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.

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, 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 Contemporary, Young Adult

If Birds Fly Back – Carlie Sorosiak Review

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Expected publication: June 27th 2017

Rating: ★★★★★

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

This book blew me away! I was excited to read this because I had heard quite a bit about it on the grapevine (the grapevine being Twitter) but I was a little worried that it would be too corny for me, a little too: quirky characters + quirky situation = major eyerolls. In reality, this book was so moving, with beautiful writing and beautiful stories.

If Birds Fly Back is about two characters, Linny and Sebastian, drawn together by the return of prolific Miami writer Alvaro Herrera, who disappeared three years prior. Linny wants to know why Alvaro returned, in the hopes that it might help her figure out how to bring her sister, who has run away, back home. Sebastian has grown up not knowing who his father is, and now he’s looking for answers. Over the course of the summer, the pair of them try to get the answers they need from Alvaro, but while they may not get the answers that they were looking for, they discover much, much more.

The characters in this novel were brilliantly written. I felt like I knew both Linny and Sebastian so well, and I always wanted to know Alvaro more, just like they did. Both Linny and Sebastian are smart, funny, a little shy, but mostly, they’re lost. Linny is desperate to bring her sister home, and she doesn’t have the guts to break her parents’ hearts by telling them that she doesn’t want to be a doctor, she wants to make movies. Meanwhile, Sebastian is also struggling with figuring out who he is. He thinks that meeting his father will help him to solve it, just like Linny thinks that finding her sister will put her back together. They come together in their missions to fix themselves, and when they do, it’s wonderful.

Sorosiak is really good at writing lovey-dovey scenes – I mean, really good. I was swooning. The relationship between Linny and Sebastian was the perfect balance of friendship and romance for me. I was worried at one point that this would be an instal-love situation, where from one moment to the next, suddenly the characters are in love with each other, but really there was so much more to their relationship. They’re helping each other out, comforting each other, having fun, sharing secrets and mainly, helping each other to free themselves. None of the scenes felt bland, or sickly sweet, but they were the ideal mix of fun, emotion, and romance. Whether the pair are sharing a moment in a ball pit, awkwardly watching a movie, or hiding out in a closet, it always felt fun to read the development of the novel’s main romance. Sorosiak really captures the characters’ different feelings, whether its having a crush, falling in love, grief, or something as simple as feeling like you’re going to melt from the intense summer heat.

My favourite thing about the book was probably the split narration between Linny and Sebastian. They had distinct narrative voices, and I liked that they occasionally made sarcastic jokes so that it felt a little like a diary, but not often enough that it felt too much like the author was trying to make a conscious effort to make the characters look ≈cool≈. It was just enough to make them feel real. I also really liked the little details that give you some more insight into their state of mind, so with Linny, each chapter begins with a section of her notes on disappearances and reappearances, and ends with a section from a screenplay that she is writing about being abandoned. Sebastian’s chapters are littered with quotes from the science book that he is reading, and his own notes on theories. This really captures their struggles of feeling lost and abandoned, but also their particular interests and how they deal with their feelings. They’re both looking for explanations, but Linny is looking for it in stories, and Sebastian in science.

This book was absolutely marvellous. I was really impressed with it. I’m a little shocked to be saying this, because I never really thought anybody could reach these heights, but I recommend this to anyone who has read and enjoyed Jandy Nelson’s books. I got the same vibes as I do reading Jandy’s books, the same gentle balance of great characters, great romance, great stories and great writing. This is a perfect book for anyone who likes YA contemporary, and even if you don’t read young adult books, If Birds Fly Back still a wonderful story of love and loss and finding yourself.

 

Book Reviews, YA Contemporary, Young Adult

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven Review

 

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Taken from: @inkdropsbooks (Instagram)

 

Rating:  ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

“You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.” 

This is the best YA contemporary novel I have read since I read Jandy Nelson’s books last year. Jennifer Niven’s writing is brilliant, and there is a great balance between the endearing relationship that is at the centre of the novel, and the far more weighty issues that it discusses.

all-the-bright-places-jktThe tagline of this book is “the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who wants to die” and there isn’t really much more to say without going into spoilers. Violet Markey has just suffered a great loss, and during one of her lowest moments, she meets Theodore Finch, who spends his days assessing different methods of committing suicide. Their story starts when Finch saves  Violet, who was wandered up onto a roof, and is standing on the edge, and from there, the story begins.

Both Violet and Finch were so well written that they felt like real people. I loved reading their conversations, especially Finch, who is so lively and funny. Niven adds another layer to the story in the form of a school project, where Finch and Violet have to explore Indiana and write about the hidden locations that they have found. This means that we get to see them going on a series of adventures, which was a lot nicer than reading about two teenagers falling in love in a ‘normal’ setting like at school.

This book is obviously quite ‘deep’. It deals with very sensitive issues like grief, mental illness and depression, but I feel like Jennifer Niven dealt with these issues very sensitively, but also with sincerity and honesty. She captures the characters and their emotions so well that you really relate to their emotions, which helps you to understand a little of what they are feeling, and you feel captivated by the story, even though a voice in the back of your mind tells you where it’s going to end.