Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index – Julie Israel Review

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Rating: ★★★

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

Juniper Lemon’s sister Camilla died two months ago, but the Happiness Index that they began together, where Juniper notes down all the positive things that have happened to her, helps her feel closer to her. When one of her cards go missing, one that holds a dark secret about the night Camilla died, it is as though Juniper’s life has lost all semblance of balance once again, and to make things worse, she discovers a secret love letter from her sister to an unknown lover. Juniper sets out on a desperate journey to find her lost index card and deliver her sister’s letter, one that brings new friends, more secrets, and possibly even the ability to find peace with herself.

There was nothing wrong with this novel, but it just didn’t hit the spot. Usually, stories about relatives dying set me off on a path of helpless sobbing, but for some reason this book didn’t have that emotional power with me. I think that one reason for this was that the plot felt a little disjointed. For example, Juniper makes various friends throughout the course of the novel, and although I did enjoy some of their scenes, sometimes it felt like their storylines were diverting attention from the main story, whilst not being strong enough to justify it. Her new friends were fun to read at times, with wit and jokes, but with the exception of Brand, they were pretty flat and felt irrelevant, and frankly, I didn’t really care about them. It felt like the story about Juniper’s grief and recovery was not only being left on a back burner but being completely forgotten at some points. On the other hand, I did really enjoy Juniper and Brand’s relationship. I am a sucker for bad boys who are actually not that bad, and Brand falls right into that category of a bad boy that is actually a softie. Their relationship felt sincere and loving, even if it did feel like it deepened a bit too quickly once it began.

What really weakened this novel though, was the completely unsatisfactory ending. Now, beware, because this next paragraph will be spoilery, so read at your own risk!

Here we go. The ending. Not only were there loose ends, but the story was left completely wide open, unfinished, and fraying at the edges. The mystery of the identity of Camilla’s lover was the driver of the entire plot, and after an entire book with Juniper hunting for clues, and us going along with her, at the end, we are simply not told. It felt like a betrayal to lead me along on a goose chase for answers only for the mystery to be left completely unanswered. I don’t care if Juniper moved on and saw her duty to her sister has been dispatched, I don’t care if she only cared about delivering the letter and not about finding out who the mystery person was, I WANT TO KNOW. I HAVE THEORIES. I HAVE SUSPICIONS. I DESERVE TO KNOW. Honestly, endings like this don’t feel emotional or poignant, they just feel like the author couldn’t figure out how to end their book. If a mystery is going be at the heart of your story, you should answer the mystery. Don’t make me turn on my detective brain only to not answer my questions.

So, this book was neither here nor there. I would have given this book 2 stars instead of 3, but the reality is that for the most part, this book wasn’t boring and it wasn’t bad. It was a little disjointed in tone, and the plot was disappointing, but mainly it was the ending that ruined it for me. Yes, I feel disappointed and misled by the book, but there were positives and until I began to suspect that the ending would disappoint, I was enjoying reading this book.

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

Gilded Cage – Vic James Review

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Rating: ★★

Gilded Cage was my first foray into the dystopian genre in a while, and while I was really excited, it failed to deliver. I liked the blend of dystopian and fantasy in a modern, urban, British setting, which we don’t see very often. There were also certain characters that I liked and would happily read more about, but overall, I found the story boring, and some aspects of the story and characters were just not quite there.

In the world of Gilded Cage, society is divided in two. At the top, are the ‘Equals’. They have Skills, or magical powers, and rule Britain. Then, there’s everyone else, and they are each required to spend 10 years of their lives in slavery to the Equals. These 10 years can be taken at whatever point in life they wish, and most people are sent to slavetowns, where they work in factories. At the heart of this story is the Hadley family, who elect to sign up to do their ‘slavedays’ as a family while they are still young enough to survive it. Whilst they think that they are all being sent to the estate of the Jardine family, one of the ruling families of Britain, Luke Hadley is actually sent to Millmoor, a slavetown. There, he gets wound up in a revolution, whilst back at the estate, his family serve the Jardine family, trying not to fall foul of the rules of the imposing Lord Jardine, and his three sons,  Gavar, a brute, Silyen, a mysterious figure with dark powers, and Jenner, the Skill-less disappointment.

I’ll start with what I did like about this book, and that was the whole concept behind the world. I really liked the way that Vic James’s Britain has some alternate history aspects to it, dystopian aspects, and fantasy. All of that together was very interesting. I liked reading about the political set up of this alternate Britain, the way that the Equals governed and their families, and the political intrigue. Quite a few of the Equals are scheming constantly, trying to outsmart each other to get to the top spot. My favourites of these were Bouda, who in my opinion did not appear enough. She is set to marry the Jardine heir, and is only in it for what it can do for her. Her goal? To be the first female leader. I don’t care that she’s a bit evil, she’s like a mini-Cersei, a Slytherin through and through, and I want more of her. Even more interesting, and also unforgivably underrepresented, was Silyen Jardine. He’s the slightly creepy middle son of the Jardine family, and there were hints of him being ready, and almost eager, to betray even his own family to get what he wants. The only parts of the book that I really enjoyed included Silyen, including an eerie chapter in the middle of the book where he steps right into someone’s memories. I loved Silyen and his dodgy ways. Give me more Silyen. In fact, I propose abandoning the story, and just following Silyen.

Now, for the not-so-good parts.

Honestly, the story at the Jardine estate was plain boring. Abi is the main protagonist of this part, and she is a completely passive character for most of the book, doing next to nothing (until the last two pages). The only thing that she does do is, of course, fall in insta-love with Jenner Jardine. This relationship was difficult to buy into because (apart from the slave/master thing) both Jenner and Abi had zero personality, apart from just being nice, so not only could I not see what had attracted them to each other, but I literally could not care less. Further, I was disappointed in the way that the Hadley parents are completely ignored. They might as well have not been mentioned, and it made the whole family dynamic and the premise of the story – their family decision to become slaves – difficult to understand. The only remotely interesting character in this set-up was Daisy, the little sister, who showed potential to be spunky, but wasn’t quite there. Even so, I still found her story flawed, as I found the idea that a ten year old would be charged with taking care of a baby quite hard to believe. Am I the only one? Maybe it’s just because I’m 21 and children terrify me.

Luke’s story was far better, although the characters still suffered from the same one-dimensional characterisation issues. They were just popping up randomly, and then disappearing, and apart from a few central characters, I couldn’t tell you much about his gang of rebel misfits. Still, Luke actually does stuff, and so this story was more exciting.Towards the end of the novel, the action really amps up, and over the course of a few chapters there is literally stuff going on left, right, and centre. It’s full on. Guns are going off and things are blowing up. BUT I had literally no idea what was going on. I think Vic James was trying to capture the characters’ shock in her writing, but it just felt too disjointed in parts and confusing.

Overall, this book had potential, but I think it just failed to deliver in terms of plot and characters. The characters were flat, and the plot was slow. While I didn’t enjoy Gilded Cage, I do feel that it has potential. It is a shame that the book waited until the end to delve into action, but I see a lot of promise for where the story is going in the sequel, Tarnished City, and for the characters themselves. I really hope that the characters are developed more in the sequel, as I think that this was the main flaw of Gilded Cage and was what really held back the story.

Book Reviews, Historical, Young Adult, Young Adult Historical

Things a Bright Girl Can Do – Sally Nicholls Review

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Rating: ★

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

I have loved learning and reading about the suffragettes for years, and from when I first learned that this YA suffragette novel was being published, I was brimming with excitement. I was thrilled to be sent a copy. However, no matter how excited I was, and how much I wanted to like this book, I just didn’t think it was a good book. I thought that the writing was poor and the story was stretched too thin across the characters and the time that it spans. I’m gutted to be one of the lone voices so far disappointed in this book so far, but I can’t help it. I read this a while ago, but held publication of this post back until today when the book is published because I suspected it might not go down too well, but I hope anyone who disagrees with me will remember that these reviews are just my personal opinions on the book as a novel and not the subject matter.

Things a Bright Girl Can Do follows the story of three young girls – Evelyn, May, and Nell – from 1914 to 1918, through their struggles as they campaign for votes for women, the trials of the First World War, and finally to the first extension of suffrage to women in 1918. Evelyn is seventeen, from a wealthy background, and expected to marry her childhood sweetheart. However, she is frustrated at not being allowed to follow her dream of attending Oxford University, which drives her to join the suffragettes. May, however, is seventeen and has grown under the influence of her feminist, socialist, pacifist, vegetarian mother. Being a suffragette to her is a given. Nell is also already a suffragette, driven by the poor living and working conditions that she witnesses her family dealing with on a daily basis, and motivated by the suffragettes’ promises of social reform. The three of them join the fight for votes for different reasons, and we follow them as they pursue this fight through four tumultuous years.

A positive of this book is that the characters are diverse for a book set in this period, and which follows three white women. The book not only explores class and sex, but also LGBT issues, and even mentions a few times the work of BME suffragettes like Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. Sally Nicholls managed to include a broad and varied amount of information relating to the suffragette movement, however, in my opinion, this scope was at the expense of depth for the characters and the story. I felt like the characters were not detailed and three-dimensional, but rather the writing and the characterisation felt flat, and the girls felt instead like a vehicle for the presentation of all of this social history. Further, if diversity of characters was going to be the highlight of this book, there could have been even more, perhaps in the form of a POC protagonist.

My main issue with the characterisation of these girls was that their motives for acting the way that they did felt superficial. I’m not saying that I don’t understand why they were suffragettes, but I felt like Nicholls took for granted that modern audiences will. As a feminist reader, of course I will instantly cheer on these suffragette protagonists, but I still want characters to feel real. I have recently been watching Susan Dennard’s writing tips on her Instagram stories, and she mentions that characters must have a ‘desperate desire’, something that drives the more superficial desire of the plot. Yes, these girls want the vote. But why? What drives them to these lengths? What makes them abandon social norms? What makes them, in particular, act differently to other women who do not become suffragettes under the same pressures? As understandable as their reasons are from a detached perspective, I couldn’t feel their motivations on a human basis. I understood that Evelyn wanted to study and have opportunities like her brothers, but I didn’t feel her anger and her resentment come across in the writing.

You might have heard of the saying ‘Show, don’t tell,’ in writing. In my opinion, I couldn’t feel this because it didn’t stick to this rule. It meant that I couldn’t experience what Evelyn, May, and Nell were thinking and feeling because the author’s narrative was a wall between us rather than a bridge. Rather than getting into the characters’ heads, feeling exactly what they are feeling, we’re held at arms’ length. For example, one of the girls is arrested. We are told that it is the worst thing that has ever happened to her, the cell is described in detail, we are told that she feels lonely, but we can’t feel her loneliness, and we just have to take the description for face value rather than trying to experience for ourselves what it might be like to be arrested like her. This personal connection felt even more important than in most books considering that we know, in hindsight, that the suffragettes did eventually achieve their goal of female suffrage. If the only thing hooking us as readers is ‘Do they get the vote?’ the hook isn’t strong enough, because we know that they do. Instead, we have to also be hooked by the girls’ personal deep desires, and I just wasn’t.

This made it difficult for me to feel emotionally connected or invested in the girls as people. I had to just accept when characters fell in love, rather than feeling the love that they felt, accept that they were angry, rather than feel angry with them. Rather than feeling Nell’s pain and struggle, I was treated to a pages-long retelling of her families’ troubles during her entire childhood. I generally cannot stand info-dumps, and this book was full of them. Rather than embedding the historical facts more gently in the story itself, perhaps revealing information through conversations or experiences, and so making the historical facts feel more poignant, the information was simply dumped on us in the narrative. On the other hand, there were things that could have been mentioned. I expected, when Nell starts work as a munitionette, that mention would be made of many munitionettes being poisoned by the substances they were working with and the health implications, or of the explosions that killed many, something that would have been easy to point out considering its relevance to her story, and yet it wasn’t.

I wanted to give 2 stars just in recognition of its subject matter and representation of different social groups, but I decided not to, simply because the subject matter was literally the only thing that kept me reading this book. I also felt that the causes represented could have been more impactful with stronger writing, and perhaps a smaller focus. Instead of spreading the story so thinly over three girls and four years, perhaps focusing on one perspective with the others as secondary characters would have allowed for the depth of detail that was missing. I can’t describe how gutted I am to have not enjoyed this book, but I just couldn’t see past the poor writing.

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz Review

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks

Rating: ★★★★

I had heard so much about this book before I read it, mostly in the form of raring reviews. When I finally landed a copy, I barely waited before starting to read it, and I was not disappointed. This is an example of a book really living up to the buzz around it, and now I completely understand why this book is so loved.

This book (I’m not going to write the whole title out again!) is narrated by Aristotle, or Ari. He is a lonely fifteen year old kid at the start of the book. He feels out of place in most places, uncomfortable with people his own age, and doesn’t know where he belongs. Then, one day, he meets the light, colourful and bubbly Dante. After initially bonding over their unusual names, they form a strong friendship, but as time goes on and Dante discovers that he feels more for Ari, Ari battles with his own feelings.

What made this book for me was that the relationship between Ari and Dante was more than your typical YA romance. Their friendship was real and founded on more than physical attraction. They actually have things in common and shared experiences that bind them. In fact, there is very little romance involved in this novel until near the end, and this means that we get to know the characters as themselves and appreciate their relationship to a deeper level. For someone who doesn’t always appreciate romantic storylines being the central plot of a novel, this made it much easier to appreciate the storyline.

I also adored the writing in this novel. The style is so calm and mellow, that it really let Ari’s emotions rise to the surface.  Benjamin Alire Sáenz has a way with words that really enables him to capture exactly what Ari is feeling and put it in a way that you understand it too. This is really important as the novel doesn’t have a clearly defined plot, it simply follows the central relationship over a few years. There are events over the course of the novel, of course, but they don’t form separate stories of their own. Without this excellent writing style, the book could have quickly become boring for me, but I was swept away by his writing and devoured the book in a single day.

The only reason why I haven’t given this book five stars is because I felt that the pacing could have been better. Ari’s own stubbornness and fear keeps him from coming to terms with how he feels, but I felt that there wasn’t enough foreshadowing or hints at how he really felt in the earlier parts of the novel, which meant that the ending of the story felt a tiny bit contrived and fake. I went along with it and enjoyed it anyway because I loved the characters and the writing style, but it did nag me a bit and I felt like this could have been done a bit better for the sake of consistency.

Overall, this book had well-developed characters and excellent writing, which are the most important things in a book for me. Although I found the plot to be a bit weak at points, I could look past these because I loved the other parts of the book. If you haven’t read this, I would definitely recommend it, even if you don’t typically read YA literature.

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.

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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.