Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Goodbye Days – Jeff Zentner Review

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Rating: ★★★★

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

Goodbye Days follows Carver Briggs, who sent his friends, Mars, Eli and Blake, a simple text message one night asking where they were. It was as Mars tapped out his reply that the three friends were crashed into a truck and died, and Carver can’t shirk the feeling that it was his fault. To top it all off, his friends’ parents are asking him to help them say goodbye to their sons with ‘goodbye day’ ceremonies, all while he tries to figure out his feelings towards Eli’s girlfriend, Jesmyn. Goodbye Days was a really moving book and I loved the writing style, which was simple but emotional at the same time. I only had some problems with the characters and dialogue.

I think that Zentner did a really good job of exploring the emotional struggles of Carver following his friends’ death. After the funerals of his friends, Carver struggles with panic attacks and still sees his friends around him. He takes his sister’s advice and enlists the help of Dr. Mendez, a therapist, to help him recover, and this aspect of the story was my favourite. It was while I read this book that I realised I had not read many books showing male characters struggling with trauma and mental health problems, and so this was really refreshing to read.

The book also shows how other people are dealing with loss as Carver helps his friends’ families with ‘Goodbye Days’, where they spend one final day doing things that their loved one enjoyed doing, and sharing memories of them. I liked that each of the three families were dealing with their loss in different ways and I feel like Zentner did a really good job at allocating each of these families an appropriate amount of time to explore their stories.

Another aspect of the book is Carver’s friendship with Jesmyn, Eli’s girlfriend, as they pull together after Eli’s funeral. On the one hand, I liked how Zentner toed the line between friendship and romance so that the relationship never became too corny for the context of the overall story. On the other hand, Jesmyn quickly started to get on my nerves when it became clear that she was a bit of a manic pixie dream girl character, and aspect of her character became very repetitive. For example, the fact that she had ‘Filipino genes’ came up multiple times in random conversations, and the scene where she gets childishly excited at a thunder storm felt too childish for a teenage character to be believable. It simply felt like Zentner was shoving in some ‘different’ characteristics to make her stand out, but it felt jarring.

My only other issue with the book was that sometimes the dialogue felt unrealistic. For example, the writing style of the book was largely simplistic, but sometimes characters would dive into long speeches about their emotions, with complex imagery that did not seem real for teenage characters. It was a minor issue, because it wasn’t that  any of the writing was bad, it just sometimes felt inconsistent in style and tone.

Overall, Goodbye Days was a really good book and I loved the exploration of Carver’s mental health. It was great to read a male character dealing with their emotions, and especially via a therapist, a method which is not often portrayed positively in books. I liked the stories of grief of the different families, but Jesmyn fell flat for me and so this aspect of the book was not quite my cup of tea.

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Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Freshers – Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison Review

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Rating: ★★★★

Freshers is a YA contemporary novel that follows Phoebe and Luke in their first term at university. I absolutely loved this novel, because it not only showed the highs and lows of the ‘freshers’ experience, and the relationships that the pair create, but it did it so well that I laughed out loud and couldn’t put the book down.

Phoebe and Luke went to school together, but never spoke, however, that doesn’t mean that Phoebe hasn’t noticed him. She is hopelessly head over heels with him, and when the chaos of freshers brings them together, she can’t believe her luck. As if that wasn’t good enough, her new friends in halls could not be any better, and university is everything she could have asked for. On the other hand, Luke is struggling to adapt. He broke up with his girlfriend of three years on his first night, and without his friends and school football team, he can’t seem to figure out who he wants to be in this new world. He thinks he has struck gold when he lands a spot on the university football team, but it’s not the environment he’s used to, and if he can’t fit in with the lads in his team, will he ever find his place?

My favourite thing in this book was that I felt like it accurately represented the struggles of starting university, or beginning afresh in any situation. I loved how even though Phoebe was having a great time, at times she was hit with intense homesickness, and in Luke’s story, he was confused that the reality of university wasn’t as exciting and positive as he had been told it was. Even though they do all of the things they’re ‘supposed’ to be doing at university, going out every night, getting drunk, at times they simply feel like they are going through the motions and not seeing the point. Even if you can’t relate to the specifics – for example, I didn’t drink at university, or go to ‘freshers’ nights, but I could relate to the fear of not being sure if you’re having as much fun as others around you, if you’re making enough friends, if you’re doing the right things, and I think most people could also relate to these fears.

There were so many fun characters to read in this novel, which made the story a much more interesting experience. I really enjoyed reading the scenes between Phoebe and her friends Liberty and Negin, and how they would come together in trying times, and their voices were so lifelike that I could almost hear them chattering next to me. I even liked the reference to people that they spotted around the campus but don’t know, which I found hilarious and so realistic – those miniature crushes that you develop on the attractive stranger that sits on the opposite side of the lecture hall and that you bond over with your friends. The only place where it fell flat was when these secondary characters became a part of the plot, because sometimes those characters weren’t well developed enough for me to recognise the significance of their role. For example, at one point, a character called Becky becomes a major part of the story, but I couldn’t actually remember who she was.

Also, although I liked how Phoebe and Lucy’s friends from before university made some small appearances, I would have really liked for their parents to make an appearance. We only saw a handful of text messages from Phoebe’s parents and nothing but a missed call from Luke’s. I realised after finishing the book that I didn’t know anything about either of their home lives or families and I think this could have been easily dealt with.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed Freshers and I think it is probably one of my favourite YA contemporary novels. I also really appreciated a novel that looks at the late teenage years and the university experience, as I feel like these years are often left out of fiction and forgotten. I enjoyed the different characters and relationships, but at times, it did feel like there were slightly too many and I couldn’t remember exactly who they were.

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

Ink – Alice Broadway Review

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Rating: ★★★

You’ve probably seen this book making waves online – why? Because of the cover. It’s gorgeous. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence me in wanting to read this, because honestly, this is a book that I went into knowing very little about. All that I did know, was that Ink is set in a world where people’s lives are tattooed onto their skin. In this case, I feel like there isn’t really much more to know than this, because not much else actually happens – and that is my main issue with the book – there was not much there in terms of plot.

Leora Flint’s father recently died, and in accordance with the rules of their society, his skin, chronicling his life’s events, has been removed and made into a book. The pages of his life will be read by the government who will decide whether he is worthy of being remembered, or whether his book will be thrown into flames, to be forgotten forever. However, when his book is confiscated for further investigation, Leora has to deal with the fact that her father hid something from her, and that his skin is not telling the whole story.

I loved the premise of the world that Alice Broadway has created. I was really interested in the culture around the tattoos. For example, the year marks that show hold old a person it; the different tattoos that show crimes a person has committed; the family tree on everybody’s back. I loved seeing how people would come up with ways of marking important events in their life. I would have loved to have seen more detail in people’s tattoo choices, because it’s something that I find fascinating even in real life, for example, the way that Lorea’s mother’s tattoos are all floral, or how one of Lorea’s school friend’s has a previous boyfriend marked on her skin in a dominating position. I just found all of this fascinating, and the notion that you could ‘read’ who a person was and what they were like just by looking at.

On the other hand, this novel was just lacking plot in my opinion. It wasn’t necessarily boring – rather, I really quite enjoyed reading about Lorea learning about the art of tattooing, and dealing with her father’s death. However, I just didn’t get the point of the book in general because there was no clear overarching plot. The end of the novel develops so quickly that I feel like Ink as a novel would have been much better if the story had unravelled more gradually over the whole plot. Instead, for much of the book, it just felt like I was just reading Lorea’s daily life without it having any relevance. This book is an example of one of my pet peeves – it is a book that sets up a series of novels by simply setting the scene for better things to come, despite having tons of potential to be a brilliant standalone whilst also being the first part in a series.

Additionally, I think that because the plot was so weak, it made the characters very one-dimensional for most of the book. Leora makes no decisions for the majority of the book because nothing happens, and so we barely get to see her humanity, and the secondary characters were little more than plot devices. If the book had a stronger plot, all of the characters would have felt more real.

Overall, I wouldn’t say that this book was bad or even boring. I actually really enjoyed it, and I finished it in just over a day. However, just because it was easy to read it doesn’t mean that it was necessarily a fun or gripping read. I would have loved for the plot to have been stronger and interwoven throughout the novel better, but Alice Broadway’s world was interesting enough to make the book generally enjoyable.

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

Truthwitch – Susan Dennard Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I love fast-paced fantasy, unique magical worlds, female-led stories and friendships, so it’s no surprise to me that I absolutely loved Truthwitch! I had been waiting for months to read this book, for two reasons. First of all, my huge hardback edition is far too large to carry to and from school everyday. Secondly, I wanted to give it all of my attention, and I have no regrets (except perhaps that I should have given my full attention to my exam next week but never mind that).

The novel follows Safiya and Iseult, two witches who are trying to make a life for themselves. Safi is a Truthwitch, meaning that she can tell when someone is telling the truth, a power for which she would be hunted, so she keeps it a secret from all but those closest to her. Iseult is a Threadwitch, meaning that she can see their emotions in coloured strands that stem from them, and who these threads ‘tie’ them. The pair are Threadsisters, and when a brewing war threatens all that they hold dear – each other – they have to fight for their bond.

Safi and Iseult are both fantastic protagonists that come to life on the page and their friendship is the fire that keeps them going and that makes the story so interesting. They are lifelike, detailed and complex characters, each with their own stories, backgrounds, personalities and struggles. I loved that each character had their individual plot points, diverting for parts of the book and then rejoining, because it meant that we got to see the characters as independent women as well as a team, and understand the strength of their bond, as well as their individual motivations. This friendship was at the core of why I loved this book so much, as their friendship was so unmovable and strong that it survives all sorts of threats and dangers. Safi and Iseult are willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, and they never give up on each other, which I loved.

I also loved Susan Dennard’s magic system and all of the different witcheries. This isn’t a book where you get bogged down by details and information, and lose track of the story while trying to get to grips with the world. She makes it easy and interesting to understand, and the information that she feeds you weaves into the story so you don’t get distracted. It is so expertly crafted that it never feels forced, but rather each witchery seems to make perfect sense. I loved how despite the witches having immense powers in their fields, whether it be manipulating blood or wind or fire, their powers still had clear limitations. For example, some witches can control the air that people breathe, while others can only control the air around them in the world. Some water healers can heal by manipulating the liquids in people’s body, whilst tidewitches control the waters in the sea. It was such a diverse and complex system, but beautifully designed and wonderful to delve into. I can’t wait to see what other witcheries come up in the rest of the series, and what other aspects of the Witchlands’s history and world Susan Dennard will expose us to.

I definitely give this book 5 stars and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. If you haven’t read it and you love fantasy novels, I could not recommend this to you more. Now excuse me, I need to order my copy of the sequel!

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Goodbye, Perfect – Sara Barnard

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Rating: ★★★★★

Eden and her best friend Bonnie are inseparable, and Eden knows that she can rely on Bonnie for anything. After all, Bonnie is pretty near perfect. However, when Bonnie runs away with a new mysterious boyfriend and it is revealed that this new boyfriend is no-one other than their music teacher, Mr Cohn, Eden has to face up to the fact that she didn’t know her friend as well as she did. Further, when a nationwide police search begins, Eden is forced to question her unfaltering loyalty to her friend.

Sara Barnard took on a really challenging topic in tackling the relationship between Bonnie and her teacher, Mr Cohn. It is a story that I have seen play out in the news multiple times, and it would have been easy for her to take a very sensationalist approach, or on the other hand, an approach that attempted to justify the relationship. Instead, she took another stance altogether and looked at the relationship through Eden’s eyes. Eden struggles throughout the book with the realisation that her friend kept a major secret from her, but also values loyalty more than anything and believes it is her duty to trust her friend when she tells her not to tell anyone where she is. Although I didn’t always like her actions, I understood Eden and her thought processes, and through reading Eden’s thoughts on Bonnie and Mr Cohn, we see her go through the different perspectives on the relationship, and come to her own conclusion by the end of the book.

I loved that female friendship took centre place in this book, and what happens when a friendship is challenged by the actions of one party. Through Eden’s difficulties in coming to terms with everything that is happening, we get to see so much of her character and personality. Her loyalty is a stand-out characteristic, and although it leads her to make not-great decisions (in my point of view), it is something that you can also admire. The journey that the friendship takes, as well as Eden’s relationships with her boyfriend, Connor, and her family, were all fascinating to read. They all had ups and downs, and every single character felt multifaceted and fleshed out to me.

Sara Barnard’s writing really helps to bring all of this to the forefront as well. It is deceptively simple, with little to no flowery language, but rather she lets the characters, their actions and thoughts speak for themselves. This book is easy to read, but not an ‘easy’ book. It challenges you with every page, and the storylines and the characters keep you hooked from start to finish.

Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult, Young Adult Historical

Stalking Jack the Ripper – Kerri Maniscalco Review

 

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Rating: ★★★★★

I first heard about this book on booktube, and it immediately piqued my interest. A young woman in Victorian England studying forensic medicine, sneaking away at night to work in her uncle’s lab dissecting corpses, who sets about investigating the infamous Jack the Ripper serial killer who is plaguing London at night. It took me forever to find a copy, but once I managed to read it, I could not put it down.

First of all, the plot is tightly woven and moves along quickly. There wasn’t a single part of the book that bored me, but rather there was always something happening or something that would become relevant later on. I loved that the mystery unfolded in a way that makes sense in the context of the protagonist, Audrey, being a student forensic science. I was worried that the identity of Maniscalco’s Jack the Ripper would be easy to figure out, that the protagonist wouldn’t be that great at investigating, or that the mystery would actually end up taking a back seat to other storylines such as a love interest or Audrey’s family drama. Instead, Audrey is genuinely intelligent, a quick thinker, and I really enjoyed following her footsteps for the book. I was genuinely surprised by the plot twists, and was kept guessing until the last moment.

I also loved the secondary storylines in this novel. I loved reading about Audrey balancing her practice of forensic science and macabre investigations with being a Victorian lady. The parts of the book that dealt with ‘normal’ society weren’t boring and didn’t feel detached from the main plot, but rather were woven seamlessly into the main plot and helped to flesh out Audrey as a character and make her even more relatable and enjoyable. There was also a brilliant slow-burn romantic subplot, and what I loved the best about it was that it was just that – a subplot. It didn’t overpower the central mystery, or divert the story away for extended periods of time, and added to the book rather than distracting me from its core.

This book didn’t disappoint at all. It was fun from start to finish, and was that perfect blend of dark, macabre, gore, and a fun, exciting mystery adventure, with romance and a witty, clever female protagonist. It reminded me a lot of The Dark Days Club, which I also loved, apart from the fact that it was historical fiction rather than fantasy, and I would recommend you read it for a creepy but fun read!

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

My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner Review

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Rating: ★★★

I went into this book completely blind, having been sent it a few months ago by the publisher. This isn’t a book I would typically pick up, but it did impress me. It also confused me a bit, as I couldn’t quite figure out the genre or the age of the intended audience. I wish it had been a little bit longer with some more exploration of some of the characters, but the short length was also part of its appeal.

The main narrator of the book is Jazmin, who has been shunned by everyone since the disappearance of her best friend Becky, who jumped off of a tall building, but never landed. Jazmin told people what happened, but nobody believed her, and now, she is telling her story again. Other narrators also tell their story, in separate but linked tales that eventually interweave in order to tell us what really happened to Becky when she jumped off that building. It’s a slow-burn drama, but mystery is enough to keep you hooked, and the narrators’ voices are strong and clear.

I really liked the narrative style of this. It is told in a second person narrative by various people who are being interviewed about their experiences. They tell the events of the story as they unfolded in their perspective. This means that you don’t have the same reading experience as you would in another novel, where you might feel like the events are happening to you. It isn’t really possible to disappear into the story, so to speak, because at no point does it stop feeling like you are just reading about it, rather than living it. If the book was longer, this might have ended up bothering me, but for its short length that meant I finished it in two days, I didn’t mind this.

Although it wasn’t completely clear from the blurb or even the first few chapters, this book is science fiction. Aliens are mentioned pretty early on, but for a big chunk of the book I couldn’t figure out if the characters were mad or not. This made reading it a bit strange. Also, the age range of this book wasn’t clear either. I was sure from the cover art and the simple style of the narrative that this was a children’s or young adult book, but the narrators are all adults, so I’m not so sure. If you prefer your genre fiction to have very strong elements of that genre, this might not be for you, but otherwise, I enjoyed the mystery and gentle unfolding of the truth.

Whilst the short length worked well in some respects, I think that the book failed to explore some elements of the story. For example, the characters themselves were not very well developed, and many of them simply felt like they were there to push the plot without their identities really being clear. This was especially confusing when they all resulted to be relatives or friends of each other in some way, because I couldn’t tell one apart from the other in order to remember their significance. The romantic storylines also felt forced and very shallow, as the characters seem to fall in love out of nowhere, with no real reasons for their attraction or development in their relationship. This was a major flaw for me as Gardner tried to make love a central theme of the book.

Overall, there were strong and weak points in My Side of the Diamond. I liked the style of narrating, especially the parts where the second-person perspective was clear, and I liked that the book was short. However, I would have preferred for there to have been more character exploration. There were sections of the story that, in my opinion, could have been sacrificed for more character development, or the book could have been a little bit longer to make room for that.

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

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns – Julie C. Dao

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

I’ve been following this book for what feels like ages, ever since I stumbled upon a tweet by Julie C Dao celebrating getting a book deal. In the months since, I’ve seen excitement for the book continue to grow, with readers and authors alike talking about it, so I was chuffed when I finally got a copy. I’m so pleased to say that this book actually surpassed my expectations, feeding my love for morally grey characters and leaving me wanting more and more of Julie’s writing.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is an East-Asian inspired fantasy novel about a young girl, Xifeng, who is determined to become Empress of her kingdom, Feng-Lu. It seems impossible, after all, she is only a seamstress, far from the Imperial City, but her aunt’s fortune telling cards tell of her destiny as Empress, and she does not question fate. After leaving home to head to the Imperial City, it seems that the stars have aligned to help Xifeng reach her goal. She is accepted into the Emperor’s household, but as a maid. A bigger problem is the fact that the Emperor has a wife, two other concubines, and four sons. How will Xifeng secure her fate, and how far will she go to get it?

My favourite thing about this book was that Xifeng was not a nice girl. That seems harsh, and perhaps it is, but it’s also true. I don’t mean this in a nitpicking way. Xifeng is selfish, ambitious, and determined to the point of being willing to walk over anyone else to get what she wants. She has set her sights on being Empress, and she will do anything, and does more than the unimaginable, to get it. There were scenes that were difficult to read, and events in the book that change your opinion of Xifeng for good, but it all adds to the complexity of the tale, and of Xifeng herself.

When the book begins, we don’t yet know if she is an unwilling pawn in a game of her aunt’s, whether she even wants to follow this path that has been set out before her, but as Xifeng takes step after step down the path, and as she knocks opponents and obstacles out of her way, we see her accepting her own desires, and embracing her ambitious selfishness and the darkness that lies within her soul. By the end of the novel, there is no doubt that Xifeng is not the pure, innocent girl that we thought she was at the start of the novel. She is dark, evil even, but having followed her along her whole journey, it is difficult to ignore the humanity in her that even she has set aside. Xifeng’s characterisation made this book so easy to read for me.

I loved seeing the exploration of her character reach new depths, and couldn’t get enough of deciphering her morals, or lack of them. What seemed like a bit of a cookie cutter female protagonist in the first pages, turned out to be a character of many layers, with surprises lurking beneath each and every one. When the book ended, I was shocked. I kept expecting a redemption arc, a sorrowful and repenting protagonist, eager to right her wrongs, but Xifeng doesn’t regret anything that she has done to get what she wants, and as horrifying as that is, I also found it refreshing and exciting to read a character do so confidently.

Overall, I really adored Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, and I’d love to read it again in the future to explore Xifeng some more. Whilst this book might not be for readers who like to like their protagonists, or for those who don’t like violence and gore, I would still recommend giving it a try and letting it challenge you. I like morally ambiguous characters, and still, Xifeng even challenged me. Julie C Dao writes Xifeng in a way that you still hold out some hope for her, and you’re so reluctant to let go of it, and that made reading Forest of a Thousand Lanterns a really interesting experience for me personally. I really think that this book has pushed the boundaries of YA fiction, and I hope to see more books like it.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

There’s Someone Inside Your House – Stephanie Perkins Review

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Rating:★★★

I mentioned this book in my End of the Year Book Tag post a few months ago as the book I was looking forward to reading this autumn, and I finally got around to it! There’s Someone Inside Your House was great, and even if some aspects fell a little flat, the story was fun enough for this to not bother me.  There’s Someone Inside Your House is a blend of teen fun and gruesome slasher fiction, with thrills and suspense to keep you hooked until the end.

Makani Young has been living in Osborne, a small town in the middle of nowhere, for a year since she ran away from a haunting past in Hawaii. Life with her grandmother has been quiet, normal, but that all ends now, because someone is murdering teenagers in Osborne in gruesome attacks, and it seems that there is nothing anybody can do to protect themselves. As the attacks draw nearer and nearer to home, Makani not only has to try to protect herself and the ones she loves, but also has to ask herself if the killer’s identity could be someone she knows.

First of all, I’ll start by saying that Stephanie Perkins is great at writing really tense scenes. The parts of the book that walk us through the attacks had so much suspense that I could not bear to put the book down during them. She drops nuggets of information throughout the text to tease you, and you feel yourself getting more and more anxious even though the characters often have no idea what is going on. These scenes were by far my favourite parts of the book, and the tension in them was high enough that, even though other parts of the book were not, I could ride on the coattails of that tension in the quieter parts of the book.

That being said, one weakness in the plot of this slasher/horror story was that, without spoiling the story, for much fo the book, the actual serial killer plot at the heart of the novel felt too detached from the main characters. At various points in the novel, Makani and her friends try to decipher the identity of the killer, or his motive for choosing particular victims, but it is difficult to try and take part in this activity yourself as a reader because we never meet the victims before they are killed. I knew nothing about the people in Osborne outside of Makani and her friends, I didn’t understand the different high school cliques and friendships, so how was I supposed to try and come up with my own theory?

This links into a more overriding weakness which is that of the characters being a bit too flat for my liking. Makani and Ollie are the main characters, and they aren’t boring to read, but there isn’t much to them. They have already hooked up before the novel begins, and they start dating more seriously. They’re a cute couple, but that’s about it. Makani and Ollie both have their own tragic backstories, but that does not make a vivid character. Similarly, I could not tell apart Makani’s two best friends Darby and Alex, which is lucky because they served no other purpose than to show that Makani had friends. All of the characters in There’s Someone Inside Your House are entirely two-dimensional; the victims are just there to die, the murderer is just there to kill, the cop character just drives around answering phone calls, Makani’s grandmother is just there to be a parental figure.

If it weren’t for Stephanie Perkins’s ability to build tension in the few scenes were action does happen, the whole novel would have been completely flat, because I wouldn’t have cared at all. I didn’t read because I cared particularly about the characters, but rather because it was exciting and got my adrenaline pumping a little bit to read the scenes where the attacker made his appearance.

Overall, There’s Someone Inside Your House isn’t a fantastic book, but it is good fun. I enjoyed it while I was reading it thanks to Stephanie Perkins’s writing, but the substance of the book, when you take a second, deeper look at it, isn’t really there.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Geekerella – Ashley Poston Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book was surprisingly good! I wasn’t expecting this book to make me feel as much as I did whilst reading it. I naively assumed that this book would be lighthearted – perhaps to the point of lacking substance – a bit of fun, but without much impact. Man, was I wrong. Of all the books that I would guess would make me start crying, it wasn’t Geekerella, but the characters and the story are so easy to delve into and get attached to.

Geekerella is, as you can probably tell by the title, a Cinderella retelling. I don’t mean this in the way that you often hear YA fantasies call themselves fantasy retellings whilst changing the story altogether, I mean it is literally a Cinderella retelling. Right down to a pumpkin carriage – albeit, a pumpkin food truck. Since her father’s death, Elle has been living a miserable life with her stepmother Catherine and her step-twin-sisters Cal and Chloe. All that she has left to hold onto is Starfield, the sci-fi television show that her father introduced her to as a child. She knows everything that there is to know about it, and runs her own little blog dedicated to it. When she sees a cosplay contest at this year’s ExcelsiCon, she knows that the prize money is exactly what she needs to get out from under her stepmother’s thumb and make her own way in the world. All she needs is to find a costume. Meanwhile, Darien Freeman, teen superstar actor, has been cast in the lead role, and is struggling with fan expectations. He has always loved Starfield, but being a nerd doesn’t quite fit with his image, and Starfield’s hard core fanbase are ripping into him, so judging this years’ cosplay competition is the last thing that he wants to do. Both Elle and Darien struggle in their respective worlds, only finding solace in the text messages that they swap with a mysterious stranger, as obsessed with Starfield as they are.

The characters in this novel had depth and detail, they were interesting and had their own struggles and storylines even apart from the romantic one. Elle’s friendship with Sage, her relationships with her sisters and step-mother, were all important. So was Darien’s struggle with his job and relationships. Apart from this, Starfield itself was also incredibly well-developed, which, for a novel which explores fandom so much, was vital to the characters feeling real. Although Starfield is a made-up television show, I found it easy to relate to how much the characters love the stories and the characters, their passion for it, and how much they care about the remake. I also liked how Starfield was the background against which the characters’ personal struggles play out against, because it meant that we understood their motivations and feelings. For Elle, Starfield is at the heart of all her memories of her parents, which explains not only why she cares so much about the remake but also why she is so desperate to win the cosplay competition – to make her parents proud. For Darien, his internal struggles with confidence are made clear in his playing the lead role in Starfield. He doesn’t believe that he is good enough to play his favourite character, and he finds it difficult to be surrounded by actors who don’t care about the show in the same way that he does. The characters, the story, and the show Starfield itself, were equally important in making Geekerella as good as it was, because they all bounced off each other to create a really moving and fun story.

I also loved how much this novel is inspired by Cinderella. Of course, there was still so much original content to this book, but it was fun to spot the comparisons. For example, instead of a pumpkin becoming a carriage, the pumpkin themed vegan food truck that Elle works at it her carriage, and her fairy godmother is her colleague Sage, who helps her to make her costume and encourages her to keep fighting for what she believes in. It was also nice to see more development to the characters, like in Darien and Elle’s own storylines, and also in the minor characters. Catherine, the evil stepmother, and the sisters Cal and Chloe were nuanced characters, and I especially looked forward to the scenes with Catherine where she showed a bit more of her human side, and the redemption arc for Cal. All of the references to the fairytale were interesting to find and made reading Geekerella even more fun to read.

Overall, Geekerella was a really enjoyable book and I sincerely regret leaving it unread for so long. The story is sweet and simple, with nuanced and interesting characters, and told in a fun way. Definitely give this book a chance, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s quite your type. You might find, like me, that you judged it too early.