Review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

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Title: The Wicker King
Author: K. Ancrum
Format: E-ARC
Publication: October 31st 2017 by Imprint
Source: Author (thank you so much, Kayla!)
Genre: Fiction—Psychological Thriller, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIAYoung Adult

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When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.


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

Ancrum examines love, friendship, and mental illness in her debut The Wicker King—a quiet, dark, and beautiful novel told in vignettes.

It’s 2003. August Bateman, a poor boy of mixed race, tries to earn extra money by running drugs in their high school. Jack Rossi, a popular, light-haired varsity rugby player, seems to enjoy a perfect life. The two are so far apart on the social spectrum that it shouldn’t make sense for them to be friends and yet they are. In fact, they know each other better than anyone knows anyone. So when Jack starts showing signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, August comes to his aid, determined and inclined to do anything. But can two boys keep each other from spiraling into madness? This is at the core of Ancrum’s work. This sense of responsibility one imposes upon himself to save and protect someone. And the author does a remarkable job of writing in this raw, muted, and haunting style, of exploring what it means to be a friend, to love someone so fiercely, and to be young and believe you’ve got everything under control but at the same scared that something will go wrong.

“They were only seventeen. The world was so big and they were very small and there was no one around to stop terrible things from happening.”

In her website, Ancrum described the type of kids she writes about as “complex and beautiful and interesting and passionate” but “frightening.” And I think that’s such a spot on observation of her own writing because what’s really striking about The Wicker King, for me at least, is how nuanced August is and how complex his relationship with Jack is. There certainly were scenes where I wanted to simultaneously hug August and punch him in the face. And there were parts where I longed to care for him, to take him as far away from his home of parental neglect as possible. But it wasn’t just him. I spent half the book rooting for Jack to be okay, for things to work out in the end, but also wanting to shake him. For all the terrible decisions. For all the twisted ways they treated each other. And then there were those quieter moments where a secondary character did a random act of kindness and I was left tearing up. Clearly, I was very emotionally invested in this narrative.

“I am doing this for you. Not the Wicker King. Not what we have become. But for you. If anything goes wrong, I want you to remember that.”

Another central theme of the novel—one I wasn’t expecting but turned out to be so embedded in the story—is codependency. I’m lucky to have never had any personal experience with serious mental health issues, but I think it’s worth noting that the manner with which the author addressed such an important conversation was thoughtful and brave. I won’t go into details lest I give away too much, but August and Jack’s friendship is intense, underscored by hunger and a distorted sense of duty, and not once did Ancrum shy away from that.

“They were stronger together; they were always stronger together.”

There’s the technical aspect, to boot. The story unfolds in these extremely short chapters, which I absolutely adore. Although, I can see how this fragmented style might not be for everyone. The writing is gorgeous. There were passages (“like a secondhand kiss on a breath of ash”) where I was silently sobbing but also thinking, that is a beautiful line. It’s wistful, eerie and poignant. And then there are the police reports, photographs, and notes and the color of the pages gradually darkens until the last act plays out and it’s white type on black. A brilliant metaphor for the overall tone and trajectory of the book.

The Wicker King is without a doubt one of the best titles I read in 2017 and I strongly recommend it, especially for people who are always on the look out for something different to read.

5.0 out of 5


Kayla Ancrum 01

K. Ancrum grew up in Chicago Illinois. She attended Dominican University to study Fashion Merchandizing, but was lured into getting an English degree after spending too many nights experimenting with hard literary criticism and hanging out with unsavory types, like poetry students. Currently, she lives in Andersonville and writes books at work when no one is looking.

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Are you going to be picking up Jack and August’s story anytime soon? How can you not? Have I convinced you to? What are some of your favorite quiet YAs? Or novels in verses? Sound off in the comments below!Signature 02


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

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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

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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: 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


Adam Silvera 02

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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REVIEW: Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

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Title: Fans of the Impossible Life
Author: Kate Scelsa
Format: ARC, 356 pages
Publication: September 8th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by the author (thank you so much Kate!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, LGBTQIA, Young Adult

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MIRA is starting over at Saint Francis Prep. She promised her parents she would at least try to pretend that she could act like a functioning human this time, not a girl who can’t get out of bed for days on end, who only feels awake when she’s with Sebby.

JEREMY is the painfully shy art nerd at Saint Francis who’s been in self-imposed isolation after an incident that ruined his last year of school. When he sees Sebby for the first time across the school lawn, it’s as if he’s been expecting him.

SEBBY, Mira’s gay best friend, seems to carry sunlight around him. Even as life in his foster home starts to take its toll, Sebby and Mira together craft a world of magic rituals and impromptu road trips, designed to fix the broken parts of their lives.

As Jeremy finds himself drawn into Sebby and Mira’s world, he begins to understand the secrets that they hide in order to protect themselves, to keep each other safe from those who don’t understand their quest to live for the impossible.


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

As eloquent as it is heartfelt, Fans of the Impossible Life takes storytelling to a higher class and diversity higher still.

Let me be the first to say that this is a novel—if not the novel—champions of the We Need Diverse Books campaign should be talking about. Scelsa delivers a coming of age at once achingly moving and softly poetic told from the perspectives of her three MCs. Her play at different points of view is nothing short of adroit—Jeremy’s chapters are in first person, Sebby’s in second and Mira’s in third. And it totally works, both in function and aesthetic. It provides a window into the complexities of her characters, and boy are they complex.

“… you lay awake on that night’s floor thinking about what you could have said to them to make them understand. What it felt like to know that the two people who knew you best couldn’t ever really know what your life was like.”

The author also doesn’t shy away from the hard edges of her story. Fans of the Impossible Life covered many important issues without once feeling overwhelming nor romanticized. There’s drug abuse, identity crisis, depression, suicide, bullying, racism—you name it, it’s probably in here. And Scelsa approached these with insight and sensitivity. Just as much as she paid her secondary characters attention. I am particularly impressed by the fact that they have these stuff going on for them. Like, Talia is whatever, I’m incredibly furious at her for what she did in the end BUT she was the one who helped Jeremy through his catastrophic episode, who apologized to him for not speaking up. And there’s Julie, perfect Julie who doesn’t wanna deal with Mira’s drama BUT who shows up, not attending her lecture to be with her as soon as she comes home.

“I had been nothing before that moment and one day I would be nothing again. But there and then my life was real. With his lips, and his lovely mouth.”

Early this year, Malinda Lo wrote an essay on perceptions of diversity in book reviews—in fact it’s just one in a four-part series which you need to read if you care about diversity. In it, she cited a critique that blatantly pronounced ““perfectly ethnically and sexually diverse” cast as “scarcely plausible,”” a suggestion that “this diversity would not have existed naturally; it needed effort.” Okay. Not only do I call total BS on this problematic trade review, I have Fans of the Impossible Life to reinforce my claim. Scelsa’s debut has multiple POC characters and characters representing three (3!) different orientations from the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. But what’s really remarkable is the ease with which the author handled sexual and racial diversity. It doesn’t just look at individual experiences, it’s reflected in the family structures of her main players. One of the leads has two gay dads. Another has interracial parents. They get loads of crap for this and I’m thinking, that’s reality. It feels natural because this happens today, no matter how much we long for the contrary.

“At that point she was keeping the crying hidden. When it first started, she let people see it because she didn’t know what else to do. She thought if they could witness her in the middle of this thing, then they might be able to understand. But they couldn’t. It was exhausting for others to watch. For herself to experience. So she stopped showing them.”

I’m not you, but if I were, I’d be a fan of Fans of the Impossible Life too.

4.5 out of 5


Kate Scelsa

Kate Scelsa has performed in New York and around the world with experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service in their trilogy of works based on great American literature, including an eight-hour-long performance that uses the entire text of The Great Gatsby. Kate lives in Brooklyn with her wife and two black cats.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Wesaun @ Oreo and Books and it is SO GOOD we both finished it in a 24-hour time frame.

Is this on your TBR list? If not, have I convinced you to include it? (Because, really, you definitely should check this out.) Do you think there are such works with “too much issues” or “too diverse”? And what about you, what was the last awesome book you read that celebrates diversity? Or just any solid 5-star read. Let’s talk!

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REVIEW: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

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Title: Mosquitoland
Author: David Arnold
Format: Hardcover, 342 pages
Publication: March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Source: Gifted by my childhood best friend (thank you Treena!)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Road Trip, Young Adult

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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.


Debut author David Arnold tells a vibrant narrative in Mosquitoland. You would want to meet Mim and the caboodle of cast she befriends (or not) in this surprisingly funny, poignant and ultimately heartwarming multicolored road trip.

Mary Iris “Mim” Malone is not okay. Mom and Dad divorced and now Stepmom is in the picture. She is resituated a thousand miles away from Mom and home and it doesn’t help that Dad wants her to take medication after an unclear psychiatric diagnosis. Worse still is overhearing Mom is sick. So, in a bout of mutiny and daughterly affection, she accepts her mission as a “Mother-effing Mother-Saver” and runs away, equipped with wits, cynicism, war paint, a journal and eight hundred eighty dollars. Here’s the thing: I think there’s only one Mim in all of literature. This is very clear from page 1, first sentence—which is saying something, heck, probably the somethingest of Somethings. She’s erratic but not in any means tacky or supererogatory; it’s organic. Her voice sounds natural, her odyssey equal parts heartrending and heartening. But Mim, like every 16-year-olds before her, is not exempt to Myopic Faultiness, “wearing near-sighted glasses in a far-sighted world.” And this is where the greatest triumph of Mosquitoland lies in. Mim is prone to getting caught up inside her head but there’s also growth, juxtaposed with her quest to reach and save her mom. Her physical journey is as captivating as her emotional one is touching.

“Every great character, Iz, be it on page or screen, is multidimensional. The good guys aren’t all good, the bad guys aren’t all bad, and any character wholly one or the other shouldn’t exist at all. Remember this when I describe the antics that follow, for though I am not a villain, I am not immune to villainy.”

The novel delves into important subjects like depression and family and trust issue but because the humor is so on point, it doesn’t read as heavy. Mim is all about the wry and you have to hand it to the author for the effortless execution. And, although it has a pretty slow outset, it is never dragging. There are references to pop culture here and there, too, which is sure to click with readers and just, the guy described a smile using Belgian waffle. A Belgian waffle smile. Five hundred awesome points!

I don’t care, man. I’ve faked yawned, slow blinked, loud sighed, and pretend searched. I considered murdering you, as well as a variety of suicides. Now I’m going to put this in a way I know you’ll understand: you stole my friend’s seat, and I’d rather die than listen to you speak.”

I adore David’s writing style. It’s very contemporary but has a poetic undertone. He has a way at picking thoughts you never considered others have as well. Like, okay, since Tommy Wallach is obviously more eloquent than me, I’ll let him take the mic: “the best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world.” The only way this novel could’ve been better is if the author went deeper into Mim’s diagnosis.

“But now I know the truth. You can laugh and cry, Iz. Because they’re basically the same thing.”

The best element of this work, however, for me at least, is the exceptionally unforgettable band of characters. There’s Mim’s dysfunctional family, a no-bullshit old woman, an adorable-charming-endearing kid with Down syndrome, a 20-something photographer with his faults and possibly “the God of Devastating Attractiveness,” a schizophrenic vagrant and many, many more. He explores love and chosen family in a beautiful light that you often feel two or three emotions at once. And, you know, I love that each of these characters has a story to tell, like, if the author decided to switch narrators, it’ll be just as fascinating.

“You spend your life roaming the hillsides, scouring the four corners of the earth, searching desperately for just the one person to fucking get you. And I’m thinking, if you can find that, you’ve found home.”

David makes an impression with his debut and it’s this: he knows what he’s doing. And in a true Mim fashion, a montage rolls through my head, in it, I see Mosquitoland being read in class. An instant classic.

4.0 out of 5


David Arnold

David Arnold lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with his (lovely) wife and (boisterous) son. Previous jobs include freelance musician/producer, stay-at-home dad, and preschool teacher. He is a fierce believer in the power of kindness and community. And chips. He believes fiercely in chips. Mosquitoland is his first novel.

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Have you read this book already? No? Have I convinced you to pick it up? Who are the most unforgettable voices in your list? Also, what are some of your favorite road trip titles? Or, just, what was the last amazing book you read? Gimme your recs!

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REVIEW: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Title: Vanishing Girls
Author: Lauren Oliver
Format: Paperback, 357 pages
Publication: March 10th 2015 by HarperCollins
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Crime, Psychological Thriller, Realistic, Suspense
Other classifications: Brotherhood/SisterhoodDepression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

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This is it: somehow, in these pictures, the mystery of the accident is contained, and the explanation for Dara’s subsequent behavior, for the silences and disappearances.

Don’t ask me how I know. I just do. If you don’t understand that, I guess you’ve never had a sister.


The twist Vanishing Girls is less a crime novel, more a character study. And trust me when I say that that is for the better.

The twist Do you have a sibling? Have you ever felt the compulsion to never ever disappoint your parents because, no matter what you do, no matter how you act, no matter how much you love your sibling, you’ll always, always be compared to the other? It doesn’t matter what your position is, you’ll have this tacit rule of being the one to understand. Sometimes this builds a camaraderie, the kind that brings you to watch each other’s back, to want to protect each other’s secrets. But in most cases, this also creates a quiet, inner tension, the kind that cultivates unspoken jealousy and raises self-imposed responsibilities and expectations. This is at the heart of the Panic author’s latest novel.

“They say that you’re supposed to tell the truth. Dr. Lichme says that, anyway.
But don’t they also say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you?”

The twist Vanishing Girls is my first Lauren Oliver title and, admittedly, while it was rewarding, it didn’t make me want to devour her backlist. It took some time for the narrative to gain its footing and, even then, the thread seems to ebb and flow. Her style boarders from lyrical to maybe overly descriptive and I can see how this might come across as dragging for some. But it is one of those books where if you give up early on, you’d totally miss the gem. One of those where the more you ponder about it, the more you sit on it, the more the ingenuity of it washes over you. She commands her words, I soon found out. They are vivid, cutting and have a way of reaching deep inside you, tapping into thoughts you unconsciously carry around.

You broke my heart. I fell for you, and you broke my heart. Period, done, end of story.

The twist The story is narrated alternately by Warren sisters Nick and Dara and there are diary entries, online articles, e-mails and photographs—most of which are often eery—interspersed through out. It pre-opens with a life observation that impeccably captures the tone of the book. Then it opens officially right at the conflict, the night of the accident. Chapter 2 jumps four months later and we see a recovering Nick, the elder of the two, and the sister who refuses to talk to her, Dara. What instantly stuck out to me is how distinct and at the same time cognate Nick’s and Dara’s voices are, a manifestation of the author’s adept sense of what it’s like to have a sister and be a sister. People casually throw around the term “complex characters” but, with Nick and Dara, you’ll have a flash of instant clarity: this is what they mean with complex characters. It’s chilling and heartrending and impressive and there were instances I had to look over my shoulders.

“Sometimes people stop loving you. And that’s the kind of darkness that never gets fixed, no matter how many moons rise again, filling the sky with a weak approximation of light.”

The twist However, I think the way this book is pitched is misleading. Sure, the “vanishing girls” plot line meshes well with the family drama, but they sell this as the former when in fact it’s the other way around. The whole Madeline Snow arc felt quite removed; it’s really about the relationship between Nick and Dara. And Parker. If you’ve ever had best friends or still do, real close friendship, you’ll know that the author gets it. And Vanishing Girls wins the chicest cover award. Fantastic job, Anastasia Volkova and Erin Fitzsimmons!

“”It’ll be just like old times,” Parker says, and I feel a hard ache in my chest, a desperate desire for something lost long ago.
Everyone knows you can’t go back.”

The twist. Yes, no scratching now. Oliver must’ve rewrote and proofread her work a bajillion times because there is just no plot holes. She pulled off the reveal like it’s nobody’s business. I mean, I basically revisited a handful of chapters after she dropped the bomb. (And in case you’re wondering, I reread 70% of the book since finishing.) I don’t think I’ve read anything like this before but a close similar experience would be Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, in that both have a major WTF moment. And hell was it WTF. But this is where it becomes tricky. Because there’s no way talking around THE TWIST; I would give away too much. So just go out there, read this novel, come back to me and I can go all WHAT DID I TELL YOU? on you.

4.0 out of 5


Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver is the author of the teen novels Before I Fall and Panic and the Delirium trilogy: Delirium, Pandemonium, and Requiem, which have been translated into more than thirty languages and are New York Times and international bestselling novels. She is also the author of two novels for middle grade readers, The Spindlers and Liesl & Po, which was an E. B. White Read Aloud Award nominee. Lauren’s novel Panic has been optioned for film by Universal Studios. A graduate of the University of Chicago and NYU’s MFA program, Lauren Oliver is also the cofounder of the boutique literary development company Paper Lantern Lit.

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Blogger’s note: I buddy-read this book with Dianne @ Oops! I Read A Book Again, exchanging “WTF was that?!!!” one too many times. You can check out her review HERE.

Now tell me: are you excited to pick this title up? Or if you’ve read it already, have you predicted the twist? Where should I go from here in the Lauren Oliver landscape? Do you like literary crime novels? What are some of your favorites? Also, do you buddy-read with your friends/co-bloggers? Tell me all about it!

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

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