Why were people exploding? Towards the end, people started exploding all over the place again, which made me think we would get somewhere, but we didn’t. All of this drama had happened for no reason! I feel like Starmer maybe intended for readers to come away with a message of making the most of your lives, but really, I was just annoyed. I felt ripped off, like the first half of the novel was leading me to something, tempting me with the lure of plot twists and shocking revelations, only to take it away. It’s like when a TV show opens with a really exciting premise, but 5 seasons later you’re still waiting for the explanation to a story from the first series.

Overall, even though I was really annoyed by route that this book took, I gave it 3 stars because Mara’s voice was so funny. I felt like even though she was snarky and rude, it didn’t feel forced and two-dimensional like it does for other ‘tough girl’ characters in YA literature. Instead of feeling like a caricature, she just felt like a real life Daria character, and I loved that. I also loved that she didn’t feel like a stereotype. She wasn’t a loner, but she wasn’t the most popular, she was very flawed, and very funny. I want a TV show about Mara. Not necessarily this story, but definitely Mara.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Out of Heart – Irfan Master Review

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Rating: ★

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

I really wanted this book to impress me, and I was optimistic for much of it, but I can’t lie. This book was so disappointing for me. I never understood what was happening, whether anything was happening at all, or what the point of it was. This really was not my cup of tea.

When Adam’s grandfather ‘Dadda’ dies, he and his family are shocked to discover that he donated his heart. They are even more shocked when Adam shows up at their house claiming to be the recipient of Dadda’s heart. William is quickly welcomed into the family and finds a home with them. Meanwhile, Adam spends his days enveloped in his artwork. To be honest, that’s basically it. I don’t know how to describe the ‘plot’ of this novel, because I couldn’t really pick one out for you. Things happened, once in a while, but they didn’t really seem to serve a larger purpose, and for most of the book, I had no idea where it was going and what the characters were looking for. I appreciate that one aspect of many of the characters, or at least William and Adam, was that they are sort of drifting through life, but I would have liked to have had a clearer idea of at least their short term goals, their feelings, their wishes.

Perhaps this was made worse by the fact that the writing is quite poetic and symbolic. Adam spends a lot of time making short little poems with random pairs of words, and the way that the novel is told is almost a sort of stream of consciousness narrative. I found this odd, especially for a YA contemporary novel, but I was willing to give it a try. I have enjoyed stream of consciousness literature before, so I was actually quite excited. However, my issue with the way it was used in this novel was that I don’t feel like any of the characters really stood their ground enough as individuals. The narrative would sometimes switch from one character to another, and by the end of the novel, I think most of the characters had been the focus of the narrative at some point, but the information we were given about them and the events happening were just a bit too wishy-washy and vague for me.

Vague seems to be the overall impression of this novel. I don’t mind reading novels that experiment with symbolism and narrative, I’m used to them, but I do think that there has to be a balance. There was clearly symbolism in this novel, there was a lot of talk of hearts (understandably), but if Irfan Master was hoping that his novel would make his readers think about something in particular, it didn’t achieve it with me. Even basic things missed me. For example, even now I’m not completely sure if Adam actually lives with his grandmother. I’m pretty sure she was mentioned at some point, but then she disappeared. There was another plot to do with Adam’s father, his younger sister, and domestic abuse, but for such a heavy topic, it just wasn’t explored at all.

This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written, simply because I am completely lost for words over this novel. I read it, but I can’t find any wider meaning to it. It was just a string of events, and the attempts at symbolism and imagery completely went over my head. Nothing was explored, none of the characters stood out to me, and the plot was barely identifiable.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The State of Grace – Rachel Lucas Review

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Rating: ★★

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

When I started writing this review, I thought that I was just disappointed, but then I realised that this book actually made me surprisingly angry. While the representation of ASD was good, the lack of plot and the frankly terrible secondary characters made this book really get on my nerves.

My main problem was the lack of actual plot. Grace has Autism. She struggles at school. Her best friend is Anna. She lives with her parents and sister, but her father travels a lot for work. She has a horse. She begins to date Gabe. There is a lot of stuff to Grace’s life, but there wasn’t a clear plot. Apart from her new relationship with Gabe, nothing at the end of the novel was different from the beginning, which made me wonder a bit what the point was. Towards the end, things began to pick up, but I felt like it was rushed and somewhat meaningless once it had finished. Grace makes a huge mistake trying to be cool, which makes her fear that her friends will hate her. This was understandable because Rachel Lucas does a really good job at getting us to understand the way Grace thinks, but Grace doesn’t actually do anything to solve this, which made it feel a bit lacklustre. Rather, everything was solved by other characters swooping in to save her and  assuring her that everything is fine. It’s not that I was looking for Grace to be magically cured of her autism and anxiety, but it would have been nice to have seen Grace do something to fix the mess that she made and take some ownership.

Rachel Lucas did a really good job at representing life with Autism. I’ve learned since that this is an #ownvoices novel, and you can definitely see the effects of this being told by someone who knows what it feels like to have Autism. We see Grace’s thought processes, how she handles people, and her daily life. I was really impressed at how Lucas shows us a little of what it feels to be overwhelmed by the world around you, and the way that it’s written really shows you how Grace struggles to deal with all of the sounds, sights, and smells around her. Grace was a really well developed character in this sense. However, I was a bit disappointed at the representation of Gabe’s ADHD, in that there basically was none. It was mentioned, and I thought that we might get so learn a bit about his experiences, but then this just disappeared for the entire rest of the novel. It felt odd that a novel that was clearly trying to represent one condition would so completely disregard another that it had purposefully mentioned.

This leads onto my final issue with the novel, which is simply that all of the secondary characters were completely two-dimensional. For example, we basically know nothing about Gabe other than that he is Polish, has ADHD, and watches Doctor Who. We don’t see his sense of humour or his feelings. We barely even see him talk, as when Gabe and Grace hang out, Lucas just skims over their dialogue and summarises their conversations for us. The same goes for Grace’s friendship with Anna. It was taken for granted that readers would just accept that Anna was Grace’s best friend because we were told that she was, but I would have liked to have seen Anna actually doing something to actively support Grace so that I could understand why Grace feels more comfortable with Anna than other people.

Grace’s mother and sister are shown a lot more, but they still felt so flat. Grace’s sister Leah is basically irrelevant for the entire story until she suddenly has alcohol poisoning, which was so random that I couldn’t believe it was happening. Grace’s mother is struggling with her marriage and has rekindled a friendship with an old friend called Eve, who is pushing her to return to work now that her daughters are older. Eve is portrayed as some sort of evil witch, and Grace’s mother as a brainless and bitter housewife. At the end, Grace’s mother realises that Eve has been a bad influence and returns to being blissfully happy with home life. This was a laughable twist of events, and really annoyed me. There is nothing wrong with Grace’s mother being interested in returning to work, but it was shown as a terrible, selfish thought on her part, and I just can’t believe that someone as inconsiderate Eve could exist. Characters were either good people or terrible people, there was no in between, and the terrible characters were given no chance for redemption or development. This made it really hard to take any of the secondary characters seriously because they were like caricatures of real people.

Overall, the only thing that saved this book for me was the delicate exploration of Grace’s mind in the opening half of this novel, and that’s the only thing that saved this from being a 1-star review. Even though there was barely any plot and the secondary characters were simplistic and cartoonish, I do feel like I did learn things about life with Autism.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating:★★★★★

This is one of my most anticipated 2017 releases, and – God – did it deliver! This book is both important for its message and the subject matter that it represents, and also really, really good. Starr’s voice is strong and unique, all of the characters are fleshed out so they feel real, and the story grips you by the heartstrings right from the start.

Starr is 16 years old when she witnesses her best friend Khalil get shot by a police officer after being pulled over. In the weeks that follow, she must battle not only with her own grief, her guilt, her fear for her safety and those around her, but also with the police investigation, with the media spotlight, with protestors fighting for justice for Khalil, and with those who think that Khalil deserved it. Starr knows that what happened was wrong, but speaking out comes with its own struggles.

Books like THUG are one of my favourite things about YA books. Angie Thomas addresses a current, pressing and very divisive issue in a way that makes it feel real to readers. Angie Thomas said in an interview that she has heard from readers who are from white supremacist backgrounds feeling touched by this novel, and it’s easy to see why. Starr, as both a protagonist and a narrator, is superb. Angie’s writing makes Starr’s feelings so clear to the reader, from the shock after Khalil’s death, to her sorrow and grief, her fear for her own safety at multiple times during the book, her guilt over being afraid to speak up, and her anger that fuels her fight for justice. The book brilliantly balances all of the different aspects of the story: the plot, the characters, and the message. All three parts complement and support each other perfectly, amplifying each other so that the book all but knocks you over as you read it. Angie Thomas takes an issue that many people will only be used to hearing about in headlines and news reports, and makes it human.

Starr is a brilliant narrator and protagonist. Her voice is clear, honest, and funny, although it is probably more accurate to say that there are two Starrs at the beginning of this novel. There is the Starr that lives in Garden Heights, a poor neighbourhood with its gangs, drugs, and shootings, but also its friendly neighbours, her dad’s shop, her family and her friends. There is also the Starr who attends the fancy, mostly white private school in the suburbs, who is cool simply because she is black, but who can’t be too ‘black’ or she’ll be seen as a thug. This separation of her identity is something that we see Starr grapple with a lot, and it adds a lot of layers to her as a character. She doesn’t tell her friends that she knew Khalil, and her friends don’t visit her at her house.

It was a great strength of the book that its characters where multifaceted and weren’t always completely sure what to think. Starr’s Uncle Carlos is a police officer himself, and he admits that he let his friends convince him that maybe Khalil deserved it even though he knew him, an even though it could have just as easily been his niece, and Starr has to deal with the guilt of knowing she was too ashamed to tell her friends the truth about Khalil. I found it interesting to see how her experiences have ramifications for all areas of her life, making her question her friends more, and even question whether she is betraying herself and her friends by having a white boyfriend. For lack of a better way to say it, the characters in this novel are not black and white, and their personal challenges add another layer to a story that is already excellent.

Overall, I don’t hesitate to say that I think THUG should be recommended reading for everyone. This book is both fantastic and important. It addresses racism in various forms, from institutional racism to the hidden racism of Starr’s school friends who prefer to ignore the problem, but it also shows brilliant characters, beautiful relationships, whether it’s those in Starr’s family, her friendships, or that of her and her boyfriend.