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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Synopsis

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.

Review
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

Author

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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Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

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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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Synopsis

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.

Right?

Review

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.
“What?”
“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

Author

Becky Albertalli 01

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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Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

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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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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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Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

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: The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi

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Title: The Night We Said Yes
Author: Lauren Gibaldi
Format: ARC, 304 pages
Publication: June 16th 2015 by HarperTeen
Source: Gifted by my fellow blogger/friend (thank you D!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: High School Romance, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Before Matt, Ella had a plan. Get over her ex-boyfriend and graduate high school—simple as that. But Matt—the cute, shy bass player—was never part of that plan. And neither was spending an entire night saying “yes” to every crazy, fun thing they could think of. But then Matt leaves town, breaking Ella’s heart. And when he shows up a year later, wanting to relive the night that brought them together, Ella isn’t sure if re-creating the past can help them create a different future. Or maybe it can. . . .

Review

In his book Looking for Alaska, John Green had a handful of quotations that rang true with my own experiences in life. But one that easily comes to mind is “I wanted to like booze more than I actually do.” Sadly, this speaks too of my relation with The Night We Said Yes.

To be fair, I really like the premise of Gibaldi’s debut. The story takes place in two nights, exactly one year apart. It’s told from Ella’s perspective and it starts with her trying to move on from her ex-boyfriend Matt who bailed out with no more than a note and a lousy excuse. Except now he has returned. And while Ella is hesitant—for obvious reasons—she wants answers all the same. The novel then jumps back and forth in the timeline as Ella in the past falls for Matt while the Ella in the present figures out if she and her friends are ready to take Matt back into their group. This should have been a favorite. Friendship story. The titular night of saying yes to every(reasonable)thing. A non-linear narrative. Instead, it’s trite, which, again, would’ve been fine except the main character—also the narrator—is problematic.

“It was my favorite part of the night—when the evening’s events were still unknown and unpredictable. It was the sense of possibility that I loved, the idea that anything could happen next.”

I’d go right off the bat and tell you Ella is not for me. She wallows in sadness and is often overcome by the secondary characters. And I know that our high school selves are supposed to be subjects to heightened emotions but I can’t get past the fact that Ella (in the Now) was thinking about Matt and their failed relationship 95% of the time. Then we have Meg, the best friend, who clearly reads as a foil to the MC and Jake, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, who was almost fun—if only he had more layers. I must say, however, that Matt was enjoyable, especially pre-break up. But although the “Then” storyline entertained me, I was looking for something more, something to connect with, something to make me care about these characters. Alas, I was met by a two-dimensional plane.

“It’s as if my mind can’t process what would happen if he were to come back, so instead of reacting, it gives up, checks out, and leaves town.”

In addition, there are several scenes that are cloying if not downright groan-worthy and the stuff they said yes to were underwhelming. I was hoping (praying) the reveal might redeem the novel but when it was time for it—the reason why Matt had to leave—it was a bit of a letdown.

The Night We Said Yes is a light, summery read, but unlike many summers of my younger years, it’s bound to be in the dregs of forgettable made-up drinks.

2.0 out of 5

Author

Lauren Gibaldi

Lauren Gibaldi is a YA librarian at Orange County Public Library, where she hosts youth programs. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband and daughter. The Night We Said Yes is her debut novel.

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Do you plan to read this one? Or if you already did, what’s your take on it? Do you stick to a story without much plot going on but that has a character(s) you can connect with? And if you happen to DNF books, which I don’t, at least I haven’t had the strong urge to, how many pages do you go in before deciding to say yes to walking away (okay, that’s hyperbolized, but see what I did there?)? Sound off in the comments below; I’d love to hear from you!

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REVIEW: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland 02

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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Synopsis

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.

Review

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

Author

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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