Review: Skyscraping

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Title: Skyscraping

Author: Cordelia Jensen

Publisher: Philomel Books

Publication date: June 2, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

The awkward placement of the swinging girl on the cover is actually what drew me to pick this up (you probably can’t tell from the picture, but trust me, it’s super awkward). Then I flipped it open, discovered it was a book in verse, and figured I had enough time to read it. There were some things that stood out to be as being GREAT about this book and others that left me supremely disappointed.

First, the summary from Cordelia Jensen’s website:

Mira is just beginning her senior year of high school when she discovers her father with his male lover. Her world–and everything she thought she knew about her family–is shattered instantly. Unable to comprehend the lies, betrayal, and secrets that–unbeknownst to Mira–have come to define and keep intact her family’s existence, Mira distances herself from her sister and closest friends as a means of coping. But her father’s sexual orientation isn’t all he’s kept hidden. A shocking health scare brings to light his battle with HIV. As Mira struggles to make sense of the many fractures in her family’s fabric and redefine her wavering sense of self, she must find a way to reconnect with her dad–while there is still time. Told in raw, exposed free verse, Skyscraping reminds us that there is no one way to be a family.

I tend to enjoy books written in verse, because I think they’re typically more beautifully written than standard prose and more digestible than prose books written with verse-like style or syntax. With Skyscraping, I did appreciate the “constellation” metaphor throughout. Mira is constantly comparing her life and the dynamics of her family to the stars in the sky, and the way her viewpoint and comparisons shift as the story progresses was gratifying to read. Plus, these poems were some of the most stunning, in my opinion. However – most of the poems didn’t feel like poetry to me. They felt like sections written in verse simply to move the plot forward. I didn’t feel the emotional connection that I was craving. So style-wise, I was left wanting.

On a plot-based level, I really appreciated the fact that this book took a look at an untraditional family. Mira really struggles with finding out that her parents have a open relationship and are okay with it. She looks back at her perfect childhood and questions everything, and finds herself struggling to connect with her father after feeling like he’s not only been cheating on her mother but on her whole family. Her reconnection as his health declines was sad, but… not much deeper than that. Again, I feel like the emotions could have been more vividly explored.

In the end, I was left with just a vague memory of a few pretty poems and Mira’s struggle through her father’s death. While it was nice, it could have been much more powerful if better executed. If you want to read about a family torn apart by HIV/AIDS, I’d actually recommend Breaking Night, a nonfiction book by Elizabeth Murray. Skyscraping was a nice little read, and I actually enjoyed it more while I was reading it than I did once I looked back at the reading experience as a whole, so maybe I’m coming off a little too harsh. But if verse books are your thing, there are definitely a few gems hidden in this one, though they may be few and far between.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara

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Review: Extraordinary Means

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Title: Extraordinary Means

Author: Robyn Schneider

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Publication date: May 26, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I picked this book up purely because the cover font and color scheme was gorgeous. I am a shallow person when it comes to book covers catching my eye. The fact that this was somewhat alternate-universe and slightly speculative, along with being a YA romantic dark comedy of sorts was secondary. But I’m glad that’s what it ended up being about!

As always, a brief summary from the author’s website:

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it’s easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down. Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.

At Latham, there’s some of the camaraderie and shenanigans you’d expect from a typical teen summer camp or boarding school, but it’s constantly in the shadow of the fact that everyone will either a) get well and go home, leaving their friends forever or b) die. So, you know, not really a win-win situation. And it’s an unusual situation to describe. I’ve read some reviewers describe Extraordinary Means as somewhat like Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. While the latter is definitely different because it’s about a boarding school where the students are being raised in order to harvest their organs, I agree that there’s still a similarity. The students are all living on borrowed time, and they know that whatever relationships they build will inevitably fall apart, and not by choice.

But at the same time, this book is special because of it’s strong comedic aspect. When the blurb says that the book is “darkly funny,” it’s not kidding. I laughed out loud almost constantly throughout, from Lane and Sadie’s narration more than from anything that happened in the narrative plot-wise. But then I’d stop and be like, “Um, these kids have terminal diseases. Some of these things that are cracking me up are actually really morbid. Should I really be laughing so hard?” The answer I came to was, yes. It’s okay to laugh. Because if you take away the humor, you’re taking away any chance they have at living somewhat normal lives. And the characters make it clear that some of the humor is theirs, but some of it is also a coping mechanism.

Some of the actions of the characters are definitely… nonsensical. For example, in one scene, Lane and Sadie sneak out to a county carnival. Obviously they want to live their lives, but also, to risk spreading their disease? I don’t think anyone would really be cruel enough to do this. Also, there’s a constant black market of alcohol and other banned items, and the teens end up partying like there’s no tomorrow. Kind of stupid, especially when you’re dying of a lung disease. I don’t know. Some parts just didn’t make sense to me.

But overall, while there were some lapses in logical judgment and while I saw almost every “plot twist” and dramatic event that happened (there’s not much in this book that will surprise you, probably), I enjoyed it. Like I said before, it’s warped sense of comedy was weirdly engaging. I found almost all of the main characters to be relatable in some way, and in the end, I was satisfied with my reading experience. So if you like comedies, romances, or books about dying teens (which seem to be more and more common these days…), you may want to give this one a try.

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Let’s talk to: Will Walton!

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Earlier this week I posted a review of a recent read that I adored, Anything Could Happen by Will Walton. While finding Will Walton’s website to link to the post, I stumbled across his email address – and lo and behold, he agreed to answer a few questions. So here it is, my interview with Will Walton!

***

TO: What was the most rewarding part about publishing your first book?

WW: Really, I gotta say, it’s been the response from readers who have been moved or encouraged by the book in some way. It was also neat to see how my parents reacted to it–very positively! I really wrote this book for them, but honestly, I wasn’t certain how it would go!

TO: Can you describe the process of writing the novel, from when you first had an inkling of an idea to when it finally ended up in print?

WW: The idea started with “Tretch Farm,” the name. Initially, I was like, “This sounds like the name of a picture book character, so I’ll write a picture book.” But then I started the whole coming out process–a time during which I felt pretty dang isolated. Writing a lightheaded story about a resilient gay boy from the South turned out to be just what I needed. So I kept the name “Tretch Farm,” since I liked it for how silly-sounding it was, and ditched the initial picture book idea.

During the early drafting process, two things changed. First, Tretch aged up! Believe it or not, I began by writing an eleven-year-old Tretch. Now, he’s fifteen, which just feels right. I feel like, when you’re fifteen, you are discovering so much about yourself, all while simultaneously trying to learn how to put everything into words! Second, the ending changed. Tretch’s parents were initially going to discover that he was gay and entertain the thought of sending him to a conversion camp. They were never actually going to send him, but still… that would have been a darker turn!

TO: What was the hardest part about the revision process? 

WW: Working under a fairly strict deadline was hard, especially since this is my first book and I was used to going at my own pace. Generally, it takes time for me to see what’s working and what isn’t while I’m drafting, and during revisions, my publisher was basically like, “go, go, go!” I had to adjust my work methods.

TO: Who are the characters in Anything Could Happen that are the closest to your heart, as the writer? And why?

WW: I love Lana Kramer. She is definitely more like me than Tretch is. But I also love the grandparents. They are the only characters in the book that are really, truly based on people I know: my own grandparents. And even though the grandparents in Anything Could Happen have entirely different backstories than my actual grandparents, it was so fun to spend time with them because they reminded me so much of my real Grandma and Granddad.

TO: Ellie Goulding’s music plays a pretty pivotal role in the novel. What about her music inspired you to include it?

WW: The album Halcyon had just been released around the time I began drafting Anything Could Happen. In fact, it was playing over the speakers in the cafe I was sitting in when I wrote the first sentence. I didn’t know what a big role Ellie’s music would play… but it came to be a huge one, obviously! I know this isn’t only true about people from small, Southern towns, but in my community growing up, there was such a concentration on politeness and tradition. Talking about your problems was kind of taboo! As a result, my friends and I often found we had a tough time explaining what we were going through to one another. That’s why music and books and movies became so important to me as a teen. They put words to the emotions I was feeling and helped me deal with them… This is exactly what Ellie’s music does for Tretch.

TO: Obviously, “coming out” as a high schooler (or as someone of any age, for that matter) can be pretty difficult, and even stressful, for a variety of reasons. How did you go about figuring out how Tretch would have handled that situation?

WW: I just knew Tretch was my hero, and I knew he would handle it exactly like someone I viewed as heroic would. Tretch is so innately resilient and loving–I knew that love would guide him in handling any situation he was up against. And in the end, I think it did.

TO: Most everyone in the book reacted supportively when Tretch came out to them. I haven’t seen that a lot in YA fiction! It was very exciting. What led you to make this decision? 

WW: At the end, the message the book leaves you with is, “It’s going to be better.” This was a lesson I was trying to prove to myself as I wrote Anything Could Happen. In having Joe, Lana, and Matt act individually supportive of Tretch’s coming out, I wanted to remind myself that there were people around me who supported me and loved me no matter what.

TO: Tretch is fifteen in the book, and he definitely encapsulates the tumultuousness of high school existence. What would you say to today’s fifteen-year-olds, if you could pass them along one message?

WW: I would say, just keep doing what you love to do. If it’s dancing, keep it up. If it’s writing, keep it up. I really believe that reading, writing, listening to music, and watching the Independent Film Channel (hilarious, right?) were the things that helped me out as a teenager. And while I didn’t, as Taylor Swift says, “know it at fifteen,” those were also the things that shaped me into the kind of person I am today. So just keep doing your thing and take care of yourself–that’s my main message, I think.

***

Thanks so much to Will Walton for his words of advice about life, writing, and the power of Ellie Goulding! If you like what he had to say, and you’d be interested in reading a stellar piece of fiction, do check out his book, Anything Could Happen. 

Tara

Review: Anything Could Happen

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Title: Anything Could Happen

Author: Will Walton

Publisher: Push

Publication date: May 26, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

This is one of those books that grabbed me at the first reading of it’s book blurb. Out of all of the recent releases, Anything Could Happen intrigued me the most, so it was only natural that I picked it up. I ended up buying it for my classroom, and in a moment, you’ll hopefully understand why.

First, the summary that immediately piqued my interest:

When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen.

Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend.  For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels – and Tretch can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse.

The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn’t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he’s really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who’s a thorn in Tretch’s side doesn’t realize how close to the truth he’s hitting.

Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world.  Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained.

I’ve said before that I love LGBTQ books where the characters aren’t straight and that’s not a huge thing – where their sexuality doesn’t take a starring role, because usually it’s not the defining aspect of a character (or at least, it shouldn’t be). But I think that coming out stories are equally needed. Especially coming out stories that are positive. Yes, Tretch is afraid of judgment – it’d be impossible not to be. One reason why books like Anything Could Happen are valuable is because queer teens need to see that they can be accepted, and that their sexuality isn’t a direct ride to tragedy and rejection. And more than just in regards to sexuality, throughout the book Tretch learns what it means to be himself. Music is a huge part of who he is, and eventually he realizes that he doesn’t necessarily have to keep that to himself. His growth as a person and his slow building of confidence is touching to experience.

In terms of the style, Will Walton also really captures the shaky time when everyone is trying to find themselves. His descriptions are lovely and his dialogue both moving and hilarious, depending on what part you’re reading. I felt fully immersed in the story for the entire time I was reading – it was smooth throughout and events blended seamlessly from one to the next, which meant that while there were ebbs and flows of action, all of it fit together like a set of perfect jigsaw puzzle pieces. That’s not to say that the story itself was unrealistically perfect – more like, when you look back at it, you realize – wow. That makes sense. That’s the natural series of events. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it was wonderful.

What I didn’t love as much was that this book was all set around the holidays, which I didn’t expect. This threw me off just a little , especially because there was no indication about this before I started the book, and it was released in May. Something about reading about snow and holiday cheer just before summer was slightly off-putting. I also disliked the fact that Ellie Goulding music played a pivotal role in certain scenes. Like, I’m as big of a Goulding fan as the next person, but references to specific songs are going to make this book very dated in a few years. Still, after reading the whole story, I can see why that choice was made.

But like I said before, I definitely think Anything Could Happen has a strong audience out there, which is why I bought it for my classroom. It’s got friendship, family, a little bit of romance, and a lot of heart, all of which is put together stunningly. I can’t think of a reason why a YA reader wouldn’t find something to love about this book, and I can’t wait for more of Will Walton’s work.

And to end on an exciting note – after writing this review, I reached out to Will Walton via email because I stumbled across it on his website, and he agreed to an interview! So that post will be forthcoming. He’s not only a great author but seems like a genuinely sweet person, and I can’t wait for you to hear what he has to say about both Anything Could Happen and the writing process. So keep an eye out for that tomorrow!

But to end, as always:

4 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: All the Rage

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Title: All the Rage

Author: Courtney Summers

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Publication date: April 14, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I am in love with Courtney Summers’ writing. I may be in love with Courtney Summers herself. This is a moot point. Her book This is Not a Test is arguably one of the best zombie books not about zombies ever written, and Cracked Up to Be is the definition of a meaningful YA read. So on the day All the Rage came out, I ran, not walked, to the bookstore to pick it up. And let me tell you, this did NOT disappoint.

One thing I need to mention: there is a major trigger warning for rape and sexual assault, both in the book and in this review. If these issues are triggering, you may want to steer clear.

But first, before I get further into why I’m in love with this book – have this short summary from Courtney Summers’ website:

The sheriff’s son, Kellan Turner, is not the golden boy everyone thinks he is, and Romy Grey knows that for a fact. Because no one wants to believe a girl from the wrong side of town, the truth about him has cost her everything–friends, family, and her community. Branded a liar and bullied relentlessly by a group of kids she used to hang out with, Romy’s only refuge is the diner where she works outside of town. No one knows her past there. But when a girl with ties to both Romy and Kellan goes missing after a party, and news of him assaulting another girl in a town close by gets out, Romy must decide whether she wants to fight or carry the burden of knowing more girls could get hurt if she doesn’t speak up. Nobody believed her the first time–and they certainly won’t now–but the cost of her silence might be more than she can bear.

The book starts with Romy under attack. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening – the whole story only comes together later through inferences and flashbacks. The poetic way that it’s told is fragmented, much like quick snapshots of an event that you see over and over in your dreams. It’s gritty, and gripping, and is as beautiful to read as it is painful.

Then the story skips to weeks later. You find out that justice did not prevail. Because when Romy speaks up, no one believes her. She’s shunned and slut-shamed by both strangers and people that she trusted to side with her through anything. At the same time, if she keeps it secret, she doesn’t have to deal with the shame of what happened, or the stares and the pity of people who know – but she does have to worry about what might happen to another innocent girl.

This is a very real take on sexual assault. Romy gets a job, falls in love, tries to “move on” with her life – but still clearly shows the signs of post-traumatic stress. Because when something like that happens to you, you can’t just put it behind you. Effects will linger, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that. Romy faces the very real struggle of balance and how to let the past influence – but not define – her.

Also stunningly well-timed is the fact that the perpetrator is the sheriff’s son. The police force in Romy’s town, then, do little to help her, because if they even care to do so, they’ll face consequences. White misogyny through the police force prevails, which has become a frustrating part of American life even outside this book.

So many times while reading this, I wanted to scream. I wanted to scream for Romy, for girls like her who were sexually assaulted and never received closure, for girls who are shamed for their clothes and their personal choices, for girls who grow up in a world where every day is a fight to survive just because of their gender. As Courtney Summers tweeted:

This is the book that the feminist generation needs to be reading. All the Rage tells a story that needs to be told and needs to be taken seriously. At the same time, the book isn’t just a social justice tirade. It has a heart, and tells Romy’s story with both delicacy and power. I have faith that not a single reader of All the Rage will be disappointed. I also have faith that with the prevalence of books like these, our world can become a better and more understanding place to be a girl.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: The Game of Love and Death

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Title: The Game of Love and Death

Author: Martha Brockenbrough

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Publication date: April 28, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

I am a sucker for historical fiction, especially historical YA. I was immediately intrigued by the premise – a pair of lovers, chosen by Love and Death, respectively, and left to play out the game.

But before I get to far – a brief summary from the author’s website:

Antony and Cleopatra. Helen of Troy and Paris. Romeo and Juliet. And now… Henry and Flora.

For centuries Love and Death have chosen their players. They have set the rules, rolled the dice, and kept close, ready to influence, angling for supremacy. And Death has always won. Always.

Could there ever be one time, one place, one pair whose love would truly tip the balance?

Meet Flora Saudade, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming the next Amelia Earhart by day and sings in the smoky jazz clubs of Seattle by night. Meet Henry Bishop, born a few blocks and a million worlds away, a white boy with his future assured — a wealthy adoptive family in the midst of the Great Depression, a college scholarship, and all the opportunities in the world seemingly available to him.

The players have been chosen. The dice have been rolled. But when human beings make moves of their own, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

Alright, so first of all, while the protagonists are young adults, I think that people of all ages would love this book. Adults, children, everyone in between. Everyone can find an emotional connection to these characters and this story.

This book took me places that I did not expect in the slightest. First of all, the personifications of Love and Death were some of the most intriguing characterizations I’ve ever read. I expected Love to be a woman and Death to be a man – but nope, it was the other way around. Shame on me for imposing gender roles on abstract concepts. But more than that, I was surprised that they actually played fairly vital roles in the story. They entangle themselves with Henry and Fiona’s struggle in more ways than one, keeping a close eye on their living game pieces. I loved it.

Both main characters also have significant strengths and flaws. Fiona is headstrong and determined, but too dedicated to her work and her dreams of becoming a pilot to let anyone get close to her. Henry, on the other hand, has almost no goals, and no plan – ever – but his passionate heart and genuine kindness make up for that. The one thing they share is their love of music. Together, they’re a stunning pair to watch, just because their interactions are so complex. And that’s even before you add on the issues regarding their interracial relationship during the American depression.

At the beginning of the novel, you are forced to realize that there are only two ways the game can end. This makes the reading experience painful, but the journey incredibly worthwhile in the end. I can’t say enough good things about this story. The Game of Love and Death is one that I won’t forget. If you are a human being, I recommend this book to you.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: We All Looked Up

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Title: We All Looked Up

Author: Tommy Wallach

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: March 24, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

Another Friday afternoon at Barnes and Noble, checking out the new YA fiction – and my eye was drawn towards this intriguing book, We All Looked Up. Why did they all look up? Why, because of the asteroid heading right for earth. Whoa, right?

The briefest of brief summaries from Goodreads:

Before the asteroid we let ourselves be defined by labels:

The athlete, the outcast, the slacker, the overachiever.

But then we all looked up and everything changed.

They said it would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we’d been, something that would last even after the end.

Two months to really live.

Let me just say that the premise of this book was stunning. I mean, apocalyptic realistic fiction? I was so excited to see how Tommy Wallach was going to handle this. But I was extraordinarily let down, mostly because I just… didn’t care. I don’t even remember all of the names of the protagonists. But basically, the book follows four teenagers (in the summary, the ones that are described in Breakfast Club-like terms – the “athlete,” “outcast,” “slacker,” “overachiever,” etc.) as they realize that the world is most likely going to end, as the asteroid is on a 99ish percent collision course with earth.

I like how Wallach switched between perspectives, moving from one character to the next depending on who’d played a role in the previous scene, a kind of domino effect of narration. But as far as the characters themselves go, we didn’t get enough about them to move them from their stereotype. For example, the “overachiever” was a girl who really ended up breaking out of her shell and doing what she wanted to do instead of what her parents told her – but honestly? That’s a little cliche, and I didn’t get any sort of connection with her otherwise.

And halfway through the book, the plot completely lost steam. I don’t even know what was happening, and to be honest, I ended up skimming a good chunk of it because I wasn’t even sure it’d be worth finishing. And I kinda wish I hadn’t, because the ending really pissed me off. I won’t say why, but you’ll know when you get there.

The one thing I didn’t even realize about the book until writing this review is that the author, originally a musician, composed a companion album, which is jammin’ – you can listen to it here. On it’s own, I actually really dig this music. So that’s fun.

But in terms of the book itself, it was disappointing. I hoped it would be better, but alas. The strange thing is that so many YA authors I follow on twitter have been raving over it – so, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just crazy. But We All Looked Up definitely didn’t give me anything to grasp onto.

2 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Red Queen

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Title: Red Queen

Author: Victoria Aveyard

Publisher: Harper Teen

Publication date: February 10, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

The gorgeous cover of Red Queen immediately caught my eye as soon as it came out (it’s hard to tell in the photo, but in real life it’s silver and very attractive to someone who is drawn to anything shiny). This being Victoria Aveyard’s debut, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I dove right in, especially since I hadn’t read any real fantasy in a while.

A quick summary from Victoria Aveyard’s website:

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn’t know she had. Except … her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart.

From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.

I was hooked within the first few pages of this book. The clear societal differences between the Reds and the Silvers screams social commentary, and I wasn’t disappointed when this issue nicely progressed throughout the novel. It’s amazing how a story set in another world with a whole new set of rules and physical realities can still echo our own society so strongly. Anyway – I though Aveyard made a great point with some of the issues she brought up, framed within the confines of the book’s social classes.

The mystery of the story – how did Mare get her power if she’s not a Silver? – definitely compelled me to keep reading, but even more engaging than that were the courtly interactions and intrigue that Mare got herself whipped up into. Some elements reminded me of Kiera Cass’ The Selection series, but with less emphasis on the beauty pageant/reality television elements and more on the betrayal and political twisting and turning. So, a more interesting and meaty take on it, in other words.

I was really hoping that this book wouldn’t end up having a love triangle, but I was sadly mistaken. Still, the way that it played out didn’t really bother me in the end, because Mare really only loves one character at a time, and the way the young men feel for her is hard to pin down, which is part of the fun.

Red Queen is a meaningful read that’s packed with action, so if you like hidden social commentary and also magical powers and fantasy worlds, definitely give this one a read before the sequel comes out. I’ll be waiting with bated breath for the next installment.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: Mosquitoland

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Title: Mosquitoland

Author: David Arnold

Publisher: Viking Children’s

Publication date: March 3, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s website / Author’s twitter

So this is, as I’ve mentioned, the second of the van-cover books (technically, this one is a bus – at first glance I did think it was a van, though) that I read in one sitting at Barnes and Noble a couple of Fridays ago. I genuinely loved it and ended up buying it for my own library.

A summary from the author’s website:

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland. So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

You know those experiences you have that, when you look back on them, seem so ridiculous that they couldn’t have possibly been real, but you know that they were? In Mosquitoland, David Arnold creates much of the same feeling. Mim’s whole road trip walks the fine line between realism and fantasy. The people she meets and the events that occur are ridiculous, but not quite beyond the realm of believability, making her whimsical adventure something amazing to experience.

Some sections of the book made me crack up, and others had me swallowing down that thick emotion you get when you’re hit hard with something that matters. My opinion of Mim shifted just as suddenly – she’s a protagonist who’s hard to pin down, not wholly reliable, not wholly understandable, but someone who I rooted for throughout the book nonetheless.

I’ve seen tons of discussion about Mim’s cultural appropriation (or rather, David Arnold’s, as the author), and how she’s not a solid portrayal of Native American culture – one of her coping mechanisms is to put on her “warpaint” lipstick across her cheeks, though she is part Cherokee. The way I took it was that she’s a teenager, and if it is inappropriate, she doesn’t know better – that’s why she’s still growing as a person. So I didn’t find it offensive, but then again, I’m white. So. Keep that in mind if you’re sensitive about cultural appropriation.

The time it took me to read Mosquitoland flew by in a flash, and when I finished I wanted to dive back into the world it had painted around me, no matter how much pain it caused. David Arnold has supremely impressed me with his debut novel, and I highly recommend this to those of you who want something equal parts gritty and sweet.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tara

Review: No Parking at the End Times

parkingcover

Title: No Parking at the End Times

Author: Bryan Bliss

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication date: February 24, 2015

Goodreads / Author’s twitter

Picked this one up because two books on the recent releases shelf at Barnes and Noble had vans on the covers, so clearly it was a sign from the universe that I was meant to read both van books in one day. My brain doesn’t make sense sometimes, but I usually just go with it. (I’ll post my review of the other van-cover-book later this week!)

A summary from the HarperCollins website, of which Greenwillow is an imprint:

Abigail’s parents believed the world was going to end. And—of course—it didn’t. But they’ve lost everything anyway. And she must decide: does she still believe in them? Or is it time to believe in herself? Fans of Sara Zarr, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell will connect with this moving debut.

Abigail’s parents never should have made that first donation to that end-of-times preacher. Or the next, or the next. They shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there for the “end of the world.” Because now they’re living in their van. And Aaron is full of anger, disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right.

But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.

First of all, on a slightly unrelated note, name-dropping in book blurbs is actually my least favorite thing on this planet. Rainbow Rowell wrote a “moving” book, and if you liked that one, you’ll also like this one! No. Incorrect. Wrong. Just… stop.

Anyway. Continuing on.

Some things about this book were great – like the focus on family dynamics and the close relationship between Abigail and her brother as the emotional center of the novel. I don’t think the importance of familial love gets enough attention in YA literature. And the whole people-get-taken-by-basically-a-religious-cult-leader thing is becoming more prevalent in contemporary media lately, as seen in Vivian Apple at the End of the World (my review of which is here) and the new comedy “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” on Netflix (which I absolutely loved). I don’t know what it says about our society that religious cults are becoming more of a talked-about issue, but… I do think the topic is intriguing.

But however interesting the premise, and however compelling the familial relationship between parents-children and sister-brother, I closed the book with a vague feeling of disappointment. First of all, nothing was really resolved by the end of the novel. It wasn’t even resolved in a this-isn’t-resolved way. It just kind of fake-happy-ended me. Happy endings don’t just happen like that, in a page and a half, with no reason and no hint as to the troubles that they’ll have to face in the future as a result of that ending.

Also, for a book that focuses on the hardships of this family after they become basically homeless and living in their van, it kind of… romanticizes? The idea of homelessness? Like, they sleep in the van, but the kids sneak out to do whatever, whenever they want. They hit up all the charity food lines, collect donations from churches, etc, and while Abigail does talk about how hard it is to eat spaghetti every day, and brush her teeth without a real sink, I don’t think the book hit the gritty realities I was hoping it would. I was left distinctly unsatisfied.

I much enjoyed the other van-cover-book, to be honest. Review of that one is forthcoming. But for No Parking at the End Times? Ehhhh.

3 out of 5 stars.

Tara