REVIEW: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi (+ Giveaway)

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Title: Down and Across
Author: Arvin Ahmadi
Format: ARC, 322 pages
Publication: February 6th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via blog tour (thank you Penguin Random House and JM @ Book Freak Revelations!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | National Book Store


Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try—all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be.


I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Welcome to the last stop of the #DownandAcrossPH Blog Tour!

Smart, funny and exceedingly relatable, Down and Across is a solid debut from YA newcomer Arvin Ahmadi.

It centers on sixteen-year-old Iranian-American Scott Ferdowsi who doesn’t quite know what to do in life. He has tried several clubs in school and has considered and changed career paths one too many times. His strict immigrant parents want him to take things seriously and choose medicine or engineering or law, but Scott doesn’t want to settle. So, the summer his parents fly to Iran to take care of an ailing grandfather, Scott quits his internship and hops on a bus to Washington, DC, where he intends to seek counsel from a Georgetown professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of passion, perseverance, and success. What Scott doesn’t intend to do is to stay more than a day. Or befriend the girl she meets on the ride to DC. Or pick up another at the National Zoo. But Scott is definitely in for some adventure. And that is what’s so refreshing about Down and Across, because it’s at once fun and enjoyable and moving. I can’t even tell you how many times I snickered or downright laughed in my commute to work. Scott is charming and funny but he doesn’t make the best decisions. And that made me root for him all the more.

“I woke up that morning with a throbbing headache and some nausea, but the worst offender was the foul stench that had taken over the inside of my mouth. The corpse of my adolescence. I could feel it escaping through my teeth and lips. It felt permanent, like I could brush my teeth a million times and still be stuck with that awful taste. (I brushed twice.)”

‬In Lorde’s latest album, Melodrama, she has a track that goes, “You asked if I was feeling it, I’m psycho high / Know you won’t remember in the morning when I speak my mind / Lights are on and they’ve gone home, but who am I?” And my reading experience with Ahmadi’s novel reminded me of those lines. Only Lorde will take her hangover as an opportunity for existential reflection. And she does this with such eloquence. Just as how Ahmadi takes up this conversational tone and somehow manages to drive home and capture articulately the anxieties of growing up and not knowing what it is you want. The way he commands his words, his every clever turn of phrase, Ahmadi has a pinpoint-sharp awareness of voice.

“I wondered about Jeanette, who was so assured in her beliefs that she knew exactly how to shoot down the skeptics. Wouldn’t that be nice? Not to question your identity every second of every day, but to simply know.”

The author said in an NPR interview that it was important for him to represent not just diversity of skin color or culture but a diversity of interests and backgrounds. And that, to me, translates really well into the pages because the cast of characters Scott meets in DC is just as colorful and diverse in terms of experiences and personalities, which is reminiscent of another debut that came out a couple of years back—David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. Fiora is this seemingly manic pixie dream girl who turns out to be flawed. I love how Scott doesn’t romanticize her. He gets mad at her. He calls out her bs. There’s Trent. Oh Trent. He is such a pure person. The world needs more Trents! Jeanette, meanwhile, is whatever. She’s infuriating, but her actions make sense. She’s obviously wrong and there’s no reality where I’d agree with her but she’s very firm with her values and acts accordingly and you have to appreciate that. Then there are Scott’s parents, who want what’s best for him even though they don’t necessarily know what that means. There’s this one scene where Scott phones his dad and I totally lost it.

“I spent the night on Fiora’s couch and dozed off thinking about the universe. How it’s indefinitely incomplete—like us. How the best ideas, events, people, and lives don’t need to wrap up nicely to mean something.”

I’m obviously stoked that we’re getting more representation in literature and cinema—especially in the young adult community—where the narrative is leaning towards “issues” and talking about the experience of a person from a specific marginalized race or cultural background. But at the same time I’m delighted that we’re seeing this other dialogue where the protagonist’s skin color isn’t directly linked to the plot. And Down and Across—along with Jasmine Warga’s sophomore book Here We Are Now—is such a fantastic example of this. Because these stories show us that while there’s a multitude of little and significant ways in which people are different, even if we share the same culture, even if we have the same sexuality, there are also things that make us alike more than we realize. And that is so affirming.

Down and Across is not a page-turner. It might not even be something you haven’t seen before. But it gets me. And I’m almost positive it gets you, too.

4.5 out of 5

Arvin Ahmadi 01

Arvin Ahmadi grew up outside Washington, DC. He graduated from Columbia
University and has worked in the tech industry. When he’s not reading or writing
books, he can be found watching late-night talk show interviews and editing
Wikipedia pages. Down and Across is his first novel.


You can read Down and Across, too! Enter THIS giveaway for a chance to win one (1) advance reader copy. Entries are open worldwide and will be accepted until 11:59pm (EST), March 5th.

Check out the rest of the tour stops!

Arctic Books
The Ultimate Fangirl
The Bibliophile Confessions
Divergent Gryffindor
Stay Bookish

Are you picking up this debut anytime soon or are you really picking up this debut anytime soon? If you’re lucky to have read this in advance, can we talk about Trent? ❤ Also, what are some of your recent favorite contemporary YA reads? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: The Gwythienian by Savannah J. Goins

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Title: The Gwythienian
Author: Savannah J. Goins
Format: Paperback, 351 pages
Publication: November 3rd 2017 by Mason Mill Publishing House
Source: Author (thank you so much, Savannah!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Fantasy
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked


Seventeen-year-old Enzi Montgomery had worn the stone around her neck for years. It was set in a cheap metal fitting, nothing fancy. But it made her wonder if she was crazy. Sometimes, when she had it on, she could disappear. She couldn’t make it happen. It just worked on its own. But always at convenient times, like when she’d needed to hide again from Caleb. Maybe she’d only been imagining it; insomnia could do that to you. The nightmares had never left since that day seven years ago and she’d never really learned to cope with them.

But what if she wasn’t crazy?

When she finds out that someone else has been searching for the stone—someone from another world—she must decide what to do with it. Should she get rid of it? Or find out what other secrets it holds?


I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

The first title in a planned trilogy, The Gwythienian is an enjoyable if a bit unpolished debut.

It is about a girl named Mackenzi “Enzi” Montgomery who, in the week she turns seventeen, learns not only that her mother has been hiding a huge secret from her but also that another realm exists and is subsequently abducted and taken to it. All for the stone in her necklace. There, she meets a dragon-like creature named Gaedyen who asks her to join him in a quest. Head reeling from her mother’s betrayal and the discovery that someone she thought dead is very much alive and maybe thrilled by the idea of escaping her boring world—along with a haunting childhood trauma—for a while, she agrees. But is she ready to take on such a task? The thing about books and reading is that each encounter is very subjective. And while I think The Gwythienian leaves much to be desired, I quite liked certain parts of it and I’d be remiss not to point out that it has potential and that it might be more fitting for other readers.

“None of the things that I tried to do worked out like they were supposed to. All I wanted was to do something right for a change. Was it so much to ask for it to just once work out like it was supposed to?”

Possibly my favorite aspect of the book is the dynamics between the MCs, Enzi and Gaedyen, which is delightful. There are banters and the gap between the two—the gap born out of innate differences between two different creatures—is often amusing. I also appreciate the fact that the heroine is fat and has to go on this very physical journey. That on top of her insecurities on top of her traumatic past. Really, Enzi has every reason not to agree to this, and I’m not even talking about her companion being a sentient dragon whom she just met. She has very real and very immediate concerns: the trip is physically demanding and her body isn’t used to running and long hikes. And yet, she takes up the challenge and not once is the subject brushed off. And then, there’s—and this is not a spoiler; it’s hinted at in the synopsis and the first chapter of the book—implied sexual abuse. I thought it’s handled well. It’s this constant sort of presence and, even though the ordeal happened years before the story begins, it’s evident that Enzi is still processing it.

“Wasn’t I entitled to a little privacy where my body was concerned?”

I must say, however, that I’m not well versed in fantasy novels but the world building seems pretty solid to me. The mythology of it is accessible and easy to follow and, despite its own set of vocabulary, I had no trouble with information overload. Although, I did find the pacing odd; the book almost opens in a conflict then nothing much happens until you’re suddenly moving from one significant scene to another, all crammed towards the last half. I believe there is a compelling way to introduce the plot line and establish your characters even if there are just pages after pages of dialogue between them. Instead, there are moments in the last third of the novel that felt strained.

“”That’s a lot to take on, Gaedyen.”
His eyes bored into mine, and they were full of such sadness that I felt a tear emerge from my own for his pain.
“Has your future never depended on proving your worth?””

If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read, check out Savannah J. Goin’s The Gwythienian.

3.0 out of 5


Savannah J. Goins 01

YA fantasy novelist and professional dragon wrangler, Savannah J. Goins, fell in love with the genre through C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia many years ago. Since then, it’s been nothing but dragons, sword fights and talking animals. She spends her days in a veterinary hospital working with real animals, and her nights giving voices to the ones in her stories. She also enjoys sketching, drinking tea and coffee, and discovering new bookshops.

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Have you heard about this title prior to reading my review? Will you be checking it out anytime soon? What is your stand on books having their own sets of vocabulary? And what are your favorite YA fantasy novels? Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Jek/Hyde by Amy Ross

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Title: Jek/Hyde
Author: Amy Ross
Format: ARC, 329 pages
Publication: October 3rd 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Source: Author (thank you Amy Ross!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Gothic, Mystery, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Retelling, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked


Lulu and Jek are science nerds, and have been best friends since they were young . . . or at least they used to be. Lately Jek has been pulling away from Lulu, just as she’s coming to terms with how she really feels about him. Just as she’s ready to see if there could be something more between them.

But Lulu’s thoughts are derailed by a mysterious new guy who’s showing up at local parties. Hyde is the definition of a bad boy, and everybody knows it . . . but no one can seem to resist his charms. Girls can’t stay away from him, and guys all want to be him. And even though Lulu’s heart belongs to Jek, she can’t deny Hyde’s attraction either.

She also knows that there’s something not quite right about Hyde. That the rumors of his backwood parties make them sound a little more dangerous than what any of her friends are accustomed to. And she doesn’t like the fact that Hyde seems to be cozying up to Jek, and that they seem to be intertwined in ways that have Lulu worrying for Jek’s safety.

If Hyde has a dark secret, Lulu is determined to find out what it is, and to help Jek . . . before it’s too late for both of them.


I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Jek/Hyde is more a rehashing and less a retelling.

The book—Ross’ debut in young adult literature—centers on Lupita “Lulu” Gutierrez and Jayesh Emerson “Jek” Kapoor, two science nerds who have been best friends for as long as long as they can remember. But just as Lulu is coming to terms with her more-than-platonic feelings for her best friend, Jek starts distancing himself and spending all his time holed up in his room/lab with his experiments. It doesn’t help that there’s a mysterious—and unmistakably alluring—new guy in town, who is the very definition of a bad boy, and who may or may not have connections with Jek. Confession time: I have not read the Stevenson classic. Nor have I seen any of the bajillion movie adaptations. But I feel like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been so embedded into our collective cultural consciousness that it’s almost as if I have read the book without actually having read it. And Jek/Hyde totally validates my judgment; whatever hope I had of mystery, I went to the wrong party.

“”But sweetheart. . .” He leans in close and takes a deep, slow breath, his eyes slipping half-closed. “No one is good all the time.””

To be fair, the novel kept me relatively entertained ’til the very last page. It took a couple of chapters for the story to find its footing, but find it it did and it maintained a good pacing all through out the book. I also like how the tone and setting effectively conjure a sense of helplessness and perpetual confinement. The book is set in a small town in the Midwestern, and that was executed well. But then we get to the actual narrative and it gets less than stellar. There is little character development, cases of present-but-not-present adults, and underdeveloped subplots, all culminating in a heavily expository conclusion and one that is out of touch with the rest of the main character’s journey.

“I know how it is. You think if you worry enough, if you take care of him and rescue him, that will make him yours. But you’ll never keep a boy like that.”

There’s also a huge disconnect between what the reader is being told versus what he is being shown. Lulu has a tendency to pine for Jek, which is fine, that’s her thing. But not once was I convinced of the friendship—or any sort of connection—between her and Jek she often talks about. He was a jerk to her and when the story reaches the part where certain things happen, it felt forced. And I’m not buying her science nerdiness either. Meanwhile, Jek’s arc had an interesting start. He is biracial; his mother is Indian, his father is black. And there’s a scene where he goes about being the only black person in town, even in his own house. About having “this whole part of [himself] that’s completely cut off from anyone like [him],” and I think that’s a fascinating conversation the author could’ve explored. Just as much as the minor plot line of LondonChem, an agrichemical/pharmaceutical company who may be causing its workers’ unidentified illness. Instead, they became background noises.

“I don’t know whether I’m angrier at the assumption that these two can read everyone’s race and ethnicity perfectly just from looking, or at their surprise that a black person could kick their ass at a science competition, but I can’t point out either one, since they didn’t actually say any of that.”

I’ve read in a conversation the author had with Cat Hellisen that the point is to keep the story as close to the original as possible, and I get that. Ross accomplished what she set out to do. But even so, I can’t help feeling cheated on because of how the book is marketed (“an inventive modern retelling”) which couldn’t have been more misleading. Sure, the story is set in modern-day suburban America and it has a racially diverse cast—albeit, the latter struck me as contrived in places. But that’s as modern as it gets. The other half of the equation, forgotten.

“This crazy town. Some guy nearly gets killed right in front of us, and all anyone can think about is where they can go to get fucked-up next.”

Jek/Hyde had potentials. It really did. But with plot holes and character-development inconsistencies that feel quite unresolved even towards the end, it leaves a lot to be desired.

3.0 out of 5


Amy Ross 01

Amy Ross has an MFA from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s from Brown University. She has lived in upstate New York, Providence, Paris, Chicago, Copenhagen, Kyoto, Idaho and Taiwan, and is currently in Indiana. She likes bad horror flicks, dense critical-theory texts, fomenting revolution, wild bears, cooking and the sublime. She hates everything else.

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What is your favorite adaptation or retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

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REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia
Format: ARC, 389 pages
Publication: May 30th 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Source: Won from a giveaway contest (thank you Precious @ Fragments of Life!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked


In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans, Eliza’s persona is popular, and she can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then a key member of the fandom, Wallace Warland, transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s identity is accidentally revealed, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Eliza and Her Monsters is at once a love letter to fandom and a touching portrayal of depression and anxiety.

The book is about the shy, awkward teenage Eliza Mirk who would rather spend her time in front of the computer screen or work on her art. She is the person behind LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the widely popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, a secret only her immediate family and two online friends are privy to. If things go according to plan, she will finish both her comic and high school under the radar. But things rarely go according to plan. She befriends the new guy, Wallace Warland, who turns out to be not only a hardcore Monstrous Sea fan but also a fan fiction writer and Eliza begins to wonder if perhaps life outside her room and the digital community is not so bad. Then, by some earnest mistake, she is outed, painfully and publicly. What’s striking about Eliza and Her Monsters is not how it looks at mental health with unflinching resolve, although that comes really close. It is how Zappia writes with lightness and empathy without ever treating lightly her dark subject.

“There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt.
The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster, though, is smart. It’s always watching, and when I am completely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and lets it run wild. Even when I know it’s coming, I can’t stop it.”

I want to commend the author for capturing the joys and complexities of family, all the while celebrating online friendships as well. Eliza’s family is incredibly well written. Peter and Anna Mirk are two very involved parents who care about their children but don’t always understand things. As a result, they are constantly on Eliza, nagging her to get her nose off her phone or otherwise hounding her to do outdoorsy stuff or hang out with “actual” people. They have zero grasp on the notion of internet-only friends and this is the ultimate source of antagonism between them and their daughter. I am a millennial okay, and there was a time in my college years when I would spend all my time in Tumblr, and I think Zappia gets that. Gets it a lot. Next are Sully and Church, Eliza’s younger siblings. They are equal parts annoying (for our MC at least) and endearing and I wish we got to spend more time with them, albeit I can see how that’s unnecessary. Then we have the online friends Max and Emmy. They only appear through group chats—and not too frequently either—but I kid you not, those are some of my favorite scenes. Because how many friends do I have, that I’ve met through the internet, that I talk to on a daily basis? The dynamics between the three just feels organic and the easy banters are exceedingly enjoyable. Even the friendships Eliza form with Wallace’s friends, founded on a shared love for Monstrous Sea, do not for once ring hollow. Now, have you met Wallace Warland? Because I swear you want to meet him. If my Goodreads updates are any indication, I was all heart-eyes emojis as soon as he steps into the campus.

“I do have friends. Maybe they live hundreds of miles away from me, and maybe I can only talk to them through a screen, but they’re still my friends.”

I absolutely adore the romance between Eliza and Wallace. Gosh, they were super awkward! #awkwardisforever Especially with Wallace not speaking out loud. So they converse with handwritten notes instead, and a I think that’s old-school romantic and b something I relate with. There were and are times when I would leave someone a note or text rather than talk to him in person. You know, how it sometimes seems like what you want to say doesn’t translate well to what you actually say. This isn’t the basis for Eliza and Wallace’s notes conversations of course, but I thought the author did a nuanced exploration of that nevertheless. The romance also isn’t some instalove business, which I appreciate. The two became friends then lovers. But more importantly, it didn’t free Eliza from her monsters. Romance isn’t the thing that saved her and tied everything neatly in a bow.

“I have to try. I have to try, because I’m doing it again—I’m shutting everything out because I’m frustrated and tired and because the real world is difficult and I’d rather live in one of my own making. But I can’t. I am here, and I have to try.”

One of the many themes of the novel is mental health. Eliza, aside from being introverted, is an intensely anxious person and she tends to fold into herself when situations get uncomfortable. Her favorite book series, Children of Hypnos, deals heavily on depression and her webcomic Monstrous Sea is a metaphor for it. Wallace is equally in need of help, if for different reasons. And there are thoughts and (arguably) one act of suicide. But Zappia handles the material with sensitivity, never romanticizing nor trivializing any of it, and the effect is often raw and moving. As intriguing as the panels and excerpts interspersed through out the story are, which make for an interesting format. As spot on as the depiction of craft and the creative life is. Really, the one problem I had with this book is a scene I don’t buy and which I will not spoil you with. It happens towards the latter part and, while it serves the plot, I believe it’s a little bit out of touch with the character.

“Broken people don’t hide from their monsters. Broken people let themselves be eaten.”

Eliza and Her Monsters is my first Francesca Zappia title but it will definitely not be the last. If you’ve enjoyed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga, you might want to check this one out. Or vice versa.

4.0 out of 5


Francesca Zappia 01

Francesca Zappia lives in central Indiana and is the author of Made You Up.

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Have you read this one yet? Have I convinced you to? What are some of your favorite books that feature a character(s) with mental health illness? What are you currently reading? Come now, sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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Title: The Serpent King
Author: Jeff Zentner
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publication: March 8th 2016 by Crown Books for Young Readers
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic, Southern Gothic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked


Dill has had to wrestle with vipers his whole life—at home, as the only son of a Pentecostal minister who urges him to handle poisonous rattlesnakes, and at school, where he faces down bullies who target him for his father’s extreme faith and very public fall from grace.

The only antidote to all his venom is his friendship with fellow outcasts Travis and Lydia. But as they are starting their senior year, Dill feels the coils of his future tightening around him. The end of high school will lead to new beginnings for Lydia, whose edgy fashion blog is her ticket out of their rural Tennessee town. And Travis is happy wherever he is thanks to his obsession with the epic book series Bloodfall and the fangirl who may be turning his harsh reality into real-life fantasy. Dill’s only escapes are his music and his secret feelings for Lydia—neither of which he is brave enough to share. Graduation feels more like an ending to Dill than a beginning. But even before then, he must cope with another ending—one that will rock his life to the core.


The Serpent King is raw, honest, and heartachingly beautiful . . . a fine debut of a novel.

Dillard “Dill” Early Jr., the only son of an incarcerated snake-handling preacher, tries to escape his name. Lydia Blankenship, a brilliant, offbeat fashion blogger, tries to escape Forrestville. Travis Bohannon, a hardcore fantasy novel fanboy, tries to escape his father. All of them on the precipice of young adulthood. None feels they belong in their rural Tennessee town. And that’s the thing about The Serpent King, the trio’s fears, their battles, wonders, heartbreaks, and at times, triumphs are so incredibly and infinitely familiar you’d feel right at home in a couple of pages.

“”Nothing stops when we’re gone,” Lydia said. “The seasons don’t stop. This river doesn’t stop. Vultures will keep flying in circles. The lives of the people we love won’t stop. Time keeps unspooling. Stories keep getting written.””

Told in the third person, and switching between Dill’s, Lydia’s, and Travis’ points of view, this coming-of-age is vividly written. It has very distinct voices, with an equally striking Southern backdrop, it almost feels like you’re watching three separate short films that share the same universe. And it works. It delivers an unflinching look at the struggles of growing up and finding one’s identity, not pulling punches in its portrayal of religion and poverty. It also touches on mental health in a manner that suggests complete understanding and empathy. It’s poignant, witty, and heartrending, but ultimately hopeful.

And if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

It’s hard not to feel strongly about Zentner’s characters. Lydia is my hero—clever, ambitious, passionate about what she believes in, impossibly young and talented, and quick with words but can be insecure and near-sighted all the same. Dill, with all his dreading and insecurities and the weight of his situation, probably undergoes the most character development. And Travis—large in stature, gentle of heart—I just want to hug Travis. But then you’re hit by the crushing harshness of their circumstances. Dill’s parents are a tag team of guilt trips and extreme faith; Travis’ father is straight up asshole, abusive in all the ways a person can be abusive. Add Lydia’s well-to-do, supportive, loving family into the equation and there’s a stark, often oppressive disparity. And this plays a lot in the dynamics of their friendship. There are easy banters and quips between the three but Dill sometimes lashes out on Lydia, Lydia is sometimes uncharitable with her judgments, and Travis sometimes holds back. In one scene, after a particularly appalling Father Episode, Travis considers his options, “he didn’t think Lydia would understand because her family was so awesome. And he didn’t think Dill would understand because his family was so awful,” further affirming Anna Karenina‘s famous opening line: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Or, you know, each shitty family is shitty in its own way.

“If there was a way I could explode with beautiful heat and light, like a firecracker, that’s what I’d want. I want people to talk about me and remember me when I’m gone. I want to carve my name into the world.”

Then there is Zentner’s writing style. There is a certain pensive beauty to his prose, a saudade quality underlying everything. I found myself, in multiple occasions, sobbing and at the same time thinking, this is a beautiful line or that is a clever play on words. I’m hard-pressed to name a more fitting YA evocative of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming than The Serpent King, in terms, at least, of the way the two made me feel while soaking up on the language. I also haven’t cried—actual tears I had to remove my glasses—over a book in a while. So there’s that.

Hold this moment. Keep it. Until the next train whistle in the distance pierces the stillness.

For fans of David Arnold’s Mosquitoland. Remarkable. Just, remarkable.

4.5 out of 5


Jeff Zentner 01

Jeff Zentner is a singer-songwriter and guitarist who has recorded with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and Debbie Harry. In addition to writing and recording his own music, Zentner works with young musicians at Tennessee Teen Rock Camp, which inspired him to write for young adults. He lives in Nashville with his wife and son. The Serpent King is his first novel.

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Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to? Are you a fan of narratives with multiple POV characters? What was the last book you rated 5 stars? Also, can we stop a minute and talk about Travis? PLEASE. Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

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Title: The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Format: Paperback, 336 pages
Publication: April 11th 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is.

Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.



I’ll go ahead and tell you that Becky and I are friends. So you can be all Simon Spier with my judgement and “take [this] with about a million fucking grains of salt.” I mean. I’m just saying. But her sophomore novel is honest and funny and nuanced and charming. There is no way a teenager would pick this up and not see himself somewhere in the pages.

It centers on seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso and the fact that she’s had twenty-six crushes and exactly zero kisses. And how she is possibly losing her twin sister, Cassie, who is falling in love—for the first time—with cute new girl Mina. Enter funny, charismatic Hipster Will, who happens to be Mina’s best friend, and everything should be fine, right? Except there’s also Molly’s coworker Reid—awkward, geeky, Cadbury-mini-egg-loving Reid—who maybe likes her. Okay, I am literally Molly. I’m twenty-four and I’m Molly. I’m a prolific crusher but haven’t actually kissed anyone—at least not kiss kiss. I’m careful. Too careful. Heck, she’s even had more action than me and that’s, well, tragic. But that’s why I connected deeply with her story; that’s why Molly freaking out next to a cute boy or feeling self-conscious next to people she’s known her whole life resonated with me. Because all the crushing, all the wanting, all the unrequited-loving, and suddenly here is an author affirming emotions I’ve been trying to make sense of all these years, and boy was that unraveling.

“But I spend a lot of time thinking about love and kissing and boyfriends and all the other stuff feminists aren’t supposed to care about. And I am a feminist. But I don’t know. I’m seventeen, and I just want to know what it feels like to kiss someone.
I don’t think I’m unlovable. But I keep wondering: what is my glitch?

Like the author’s debut, The Upside of Unrequited captures the immediacy of and renders articulately the teenage experience. How everything feels like it’s either the end of the world or the beginning of it; the elations and heartbreaks of first love; the innate, underlying fear of not mattering. I was an idiot to worry I wouldn’t love this book as much as Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda (and in fact, fans of Simon vs would find themselves a treat or two). That’s unfair and unfounded and ultimately, as it turns out, untrue. Both are brimming with heart and humor, because Becky has an acute understanding of voice and how awkward and exciting and scary it is to be a teen. With Upside, as it was with Simon vs, I’m not just reminded how careful and at the same time hopeful I was at seventeen, I am seventeen-year-old me, careful and hopeful.

“”Why are you making zombie faces?” he asks.
“Just relax!”
“Zombies are relaxed.””

There is something to be said about how great narratives aren’t always solely about the lead and that is true for Upside too. I’m certain many teens, as well as then-teens, would feel for Molly and her anxieties and journey to self-confidence; it’s both an absolute delight and comfort to follow her but the secondary characters are just as vibrant. Each character is fleshed out, so much so that the reader can easily see the other characters’ stories unfolding outside the curtains. The novel also touches on positive representations of body image—it’s central to how Molly views the world and herself, even if often self-deprecating—and intresectional diversity. Molly is a fat, white, Jewish girl with interracial lesbian and bisexual mothers; there’s a Korean-American pansexual character and there’s a gay couple; and everything feels organic. As organic as Molly and Reid’s chemistry. There’s effortless draw and almost inevitability in the progress of their relationship; it’s warm and fuzzy and at times nauseating. It’s hard not to root for Reid! Plus, without the aid of a spoiler, I like that the author could’ve conveniently gone one way with Molly and This Other Character but didn’t.

“And suddenly, I feel like crying, but not in a bad way. More like in the way you feel when someone gives you a perfect present—something you’d been wanting, but thought you couldn’t ask for. It’s that feeling of someone knowing you in all the ways you needed to be known.”

So, in the parlance of Molly and all of us millennials, my verdict is: ALL THE HEART-EYES EMOJIS.

5.0 out of 5


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Becky Albertalli is the author of the acclaimed novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. She is a clinical psychologist who specializes in working with children and teens. Becky now lives with her family in Atlanta, where she spends her days writing fiction for young adults.

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Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to? Because, really, it’s just such an adorable, smile-inducing read! Also, tell me about your first kiss fictional crushes! Or, you know, your current read(s).

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REVIEW: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

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Title: History is All You Left Me
Author: Adam Silvera
Format: Paperback, 294 pages
Publication: January 17th 2017 by Soho Teen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.


In History is All You Left Me, Silvera delivers a surprisingly quiet, thoughtful exploration of friendship, grief, love, and loss.

The book alternates in story lines between ‘History’, where we see Griffin and Theo falling in love and transitioning from best friends to boyfriends, and ‘Today’, where we see Griffin navigating through a Theo-less world. As is the case with More Happy Than Not, the author does what he does best: writing everyday moments with a severe awareness of human connection. It doesn’t matter whether Griffin, Theo, and Wade are browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble or they’re exchanging gifts or Griffin is talking to Theo’s family, it’s compelling and laced with pockets of emotion. The parents—and all the main characters have parents—are very much a part of the story, to boot, and I like how Silvera doesn’t pull away from the infinite paradoxes of familial love. Sometimes Griffin would adore and hate his parents in one page or he would be annoyed with his dad for being too cold to Jackson but at the same time be annoyed with his mom for being too nice to Jackson or how Mr. and Mrs. Jennings, his parents, only want what’s best for their son but also operate on their own definition of what’s best for him. We still do not often see parent involvement in YA, but I’m glad there are authors like Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli who are gradually taking down the barriers.

“He shrugs, which I know he doesn’t mean as a dismissal. He’s doing that thing I’ve done before where I try to shrink my own feelings, try to make my problems sound smaller to others because sometimes people just don’t get it.”

Two of the many important themes of the book are grief and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I am not personally familiar with the former. The closest to family I’ve lost is my uncle’s wife, and I was eight. But the empathy with which Silvera looks into grief is palpable. You follow Griffin and the messed up things he does and not once do you question if this is uncalled for or unlikely. He is hurt and grieving and confused and lost and seventeen, and this ultimately affects all the relationships he has around him. And then there’s the latter. This, I am not not personally familiar with. I have a self-diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)—yes, those two are different and not by the mere addition of ‘Personality’—and I commend how consistent and consistently woven in the narrative OCD is. It plays a big part in Griffin’s story without ever taking center stage. It isn’t an item the author checked off in his list for inclusivity; it is a constant struggle for the MC and this is reality for people dealing with this mental disorder.

“‘I’m ready,” I lied. I’m hungry, I’m drained, I’m over it all, and I’m not ready.”

However, perhaps my favorite element of the whole novel is the dialogues. I don’t exactly know how to classify Silvera’s writing style. It isn’t lyrical but it also isn’t just straight-cut contemporary; there’s something rhythmic about how he plays at words, a cadence poetic all its own. Here is a person with an utter sense of language. And this is evident with the exchanges between the characters, not just between Griffin and Theo, although those are my favourite scenes. Plus, did I mention this book is filled to the brim with nerdy and pop culture references? You don’t need to be a Star Wars fan or a Potterhead, if you’ve felt passionate about something or someone, you speak Griffin’s and Theo’s language. You speak nerd. Or fanboy. Or whatever you wish to call it.

““You’re not someone that just memorizes facts for exams and forgets them the next day. You don’t just have lucky guesses in pop quizzes. You bring textbooks with you into the shower. Basically, you’re a really weird superhero.”
He forces a smile. “One day, Batman is going to take off his mask and, boom, it’ll be me.””

Silvera’s sophomore novel is quieter than his debut but it is no less vivid and heartrending.

4.0 out of 5


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Adam Silvera was born and raised in the Bronx. He has worked in the publishing industry as a children’s bookseller, at a literary development company, and as a book reviewer of children’s and young adult novels. His debut novel, More Happy Than Not, received multiple starred reviews and is a New York Times bestseller. He lives in New York City and is tall for no reason.

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You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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