Review: All the Bright Places

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Title: All the Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

Publisher: Knopf

Publication Date: January 6, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

My local bookstore has been promoting this book like CRAZY for weeks and weeks – so I finally bit the bullet and gave it a shot, only to be 100% captivated.

A quick  summary from the author’s website:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her small Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school—six stories above the ground—it’s unclear who saves whom. And when the unlikely pair teams up on a class project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, they go, as Finch says, where the road takes them: the grand, the small, the bizarre, the beautiful, the ugly, the surprising—just like life.

Soon it’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a bold, funny, live-out-loud guy, who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet forgets to count away the days and starts living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.

All the Bright Places is about a boy and a girl who meet, try to help each other, and fall in love along the way. However – it’s not all sunshine and flowers. This book hurts – a physical, visceral hurt that doesn’t abate even when the last page has been turned.

The book shifts between Violet and Finch’s point of view, both of whom have extremely different perspectives and both of whom are suffering in their own way. This is one of the rare occurrences where I didn’t have a preference of one narrator or the other – both of their ways of telling the story are compelling. And you can tell, as you read, how each character shifts and grows in response to the other – or how, completely independent of one another, their growth is cut short.

I’ve seen a few complaints on Goodreads (I can’t help but browse other reviews sometimes, especially when I see that they’ve rated the book so much lower than I did) about Finch as a “good” character. Some people have said that Finch is manipulative, that he pushes Violet too far, that he doesn’t back down, etc. I didn’t see this as being too vicious an issue in the story. Sure, he pushes her outside her comfort zone, but sometimes you have to be pushed beyond your limits in order to break free from the rut that you’re stuck in. Plus – no character is perfect, and I don’t think that this aspect of his personality was romanticized in any way, though each to their own opinion.

All the Bright Places also takes a very real look at mental illness, which really resonated with me because I’ve been there. It’s take on mental illness is genuine, and I think this book has the ability to help readers see hope, or at least see the need to get help for their own issues – the lack of which was the most frustrating part of the story. I’ve read an almost alarming number of YA books about depression and suicide lately (though why, I don’t know – that seems to be the trend in the newest releases, I guess) and this one hit the mark in terms of really showing the realities of both depression and suicide.

(And as an added bonus, the story takes place in Indiana, and the state plays a fairly large role in the actual plot of the book, too. Hoosier pride, represent.)

In sum: I loved it, I’ll read it again, and I recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind crying through their reading experience.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

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Title: The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

Author: Shaun Hutchinson

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Publication Date: January 15, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I picked this up on impulse because I’d heard good things through the Goodreads grapevine. It wasn’t anything like I expected it to be – and I think that ended up being a good thing.

First, a summary from the author’s website:

Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night, just like the rest of his family. Now he lives in the hospital, serving food in the cafeteria, hanging out with the nurses, sleeping in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him. His only solace is in the world of the superhero he’s created—Patient F.

Then, one night, Rusty is wheeled into the ER, half his body burned by hateful classmates. Rusty’s agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together though all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside of the hospital, and away from their pasts.

But to save Rusty, Drew will have to confront Death, and life will have to get worse before it gets better. And by telling the truth about who he really is, Drew risks destroying any chance of a future.

Drew feels a sense of guilt for what happened to his family – the details of which aren’t revealed until much, much later in the book. The entire book, except for flashbacks and stories told by the characters, takes place inside the hospital where Drew is a stowaway. Much of the story reminded me of Gayle Foreman’s If I Stay, though Drew’s purgatory is one of his own making. He wants to punish himself – so he does. Life can be hell if he makes it. And along with the self-imposed-purgatory theme, the book also deals with religion in a way that is more complex than most YA novels I’ve seen lately.

Minor characters also find their time to shine in this book. The ER nurses, the cafeteria cook, the patient that Drew falls for – they all have their own lives that leap off of the page. I don’t quite understand how Hutchinson achieved this effect, of every single character having an entire life and background and story without overpowering the main narrative of the book, but I’m in-freaking-love with it.

I also loved the fact that Drew draws a graphic novel throughout the book, the plot of which is intertwined with his own life – and Shaun Hutchinson includes these actual graphic novel pages into the text of his book, usually at the ends of chapters. This added another element to the story that went above and beyond, and I found it extremely compelling.

The surprises in The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley kept throwing me for a loop, and though I never fully understood everything (I can’t say much more without giving it away), I think I liked it better that way. The entire book was an emotional read, from cover to cover.

I’m giving this four stars, only because I’ve read so many great books lately and I just didn’t connect with this one on the same level. But the story will stay with me, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who is in need of a purging of emotions, because the catharsis is real.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Vivian Apple at the End of the World

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Title: Vivian Apple at the End of the World 

Author: Katie Coyle

Publisher: Houghton Miffling Harcourt Books for Young Readers

Publication date: January 6, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s blog / Author’s twitter

I’ve been looking forward to reading Vivian Apple at the End of the World for ages! I’ve heard nothing but good things, and of course the cover is gorgeous. (Plus, I really needed a “V” title to fill out that slot in my Alphabet Challenge.)

A brief summary of the book from Amazon:

Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed “Rapture,” all that’s left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn’t know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn’t looking for a savior. She’s looking for the truth.

First of all, I have to say that this is one of the most ingenious YA stories I’ve ever read. Crazed religious fanatics sweep America as the world is about to end, and one set of teens decides to take the apocalypse into their own hands and brave the elements – and the converted – to try to find out what really happened to their families? Yeah, count me in.

Of course, I couldn’t fall in love with every aspect of the novel. Hurricanes and earthquakes sweep the nation, there are snowstorms in May, and crazy fog in California – which, when you find out what’s happening in America at the end of the novel, doesn’t make sense. Also, Viv & co. reach one specific town and literally nothing has changed about it. If the world was ending, wouldn’t there be a greater reaction? There’s never any mention of widespread panic to the extent you’d expect, or looting, or… well, it just doesn’t seem to mesh, even in this alternate/near-future universe. Also, almost every adult is ridiculous/crazy/over-the-top, which was just annoying.

But the characters were so compelling that in the end, I was able to overlook the (minor) annoyances and (many) plot holes. Vivian is kick-ass, even though it’s a constant struggle for her not to fall apart while the world is doing so around her. Her best friend, Harp, is equally lovable, the more “rebellious” of the two friends, and one who actually serves a purpose rather than just being a sidekick. Peter is cool, too, but less so than the ladies of the book. Together, these three and the cohorts they run into along the way made me actually, literally laugh out loud too many times to count.

I’m really looking forward to seeing where Katie Coyle takes the story next, so I hope the sequel gets published soon. If you like slightly unbelievable comedy with a heart of near-gold, I’d recommend this one.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: I’ll Give You the Sun

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Title: I’ll Give You the Sun

Author: Jandy Nelson

Publisher: Dial Books

Publication Date: September 16, 2014

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

[[NOTE: I’m so confused – I had this review posted about a week ago and for some reason it disappeared off of my blog, and it’s no longer in the draft records of my posts. STRANGE. Anyway, I re-wrote it, because I genuinely loved this book and I want to keep a record of it on here for posterity.]]

I picked this book up back in… October? And fell immediately in love. It took me ages to write this review, initially, because I didn’t quite know how to put into words what I felt about this book, but I gave it a shot anyway.

A brief summary from the author’s website, first:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

The story is split into two perspectives, Jude and Noah, and both of the twins have distinct writing styles. Noah’s chapters were my favorite because his words flowed like rivers and he saw everything from an artist’s point of view, so much so that his descriptions made me think about ordinary things in new ways. Also, I’m always excited to get a queer narrator in YA lit.

I struggle to think of a book where I’ve gotten so attached to the characters as I was with I’ll Give You the Sun. I wanted to love both Jude and Noah, and I got so involved with their stories that at some points I was almost shouting at the book because they were about to make stupid choices that would make me not-love them so much anymore. In fact, at turns, I hated both of them – though I always came back around in the end, because that’s real, and that’s life.

Their struggles with grief, with growing up, with growing apart, and with growing to understand themselves are 100% relatable for anyone who has ever… lived, basically. The twists and turns just kept on coming. And in the end, I looked back on the whole story and thought, “Wow, this was beautiful.”

I had a book hangover for days, and all I wanted to do was re-read it. It’s realistic fiction, but I’ve rarely read anything more magical. Please, give this book a shot. It just won the 2015 Printz award, if my words don’t convince you. But Nelson’s words will pull you in and feed you a story you’ll never forget.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest

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Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest

Author: Holly Black

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Publication date: January 13, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I have been eagerly awaiting Holly Black’s return to the world of faerie for years. Her earlier works, like Tithe and Ironside, were 100% formative influences on me as a middle-schooler. So I was PUMPED when this book turned out just how I expected it to – absolutely perfect.

So you can get on my level, here’s a summary from Holly Black’s website:

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointy as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

The greatest thing about this book is that it forcefully pulls you into the world of Fairfold. In this world, magic is seemlessly melded with the modern world – faeries are real, and everyone in town knows it. I could see the town, sense their anticipation, feel their fear. And there was fear! Because like Holly Black’s other books about the fae, these creatures are properly frightening. If you’re expecting Tinkerbell, you’ve got the wrong book. They’re gorgeous and grotesque, powerful, terrifying, and ruthless. And I loved it so much.

The Darkest Part of the Forest also did exactly what I’ve been hoping would happen for years – it completely flips the typical Snow White/Sleeping Beauty fairy tale trope. A human girl is put at the center of the action and forced to save not only her friends and her town but also herself. But she’s not the only star of the story! I was completely in love with all four main characters. And oh god, if the flipped tropes and perfect world-building hadn’t hooked me already, the cast is also diverse, with a wide range of POC and queer characters.

I have zero complaints about this book and I’ve already forced it onto two of my friends and at least four of my students. It’s beautifully written and once you’re pulled into Fairfold, you won’t be able to escape. I desperately want to re-read this again and again, and I know I’ll cherish the reading experience every single time that I do.

If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought! But I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to do anything but adore The Darkest Part of the Forest.

5 out of 5 stars

Tara