Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’m just going to say it: I’m probably never going to read a David Levithan novel I like as much as Two Boys Kissing. I keep trying, because I keep thinking that the author of a novel I really like so much will have another book that will remotely compare, but that’s just not the case.

Okay, mind you, he can still write new stuff, and maybe that new stuff will keep up with those expectations. By reading his work before Two Boys Kissing, I’m maybe not giving this concept a fair shake. But like, also, I read Are We There Yet?, so I’m allowed to feel skeptical.

And yes, I will get on with this review.

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

This cover is eh by today’s standards, but this book did come out in the early 2000s, when cover trends were different, I assume. (I was a teen in the early 2000s, and yet I did not read young adult literature, so I have no idea what was on trend then.) I do like what he says about the title: he wanted the book to be openly, obviously gay, a fact that caused a lot of controversy at the time, but also made this book very present for people who were looking for it.

This book is about what it says it’s about: a boy meets a boy. The novel thing about this (ha) is that it happens in a particular context: the town where Paul meets Noah is pretty unique, a place where the starting quarterback is also the homecoming queen, a place where very few people are small-minded, a place where social cliques still exist but you’re more likely to be excluded for poor outfit choices than your gender or sexuality. (Also, the janitors have made a fortune on the stock market but like cleaning schools, and the local fast food joint has become a vegetarian/vegan restaurant.)

This world feels surreal, especially from a 2003 perspective, so there’s something fun and whimsical about it. There’s also a certain charm to some of the characters, like Infinite Darlene, in her jersey and tiara at once, or Tony, who lives a town over and has to confront the prejudices of his religious parents with patience and a lot of courage.

I’m not here to say that I don’t like the book because it’s not realistic, because I get Levithan’s point about it: there are plenty of books out there in which the lives of queer characters are tragic. It’s nice to spend some time with them in a universe where they don’t have a zillion obstacles in the way of finding happiness. This might mean this just isn’t a book for everyone, because if it’s a book you come to in order to see your experiences reflected and to find some catharsis in that, Boy Meets Boy really isn’t that book. Paul’s life as a gay boy is as easy as they come, and most of the drama in it is of his own making.

There are a couple of issues I do have with the book, though, and they’re basically entwined: one is that Paul is the book’s least interesting character (and perhaps downright annoying, actually), and the second is that we don’t spend enough time getting to know the potentially much more interesting characters, which might be a symptom of Paulitis or the fact that this book is under 200 pages long. (Yes, I know, I’ve been reading a lot of really short books. Symptoms of a busy year!)

(I think the lesson I’ve learned from this year is that, while short books may take less time to read and thus seem more appealing, it’s honestly not worth it to ditch a longer book a lot of the time because most short books are going to be too short.)

(Also a sidebar: the tenth anniversary edition of this book that I have includes a short story about Infinite Darlene, which was really charming.)

It’s also a toss-up in terms of whether readers will dig Levithan’s writing style or find it off-putting, I think. In his not-collaborations I’ve read, he seems to pretty consistently be focussed on the introspective and the profound and not go for a lot of external action or dialogue. His characters often have some pretty insightful, lovely internal thoughts, but it often sort of suspends disbelief; not that teen characters can’t have insightful thoughts, but that we have no reason to feel that these particular characters would be internally profound all the time. Obviously, it makes perfect sense in Two Boys Kissing, where the narrator is a chorus of dead gay men, so…definitely a whacky narrative perspective where you can get away with a lot of wistful wisdom. Even in Every Day, the deeply isolated life of the narrator and their vast variety of experiences makes those kinds of musings make some sense. From the mind of Paul? Ehh.

All in all, there’s some definite fun to this story in terms of the setting and the non-Paul characters, and I largely enjoyed my read. But I’m not sure that we get enough time to connect with the characters who are likeable, and in terms of plot, it’s hard to root for Paul. It’s a typical romantic comedy set-up, but he’s definitely the one who screws things up, and his way of dealing with that comes off as a bit selfish and slightly creeper-y rather than romantic. (Maybe that’s just usual for the genre, though. That whole “boy pursues reluctant romantic interest to the point of it being uncomfortable” is definitely a thing.)

Overall:


Do you have any favourite LGTBQIA+ classics? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments. Let me know, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Most Novembers of my adult-ish life, I’ve done (or at least attempted and failed at) Nanowrimo, last year included. This year, though, given how behind I am on my reading and how little time I’ve had lately to come up with ideas, I thought I’d go with a different marathon: I’m going to try (and maybe fail) to read 30 books this month.

Obviously, I probably won’t have time to write and edit reviews for them all right away, so my volume of posts is unlikely to go up. For now. Buuut this should enable me to schedule some posts further into the future, so we’ll see what happens in time for good old 2018. (So close now, agh.)

In any case, let’s get to my latest read about grief. (And yeah, one of these days, I’ll have to write a post about the YA contemporaries about grief trend, but we’ll get to that soon.)

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This cover is very representative of the book and lovely, although comic-y and fairly off-brand re: trends in YA covers in the past years, so I was a little surprised by it.

Can I start commenting on titles, too, though? It’s relevant enough, but dang, this title is bland as heck.

We Are Okay

This book is about Marin, who prematurely moved cross-country for college after the death of her grandfather (her only blood family). While she steels herself for a winter break staying alone in the dorms, she also has to contend with a visit from her former best friend, Mabel, who is part of the life in California she ran away from.

This book was a slow, character-driven, internal book, so it won’t be for everyone. (Not unlike what I’ve recently said about When the Moon Was Ours, but this is less about poetic, magical descriptions as it is about deep emotional issues.) If you’re the kind of person who gets bogged down in description and needs there to be action, this will not work for you. In terms of plot, Marin and Mabel mostly just hang out quietly in some snowed-in buildings and talk about the present and think about the past and feel sad. Bowls are significant in this story. For excitement, look elsewhere.

Some books really can’t work when they’re written this way, but We Are Okay is the type of book that fits this style of writing. Marin is lost in her head and memories because her past is actually coming back to dwell in her new space with her. Mabel’s visit is dredging up all of the things that Marin ran away from, that she wasn’t able to handle, and she has to confront those things while accepting the harm she caused by running away from them (and Mabel) in the first place.

I was here for this book because the dredging up of memories felt real, Marin’s complicated feelings of mourning felt genuine, and the characters shared what felt like a very tangible need to reconnect despite how much hurt they felt. Marin’s anxieties and deep hurt were treated with weight but also subtlety; the book never felt melodramatic, despite having an element of “reveal.” This was a book where I felt like it didn’t rely on hyper-tragic plot twists to make me cry, but rather let me sink into mourning with the protagonist and feel with rather than for her.

At the same time, this book was short. It was even shorter than most books I complain about as short. And on one hand, that suits it to some extent, because it has very little plot and you wouldn’t really want it to drag on. At the same time, though, there are gaps in character development and the background we get that feel like they take away from the emotional beats of the book.

For instance: It only becomes clear towards the end how Marin feels deprived of memories of her mother, while that seems by then to be a major issue in the book. Her grandfather’s relationship to the ocean and to her mother is left ambiguous, which makes sense in terms of him not telling Marin much, but not a lot of sense given the fact that Marin is continuously interacting with her mother’s old friends and with her grandfather’s pals. (Although Marin is obviously the type to avoid difficult subjects to refrain from hurting people, given the pain attached to what she doesn’t know, it seems suspiciously not curious of her to never have asked any of these questions from the ages of three to eighteen.)

Also: Mabel and Marin’s personalities and friendship prior to changes of the status quo that happen in the then and now sections aren’t really provided, so we don’t get a clear sense of who they were, what changed, what they lost. Marin’s relationship with Mabel’s family is barely dealt with, with there really being only one meaningful scene, before the end, between Marin and Mabel’s mother, Ana; in the context of how important Javier and Ana turn out to be, that feels like a bit of a shortcoming. (Also, although this wouldn’t be necessary to make anything work better in the book, I wouldn’t have minded more Hannah the roommate. Hannah is pure and true.)

I enjoyed this sparse book and its atmospheric sense of loneliness (there’s nothing that suits this story better than an empty dorm in winter, far from a warm oceanside home). It was sad and lovely and clearly had a lot of heart poured into it, but lacked a bit in terms of making the characters and their relationships individual and memorable.

Overall:


Do you have a favourite read that deals with grief? (Maybe “favourite” is a strong word for something that’s just basically emotionally devastating.) Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Monthly Reads: October 2017

Hello everyone, and happy Hallowe’en!

This has been a superior reading month to previous reading months, that’s for sure. Not enough to catch up with my book reading deficit for the goal I set for 2017—but, I mean, I’ll take it for a start. I should have a lot more time in November (hopefully), so here’s hoping I can make it at least close to 100 (new) books this year, despite it all.

But without further ado, let’s get into this month’s round-up!

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The Subtle KnifeI was still on re-reads to start this month. Also: This is neither the cover I grew up with nor the one I bought and just re-read, but it does have a cat on it and it’s easier to find on the Internet, so there’s that.

I’m not really sure what to say about His Dark Materials upon re-read, because I mean, I grew up having really enjoyed it as a series, so there’s nostalgia value. Still, I’d say that this series is entertaining for a middle gradeish audience while still being really mature in the subjects it handles?

Also, Will is a great protagonist, too, in different ways than Lyra. He’s got a sense of honour while still being underhanded, with a strong will to survive and protect those he cares about.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

The Amber SpyglassI remember not being 100% sold on this one as a kid, because I wasn’t totally into the time spent with a third protagonist, Mary, who is not a child, but I sort of enjoy the imaginative descriptions of the world she’s in more as an adult. I’m still kind of not as sold on the cosmic battle going on, since the broader context of the adults and their activities and politics is just not as engaging as what’s going on with Lyra and Will, but I think that’s hard to balance in a book that’s supposed to be for young readers?

In any case, would still recommend this series, even if I think I probably like the first two books more than the third.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Girls Made of Snow and GlassThis was yet another fairy tale retelling, a bit of a mash-up of Snow White and the fairy tale Frozen comes from (The Snow Queen?).

This book had potential because it at least intends to focus on complex relationships between women, but it was just…not great in the end. It relied on us caring about the relationships at the heart of it, but spent very little time developing them.

 

 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Turtles All the Way DownThe newest John Green is about a girl with intrusive thoughts and anxiety who starts a manhunt with her best friend for a missing rich businessman, the father of an old crush of hers from grief camp.

It’s better than most John Green books, but not better than The Fault in Our Stars, I think, for all its faults. I liked the way it overturned some genre tropes and didn’t play into expectations, but it also felt like a book that relied on us getting invested in its key relationships, and also just didn’t spend much time on them. (This might have been a short book problem.)

 

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

A Line in the DarkThis book was a mystery/queer girl drama about Jess, her best friend/crush Angie, Angie’s new rich girlfriend Margot, and Margot’s friends.

I liked this book in theory (and the cover aesthetic), but in practice, we didn’t get to know the not-Jess characters well enough to get really invested in the mystery (or even really the drama; I’m not 100% sure I understood the appeal of Angie). I’d take another shot with the author in future, but this is just a pass for me.

 

 

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterJulia’s older sister Olga was the perfect daughter, but now she’s gone, and all of the pressure of being the daughter their parents want is on Julia. And maybe Olga wasn’t as perfect as she appeared to be.

I wanted to love this book, but it was just too scattered to work for me. It’s about grief, but not, because it’s also about the mystery of Olga, life in poverty, mental illness, love interests, cultural differences, familial expectations, generation gaps, just…yeah. All of these things could maybe work? But the book is short and mostly all in Julia’s head, with some pretty whiplash-y time jumps. I wanted to like it, because all of the topics it covered interest me, but it was too much at once, with too little development for most plots/characters to get into them.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was OursThis is a magical realism romance about Miel, a girl who fell out of the water tower and who grows roses from her wrist, and Sam, a boy who hangs moons from the trees to scare away nightmares.

This book will probably end up being one of my favourites of the season. It’s short on plot, but the descriptions are lovely, it was easy to get invested in Sam and Miel, and it was lovely to see some diverse characters in a romance (Sam is Pakistani-Italian and trans, while Miel is Latina). There was also probably some novelty to this genre, which isn’t common in YA and worked very well in this lush story.

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the CastleSo this is not a YA book, but it is a very short, psuedo-spooky book being adapted into a film, so it made my TBR list a while back and I thought I’d pick it up since I’m low on my book count and it’s Spooky Season.

This is about Merricat (Mary Katherine), who lives with her Uncle Julian and sister Constance—who was acquitted of the murders of the rest of her family six years ago. The book is a mystery regarding the murders, and also just a weird, interesting romp through the isolated Merricat’s mind.

From that perspective, I mostly liked it; Merricat is pretty imaginative and a great narrator. In terms of the mystery plot, I’m not sure I felt exactly satisfied by the end; it was hard to suss out the familial relationships that used to exist (or even those within the timeline of the book, other than the closeness of Merricat and Constance), so that left me feeling…not totally finished.


Which books have you been reading during Spooky Month? Any that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

TBR Fails: Catching Up With the Backlist

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I just read a non-YA book for once (a little on that in my monthly round-up), so it seemed like a good day for a non-review post. TBR self-shaming, that is. (It’s okay. I’ve accepted my constant failure to read the things I actually set out to read, while more new books appear and completely distract me and/or pile up.)

I mean, I was going to make a new TBR, but it occurred to me that I’ve actually read most of the new stuff I’ve ordered. I actually have even read most of what was on my fall TBR? I’m two books off, and one of them (Renegades by Marissa Meyer) hasn’t come out yet, so I can wait on that.

…buuut I’m still way behind on reading for the year, and I still haven’t touched a lot of the books from my last couple of TBRs before that, so you know. There’s plenty of shame to go around.

(And I just like doing these so that I can remember some of the books I should get around to in the backlist.)

Without further ado, let’s talk about what I should currently be reading! As per the previous style of this kind of post, we’ll start from my most recent TBR and go back through time, and I’ll talk about why I wanted to read these books, and why I haven’t yet!

Fall TBR

Fire by Kristin Cashore

Fire by Kristin CashoreWhy I wanted to read this: I wasn’t super down on Graceling, but I had no real motivation to continue through to the sequels. I’ve been told the books improve, though, and I wanted to do this one for my second chances series.

Why I haven’t yet: Honestly, it’s been on my mind, but this past month or so has had a bunch of new releases, so I’ve almost exclusively been reading new stuff (A Line in the Dark, Turtles All the Way Down, etc.)

 

August TBR

EVERYTHING BEAUTIFUL IS NOT RUINED BY DANIELLE YOUNGE-ULLMAN

Everything Beautiful is Not RuinedWhy I wanted to read this: I really want to read more Canadian YA lit, and this sounded like an interesting contemporary about camp therapy that’d probably have at least a vaguely Canadian setting.

Why I haven’t yet: RIP me vs. my summer reads list. I had a big reading slump this summer, and kind of failed at finishing everything with appropriately summery vibes before it was suddenly Spooky Season.

STRANGE THE DREAMER BY LAINI TAYLOR

Strange the DreamerWhy I wanted to read this: I’ve heard that Laini Taylor is an awesome YA fantasy author, so I figured I’d pick up with her most recent book (series?) to see what I thought.

Why I haven’t yet: I got a digital copy of this and not an IRL one and I am terrible at motivating myself to charge my Kindle and not just curl up in the exact same spot in my house with the same blanket with a paper book.

SUMMER DAYS AND SUMMER NIGHTS, EDITED BY STEPHANIE PERKINS

Summer Days and Summer NightsWhy I wanted to read this: One of these days, I am going to find the collection of YA short stories that makes me feel like I’m into YA short stories.

Why I haven’t yet: I liked some of the stories in Because You Love to Hate Mebut I found the reading of it in its entirety pretty tiring, actually, so I think I just wasn’t ready to read another anthology like this, and now it’s like…you know. Approaching very not summer.

UNDER A PAINTED SKY BY STACEY LEE

Under a Painted SkyWhy I wanted to read this: I saw Stacey Lee in an interview for Nanowrimo once, and she seemed like a cool lady. Also, the cover for this book is bomb.

Why I haven’t yet: I actually don’t know if I like Westerns? I feel like the Western genre is such an American thing, and/or a thing not from the decades I grew up in. I don’t really relate to the idea of gunslinging or the Wild West in the least. So I guess in that sense, I just haven’t felt compelled to pick this up.

TBR Fails (July)

THESE BROKEN STARS BY AMIE KAUFMAN AND MEAGAN SPOONER

These Broken StarsWhy I wanted to read this: In the hopes it would be a sci-fi romance that’d surprise me a la Defy the Stars.

Why I haven’t yet: Welp, not only is it an older release from my backlist, but I’d also feel pretty guilty picking it up before Illuminae, a book with one of the same co-authors that I’ve owned longer and still haven’t read. Shaaaame.

ALL THE RAGE BY COURTNEY SUMMERS

All the RageWhy I wanted to read this: Okay, broken record because I said this back then, but: I’ve heard that Courtney Summers is the YA author who can handle subjects like sexual assault appropriately, and given how annoyed I am about how this topic is handled in YA in general, I really do want to have positive examples to recommend.

Why I haven’t yet: Yeah so this book is still about a pretty heavy subject and I recently read The Female of the Species, so…yeah. I maybe just have a certain amount of emotional fortitude to throw around. That recs post will be a loong time coming.

 

AMERICAN STREET BY IBI ZOBOI

American StreetWhy I wanted to read this: Real life problems (immigration in the U.S.), real life setting (Detroit).

Why I haven’t yet: When something a) isn’t new, b) isn’t part of a feature I want to do, and c) is contemporary (rather than fantasy, sci-fi, or other genres I specifically dig), I have a tendency to kind of forget about it on the backburner. Which is my bad, because I’ve heard this book is great? Sigh, me.

 AMERICAN GIRLS BY ALISON UMMINGER

American GirlsWhy I wanted to read this: This reviewed really well and was really setting-based (LA) and sounded morbid and interesting.

Why I haven’t yet: Ahaha yeah see above re: contemporaries that aren’t new finding their way to the backburner.

WHERE FUTURES END BY PARKER PEEVYHOUSE

Where Futures EndWhy I wanted to read this: I went through a phase of really seeking sci-fi…

Why I haven’t yet: …until suddenly there was Warcross and Want (okay, still haven’t read that) and a lot of other sci-fi happening, so apparently the trend is moving on in. Also: I don’t remember what this is about at all. Sometimes I just forget a premise and then getting motivated to pick up a book just…doesn’t happen.

THE RAVEN BOYS BY MAGGIE STIEFVATER

The Raven BoysWhy I wanted to read this: This is like the most hyped series of ever forever in every online YA community. Blogs, Instagram, BookTube: there are always some vocally rabid fans of this series.

Why I haven’t yet: …I’ve also come across criticisms of this series and of the way the author dealt with criticisms on Tumblr. I feel like I should read it, but I also feel like wading into the controversy with the knowledge of one book at a time could be…awkward.

THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST BY EMILY M. DANFORTH

The Miseducation of Cameron PostWhy I wanted to read this: I am more likely to remember to read queer contemporary than most contemporary, particularly when it’s about queer girls. Also, this will be a movie eventually…

Why I haven’t yet: …but not soon enough to threaten that I won’t finish the book before the movie comes out. (Also, I complain constantly about short books because I’m constantly reading short books because I’ve had no time for longer books because life is hard.)

WE ARE THE ANTS BY SHAUN DAVID HUTCHINSON

We Are the AntsWhy I wanted to read this: The premise was some kind of strange book about a young gay boy and space aliens, so who wouldn’t be interested?

Why I haven’t yet: This book’s publication in paperback was delayed, so it got to me pretty late at a point when I’d kind of forgotten about it, then I kept seeing reviews where people really didn’t like the book, so it kind of put me off it? But I should probably read it, since…it’s still waiting.

 

 


So…there are a lot of repeats here of my last fails, but on the bright side, posting that list did get me to read four out of the 12 I listed, so maybe this time I can get in five or six over the next few months? I mean, I can dream.

What books have you been putting off reading? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

So…The Book of Dust came in this past week, and as excited as I am to get to that after just re-reading His Dark Materials, I’m also nervous? I feel like it’s hard for any kind of media to capture the same magic years later, and as much as I think I’ll enjoy going back to Lyra’s world, I’m a bit scared of the idea of being disappointed. (It’s also the sort of book I think it might be difficult to review.)

Instead, I went back to the backlist to kick off the week and finally tucked into one of the Anna-Marie McLemore books I had sitting around. I’m not sure why it took this long; magical realism + diverse books (both in terms of race/ethnicity and gender/sexuality) sounds really like what I’m looking to read? Probably why I picked up two of her books before ever getting into them. But now I do finally have some feelings about this book, so let’s get into it!

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Since I’m commenting on covers lately: this is a medium cover. It expresses what’s going on in the book and gets at its magical realism genre, but it’s not my favourite.

When the Moon Was Ours

When the Moon Was Ours is a magical realism romance about two best friends: Miel, a girl who fell out of the water tower one day and grows roses from her wrist; and Sam, the boy who hangs moons everywhere so she and others can sleep soundly at night. Miel keeps the traumatic secrets of her lost family; Sam struggles with his gender identity.

This book is not for everyone, I think, but the people it is for will probably love it. It’s short on dialogue and direct action/plot, not unlike the last book I reviewed, but in this case, it feels more deliberate; the writing style is gorgeously descriptive, painting magical, shimmering imagery of the world the characters inhabit. Everything these characters see is lushly described. If you’re not into writing that feels poetic, this book is likely a heavy no for you. (Also maybe if you’re not that visual. This is very much about visual stimuli.)

Because there’s not a lot of dialogue or external action, the book is a lot about internal struggles: Miel, grappling with the trauma of her past; Sam, trying to come to grips with what he wants; for others, there are secrets they’re keeping. The book does have antagonists, the Bonner girls, four sisters notorious for charming boys with their beauty and striking red hair; however, what they do mostly forces the protagonists, especially Miel, to face themselves. To enjoy this book, you have to be invested in the internal conflicts of the characters. I think those conflicts are fairly compelling, and the diversity of the two leads (both in that they’re Latina and Italian-Pakistani and that Sam is trans) adds a lot of depth to their struggles to find their places in a small community, particularly given the author’s light-handed but meaningful portrayals of the prejudice they face.

The last potential hurdle for readers is the genre. Magical realism is pretty grounded, but often incorporates aspects of magic without any explanation or other alterations of the world surrounding it. If anyone goes into this book really wanting to know why Miel grows roses from her wrist or how magical aspects of the book work, they’ll be disappointed. The magic is something you have to accept working as kind of a metaphor.

All of that said: I really enjoyed this book, personally. I wouldn’t have minded more dialogue to get more of a sense of the characters and their differences and interactions (both Miel and Sam were kind, gentle, forgiving, mostly just with different struggles), and given the significance of the Bonner girls and the parental figures in this novel, I wouldn’t have minded spending more time with each of those characters. (This was a short novel, so I don’t think there wasn’t time.)

Still, I really enjoyed the poetic descriptions of Sam hanging moons, the fields of pumpkins, Aracely curing lovesickness, and so on. Sam and Miel had a very sweet romance, and I rooted for them as characters to overcome their internal conflicts and find peace within themselves. It was refreshing to see a romance between two non-white leads and with a trans boy as one of those leads, so this book is definitely a novel (pardon the pun) and beautiful thing. …I still think we maybe needed more time with the Bonner girls to feel like the consequences of their actions were meaningful, but they are somewhere between being characters and a plot device, so.

Overall, I felt like this book was a brief but lovely experience, and if you like descriptive, poetic writing, internal conflict, romance, and magical realism, you’d probably dig it. If you are not really about those things, then this is just not the book for you. It was a book for me: not perfect, but definitely gorgeous and heartwarming in ways I rarely come across. From the author’s dedication to her note about the ways in which this book reflects her life, it’s obvious this book has a lot of heart in it, and it shows.

Overall:


Do you like magical realism as a genre? Do you have any magical realism favourites? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I actually had a lot of new books pre-ordered for October. Thanks, past me? It’s always exciting when something new is coming in the mail, and naturally it’s easy to ditch everything I have queued up to jump on it. And that was definitely the case when this book came in the mail.

I’ve been really interested in grief as a theme in contemporary YA for some reason; maybe it’s because it seems to be an emerging trend in a genre that often has dead people, but very rarely deals with the “grief” part of it. YA is littered with dead parents, and any sort of genre fiction almost always has a body count. Some contemporaries do, too.

I figured this book would be a good mix of grief, insight into another culture for me, teen rebellion, and mystery. As for how the book handled my expectations, well. Let’s get to it, shall we?

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez

So long as we’re commenting on covers: this is a pretty good one, in my not-at-all-professional opinion. (Editors are not designers, obvs.)

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter

The premise of this one: Julia’s older sister, Olga, died in a tragic accident. Olga was the perfect sister; Julia is the rebellious daughter who loves art and writing and wants out of the life she has. However, some things Julia finds suggest that maybe Olga wasn’t the perfect person everyone thought she was.

I went into this hoping it’d be the better version of Jandy Nelson’s The Sky is Everywhere, basically. It’s a similar premise there: a sister is dead, she left behind some mysteries, the remaining sibling is very artsy, there are love interests, etc. I wasn’t really into that book so much; it was okay, but it lacked the strong character writing of I’ll Give You the Sun (one of my blog favourites), the poetry the character wrote in it was very…not poetic (which threw me off), and twists/developments often felt kind of ham-handed for drama.

This book is…not that. So. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter definitely has some insight, for me, into a culture that’s not mine. It’s a particular look, obviously; not every family is Julia’s. But I think that’s one of the valuable aspects of it. Julia’s parents work hard for very little and went through a lot to try to give her and Olga better lives; they are protective and value family above all else; they have cultural values that clash with what their daughter, who grew up totally differently, wants to do with her life. The book is a lot about that—probably more so than anything else.

But I couldn’t really get into this book, for a lot of reasons. The first is that it’s written in a very passive way. It reads almost as a stream of consciousness with time jumps? It’s very internal, with a very small portion of it containing dialogue or direct actions taken by the characters. As a result, it’s very difficult to get to know any of the characters who aren’t Julia, since most of what we get is what she feels about them. That’s a disappointment, since her friends and family (and even her supportive teacher) seem like they could be interesting characters. This writing style also gives the book a diary feel without being a diary—a missed opportunity to just shift gears and make this feel less bumpy by matching the form of the book to the content.

Most of the book is Julia narrating in a gloss-over way some things that happened, and the largest part of it is Julia talking about her feelings. That’s not necessarily bad, but it does get repetitive, and the book doesn’t really tackle her grief about Olga in a significant way. She feels like “everything fell apart” after Olga died, but it’s unclear how her life is different, other than maybe increased pressure from her parents to be perfect—but the way Julia tells it, she’s always felt that pressure.

The primary mystery that kicks off the book is actually a thread that gets mostly dropped through the middle and picked up again near the end, so the book doesn’t really feel like a journey of Julia getting to know her sister after her death, nor am I sure that what she does learn leads her to much of a revelation about her relationship with her sister? That’s all right, I guess—I can just chalk that up to this not being the book I expected, or that this was advertised as—but then we come to the question of what this book is, actually. (Also, I have to say that since this book really isn’t about the mystery of Olga’s death or the grief about her, it sort of…almost felt like an unnecessary plot among many, to be honest.)

I think this book is largely about the clash between the values of Julia’s parents and Julia’s dreams and inner life. That’s definitely enough to be a book, but I’m not sure it ended up being a satisfying book for me. This clash is significantly between Julia and her mother, although her father (and his present-absence) is also a thing. Those relationships feel like they develop only marginally by the end. There are a couple of promising moments, but it feels like the book is doing too much to dig into how these three people negotiate their differences (and lingering grief, which is kind of barely a subject).

On that subject: this book is doing too much to focus on where it could’ve really hooked me (in Julia’s familial relationships). There’s Olga’s death, a love interest or two, Julia’s struggle with her parents, Julia’s relationships and conflicts with friends, class issues/poverty, her dreams of college and writing, some subject matter about mental illness and trauma, and so on. It’s a lot, and some of it feels unnecessary given how little it impacts the narrative in the end. There are many, many characters (mostly relatives), which is realistic, but very few of them get to be memorable at all because we don’t get to spend much time with them on page. (Yes, this kind of chaos reflects reality, but reality would make a bad novel. Fewer named characters and plots with stronger development usually works better, especially in a limited space.)

Each plot gets only a bit of time (this book is pretty short, at 340 pages), so it’s hard to get invested enough to start rooting for Julia’s relationship, or come up with suspicions about what Olga was doing (we really don’t know enough about her for that), or care about whether or not Julia and Lorena stay close, etc. I wanted Julia to achieve her dreams and go to college, but not so much because I really liked her as much as because I felt like her life was kind of miserable otherwise?

tl;dr: This book doesn’t feel like it’s about what was advertised, and it has too much going on to really hit its emotional beats. The clash of cultural values in it is interesting, but there’s so little time spent with each non-Julia character and on each relationship in this contemporary when the entire book is seemingly driven by character relationships and conflict. The passive writing style left me feeling a bit meandering and bored sometimes, and the sudden movement through time was jarring.

I really wanted to like this book and the author seems rad, but…like, there’s a moment here where Julia tells us in-narration that she sees a painting of a woman with a big butt, and thinks of this girl who also has a big butt (a fact we suddenly learn), and then she asks her mother about the girl, and it’s so painfully, memorably awkward. And I feel like the editors of this book maybe did it wrong by not revising those clunky moments and suggesting that this novel focus more on a few things and maybe change its form or use more active language, because it’s just…yeah. The potential was there. A coherent story I could get behind was not.

Overall:


I always feel badly when I don’t love an anticipated diverse read, but…I also make a point of reading a lot of recent books by not white, straight, cis men and I can’t love everything I read, so this happens sometimes. (And I can always add this author to my second chances list.) Have any hyped books disappointed you lately? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

It’s spooky season, so it seemed like a good time to pick up Malinda Lo’s latest book, A Line in the Dark, which was pitched as a psychological thriller. I’ve been waiting a while to pick up something by this author, because in theory she sounds like the perfect author for me (queer rewritings of fairy tales! advocacy for diversity in YA!), but in practice, the reviews of her books are…mixed. So I thought I’d wait until I could have a totally fresh perspective and pick up her newest (and, I hoped, best) work.

So with that said, let’s get into it!

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

I don’t know if I’m making it a habit to comment on covers, but look. This is one of the most gorgeous covers of the year, okay.

A Line in the Dark

So, like I said, this book was pitched as a psychological thriller. It’s about Jess Wong, her best friend Angie (who she has a deep crush on), Angie’s new girlfriend, Margot, and a lot of gossip and catty stuff that segues into a mysterious missing person situation.

This book is…okay. I mean, on one hand, it’s good. The Jess perspective kind of nails the feeling of having a crush on your best friend but feeling too unattractive/insecure to come out with it, and also feeling not at ease with your body and your queerness because of what others expect of you. It also really got at a class divide between the characters and how that changed the way they perceived one another, and it gave Jess a particular racial/ethnic background (Chinese-American) without making that her single defining trait. Jess’ interactions with her family were also interesting, although disappointingly limited. Margot seems appropriately sinister, and Angie…well, that might be the weak link, because I wasn’t really sure what the deal was with Angie other than that she was pretty and nice and queer and could get along with people, and if I understood her character better, this novel might have worked a bit more, since a lot revolves around her.

The best way I can describe this book is that it feels unfinished. (Yes, it is another short book.) It segues between Jess’ perspective to a third-person perspective somewhere two thirds in, and it’s not really clear why? Margot does a variety of sinister things throughout the novel, but it never quite feels like that comes to a confrontation or like we ever quite understand her motivations for dating Angie in the first place. Ryan, Margot’s bff, has a significant secret that doesn’t really seem to do a lot in the narrative, and she herself doesn’t do a lot in the narrative despite having a significant presence in the beginning. Emily is a character who exists, but doesn’t seem to do anything other than warn Jess that Margot is shady, which was disappointing. Jess’ comic seems like an interesting metaphor for the events of her life, but even though she heavy-handedly expresses certain sentiments in it (like her codependent friendship with Angie), other aspects of her art and how they reflect the story remain kind of weird to understand, even in the end.

This is one of those books that leaves a major event mysterious, then slowly lets things unfold and pulls the answer further and further away as it drops red herrings. The issue with the eventual reveal is that it feels somewhat abrupt. I think if we understood the characters involved a bit better, it might have gotten us more invested in the ending “twist.” Because we (mostly) get Jess’ perspective, it’s not too hard to figure where she’s coming from, but we never really get much insight into Angie, Margot, or the other significant female characters, so it’s hard to make any informed predictions. Some characters who could be suspects in the whodunnit are so undeveloped and out of the picture that they don’t make viable suspects for a reader (since they’re so hardly mentioned), which makes the mystery less mysterious (and the time the police take investigating them and the time that takes in the story seem like a waste).

All in all, this was never boring to read, but the time I spent reading towards payoffs (Jess and Angie having a real talk/confrontation about the state of their friendship, someone calling out Margot on her badness, Jess talking to her family about the difference between their expectations and her reality, Emily spilling the tea, etc.) felt a little wasted by the end, since a lot of those things never really came along.

Gorgeous cover aside, this book wasn’t really a home run with me, as much as I wanted to like it. I don’t think it’ll bore you, and it’ll definitely keep you guessing towards the end, but it’s not exactly the Pretty Little Liars-esque tangle of spooky happenings and dark teen secrets (plus queer girl romance) that I was hoping for. (It’s kind of one spooky happening plus toxic love triangle plus some people are jerks to one another but we don’t really know where they’re all coming from on that.)

Overall:


Do you have any spooky-themed reads lined up for this season? Do you have any thriller/horror favourites? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Welp, this is a really big release and I wasn’t really sure how I was going to react to it?

On one hand, excited, because I do kind of want to like John Green. For all his manic pixie dream girling in his early novels and some of his fumbles in engaging with his fanbase (and detractors), he does really seem like a genuinely nice person IRL who is just…trying and making some mistakes along the way? I don’t know. It is pretty difficult to parse that based on someone’s web persona, but I’ll say that for now.

Also, despite the overwroughtness and problematic moments in The Fault in Our Stars, I totally was sucked in by it. I get it: it’s meta, it’s pretentious, it’s manufacturing sadness, etc. But it’s also just got some really lovely metaphors in it and the characters are well-defined, and I just like it.

So. Is Turtles All the Way Down a TFiOS, or a Looking for Alaska? (Also known as: a book that I threw across the room upon finishing, because just no. No.) Let’s get into it!

Turtles all the way down by John Green

Let’s start out with the cover on this one: while it does follow what kind of looks like the John Green formula now (since so many books copycatted the TFiOS cover in an attempt to sell), I feel like this cover kind of does the book wrong. It’s pretty meh. (I know, I’m a book reviewer, not a designer. But come on, it’s pretty meh.)

Turtles All the Way Down

Okay, so. This book is about Aza, which is the same name as the protagonist of Magonia because I guess John Green and Maria Dahvana Headley and Green are writing buds, but don’t let that distract you.

This Aza is a high school junior with anxiety and OCD that gives her extreme intrusive thoughts. She has a best friend, Daisy, who is a talkative fanfiction writer (useless aside: this is spelled fan-fiction in the book and that bothered me for Reasons), and an old crush, Davis, who is really into famous people quotes and being really existential. (To be fair to Davis, his mother is dead and his neglectful father has just disappeared, so he’s not just entirely Pretentious Emo YA Guy.) Now that Davis’ father is missing and there’s a big reward for finding him, Daisy wants to try to solve the mystery and get the cash.

The good in this novel: Aza’s internal monologue gives us a real insight into her struggle with her illness, and Green puts a lot of heart (and his own experience) into portraying it realistically and in a relatable way. The bits of dialogue in this book that are actually dialogue convey a lot about the characters, and that does tend to be where Green’s novels flow and shine. The book overall twists expectations a few times, and I found myself appreciating that it wasn’t a completely predictable contemporary adventure/romance.

To be clear, although that looks like a short paragraph and what comes below is going to be long, that’s a pretty significant amount of good. I think realistically portraying mental illness in YA is important, and I really appreciate when books don’t completely cleave to formula. I’m especially impressed by this in Green’s case, because this just really isn’t a book about anyone manic pixie-ing someone else? So yes. Significant good.

The bad in this novel: I actually have a really dull complaint to make about this novel. As usual: it was too short. I know, you’re sick of me saying that, but listen: this was under 300 pages long. That was not enough time to a) understand and unpack Aza’s feelings about her father, deceased; b) establish the characters beyond a few key traits, in Aza’s case largely her mental illness; c) understand the status quo of the relationships in the novel so that we can feel the impact of them changing by the end; d) get whole conversations in?

So I’m going to unpack that a little: Aza and Davis originally met at a Sad Camp, as in a place where they went when they were both mourning the loss of their parents. Aza clearly is still in mourning about the loss of her father, as she still clings deeply and regularly to the material reminders she has of him, but yet we don’t learn really anything unique about their relationship whatsoever (and very little to characterize him).

Secondly: although the portrayal of Aza’s mental illness really seems to work here, I’m not 100% sure how to feel about Aza, the character. On one hand, I get that Aza herself is struggling with who she is because of the intrusive thoughts and how they intrude on her ability to be who she wants to be. On the other hand, I vaguely know that she’s good at school and probably pretty and that she likes some music, sometimes, but beyond her illness, it’s really hard to track even the simplest things about who she is: what subjects she’s good at, what bores her, what kinds of boys she finds cute. Green implants her with the old chestnut he gives to basically all of his characters: her own problems make her self-centred, and she has to learn throughout the narrative to pay more attention to other people and their issues. That’s fine, since a lot of people are a bit self-centred, and especially if they have a lot to work through, but it’s not particularly original or interesting, and it doesn’t give me something to pin to Aza as being…Aza.

Thirdly: Aza’s relationships with her best friend, mother, and love interest shift throughout this novel, but we don’t really get much time to establish a status quo of what those interactions were like regularly before the novel, so it’s hard to feel the impact? Daisy and Aza, for example, have a conversation about their friendship that feels unearned because we don’t really have the context for it. Davis’ relationships with his father and brother, which also seem somewhat important to understand to invest in the novel, also feel pretty hazy in definition.

Lastly: this novel glosses over conversations a lot. The dialogue will start, then it’ll devolve into “So then he told me about how…” Which isn’t necessarily a totally invalid thing to do? But it happens a bunch of times, particularly between Davis and Aza, and it’s just…okay. So one of the great things about dialogue, even when it’s mostly one-sided, is how you can describe the other person and how they’re paying attention, how they’re moving, how they’re breathing, how they’re reacting. And you can describe how the talking person is telling their story, if they’re moving, how excited they are, how nervous. That’s what creates tension and excitement, I think, in moments where two people are really talking and trying to be close to one another; seeing how someone feels about opening up, seeing how someone else responds to it. Quite a few times in this book, we just don’t get that, so it’s as if the characters are talking at each other in a vacuum and not really…with one another? (All of these people feel profoundly self-centred.)

So, okay, all of that said. Let’s wrap that back up.

My beef: this book is too short to really invest in the characters and their growth. The bright side: this was a quick, easy read that didn’t stick to formula, and it had some great metaphors and moments to get readers who haven’t experienced intrusive thoughts to understand where Aza is coming from. It was also really not emotionally overwrought; it’s relatively underwritten given some of the pretty sad moments and character backgrounds, avoiding pushing its readers past the brink where possible (and where TFiOS would’ve gone, “CRY, READER, CRY”). (But Davis is still a little bit annoyingly pretentious, and my suspension of disbelief is challenged by someone who doesn’t understand conversations about Star Wars, okay.)

Overall: 


Have any of you picked up this book? What are your thoughts on it? Do you have any fall releases you’re itching to get to? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Five Books I’m Thankful For

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

Thanksgiving (in Canada) has just passed, and controversial though that holiday is (we’re still not great to our First Nations peoples), I do still like the idea of thinking back on what we’re thankful for (and pumpkins, and dinner feasts).

So I thought I’d do something similar to what I did last year and talk a bit about some books I’m thankful for. Not so grandly over the course of my life, but since I started this blog. As much as I like being a blogger and a reader, reading and blogging can be tough to keep up with consistently when you work other day (and/or night) jobs, and a bunch of mediocre reads or poorly-performing posts in a row can really get you down.

So I think it’s important to give a nod to the books that make me keep wanting to do this, for coming along just when I need them. Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing

I know, I know, this book shows up on basically every “good” book list I make. But when I started this blog last year, I was already partway through a challenge for myself where I intended to read 95 books for the year (I ended up reading 128, which by this year’s standards seems ridiculous), and a lot of the things I’d read were, well, not awesome. So this was an early reminder that books could still make me cry, make me smile, and leave me happy. (Along these lines: I’ll Give You the Sun, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.)

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

After almost a year of reading books where sexual assault (or a threat of sexual assault) was used as a trope to make a heroine’s story more tragic or show how valiantly her love interest could save her, it was a deep, deep relief to read a book like this, one that takes sexual assault seriously and deals with its aftermath and the way it seeps into every corner of someone’s life. (Along these lines but much darker: The Female of the Species.)

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe

Just when I thought I was ready to give up on dystopians, here comes utopian (but kind of dystopian, really) world to change my mind. (This was extra timely, because it was the second book in a reading marathon where the first book was The Bone Season, a really loved book online that I ended up absolutely disliking for the awful romance.) Shusterman’s spin on the dystopia in Scythe is super refreshing, and this book was a lot of fun. I have to keep my fingers crossed I’ll still feel thankful for it once I read the sequel, but I’m hoping I’ll continue enjoying this world and its characters. This year I read another Shusterman book, Unwind, and he paints another very interesting dystopian world, but I feel like his writing has…maybe developed since then? (Along these lines but in the sci-fi genre: Defy the Stars was a pleasant surprise, and proof I should keep on hoping for great sci-fi.)

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood

This book is very difficult to describe, but it revolves around a setting and pairs of people who meet each other in it. It’s really a unique, different concept and it relies on fleshing out a common setting and telling the stories of the connections between people to drive the mystery/adventure/horror/whatever it is forward. This book was a reminder that I could still be completely surprised, that some books will defy categorization and set aside genre patterns. (Along these lines, but more historical fiction and less conceptual: The Smell of Other People’s Houses, which I loved.)

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Sun is Also a Star

While there were definitely other books that I enjoyed reading in my second chances series (Three Dark Crowns, Six of Crows, etc.), it was this book that made it hit home that my blog series where I take second chances on authors, which is probably the only real series I have going on here, is actually a really worthwhile thing. I really liked this book (and there’s no sequel to make me feel differently about it, thankfully), and it retained those aspects of style and character I liked in her previous novel while, in my opinion, evolving quite a bit past it. That’s the kind of thing that make second chances worth the while!


Which books have kept you reading over the past couple of years? Are there any that really affected you? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!

Review: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Hello everyone, and welcome back!

I’ve finally managed to circle back around to some new reads (not that I didn’t enjoy my re-read of His Dark Materials thoroughly), and it’s back to fairy tale retellings, it would seem! Only one of these things is not like the others, so let’s talk about that.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

(I like the cover, but this title is way too clunky.)

Girls Made of Snow and Glass

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a kind of Snow White/The Snow Queen (Frozen) fairy tale mash-up about a not-so-evil stepmother (Mina) with a glass heart and her snowy stepdaughter (Lynet). There’s also a huntsman, an evil sorcerer, a cursed kingdom, and a touch of queer romance.

On the face of it, I like this book. Though the women in it are pitted against each other, they don’t want to be. In their own ways, they want to be close to one another, even though on the face of it, they’re in competition to be the queen. Our princess has a female love interest. Most of the twists and turns here exist to make women the central agents of their own stories, and the weird, petty vanity that comes with the original Snow White tale is overturned here.

The concept, if you sum up the plot of this retelling in a few sentences? Great. The execution? Ehhh.

The book relies on the relationships between characters to provide motivation and emotional beats in the story, but those relationships fall fairly flat since they’re told and not shown. Mina has a cruel and neglectful father, but mostly we know that from her inner monologue rather than their interactions, which are few. Lynet adores Mina, but we mostly know that from her inner monologue because we only get a glimpse into a couple of fleeting private moments of closeness. Mina cares for Lynet more than she cares to admit, but…well, you get the picture.

We get a really good sense of these characters’ motivations, since they, well, tell us constantly within their internal monologue—but what brought them to that point is relatively obscured. Lynet tells us about her father being overprotective of her and acts out about how trapped she is, so we know that it’s his way of acting with her that motivates her recklessness—but we don’t get a lot of interaction with her father (or anyone enforcing his rules) to really feel that trapped sense with Lynet.

This kind of tell-don’t-show thing is pervasive in the novel and really weakens it. It’s also perhaps notable that this story setting isn’t particularly vivid. We get a reasonably good sense of the castle’s layout, but not a lot of what makes its beauty unique. We briefly hear about the hardship of the people living in a perpetual winter, but we see very little what that looks like. There are many nobles living in the castle, but only one of them ever seems to be significant.

So…as much as this was a neat, dare I say it fairly feminist take on the two fairy tales it takes up, the concept is far better than the execution, in this case. I do hope I can give it another shot with this author one day, since really I can get behind the premise here, but this was a pretty average read for me, all things considered. I never felt like I had to just put it down or that it was too slow or boring, but I have the feeling it won’t be one that sticks with me beyond some of the unique retold aspects.

Overall:


The search for the perfect fairy tale retelling continues. Do you have any favourites? Any suggestions of one I should try next? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll speak to you again soon!