REVIEW: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (+ Giveaway)

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Title: What If It’s Us
Author: Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera
Format: E-ARC
Publication: October 9th 2018 by Balzer + Bray and HarperTeen
Source: Publisher via blog tour (thank you HarperCollins and JM @ Book Freak Revelations!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: LGBTQIAYoung Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | National Book Store

Synopsis

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

Review

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

Welcome to the last day of the #WhatIfItsUs International Blog Tour!

Funny, charming, and heartfelt, What If It’s Us captures the nuances of relationships—both romantic and platonic.

Sixteen-year-old Arthur, a “five-foot-six Jewish kid with ADHD and the rage of a tornado,” is living in New York City for the summer while interning at his mom’s law firm. Having recently come out to his best friends back home in Georgia, he is ready to find out whatever the universe has in store for him. Ben, Puerto Rican and a native New Yorker, is an aspiring fantasy writer stuck in summer school with his ex-boyfriend who cheated on him. He thinks “the universe is an asshole,” while Arthur believes “in love at first sight… [f]ate, the universe, all of it.” But what if they meet at the post office on a random Monday afternoon? What if they get separated anyway and then reunited? Long time fans of Becky and Adam are in for a treat as the duo’s writing both shine and complement each other in this gem of a summer romance.

“But Arthur? I barely know him. I guess that’s any relationship. You start with nothing and maybe end with everything.”

Ask someone in the book community who even remotely knows me what book they associate me with and chances are they would tell you Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. And for good reasons, too. I have read and loved Becky’s debut when it came out in 2015 and have never quite shut up about it. The same can be said of Adam and More Happy Than Not, which sucker punched me one too many times in the same year. And in What If It’s Us, the two team up to deliver a heartwarming tale of missed connections and cute boys believing in the universe. Of first dates and do-overs. Of missteps and grand gestures. Of families and friendships. This is a seamless collaboration, a thoughtful blend of each author’s signature style (Becky’s is often smile-inducing; Adam’s gravitate towards heartrending). And perhaps there was a lot of work behind the curtains to make that seem effortless, but it does seem effortless. You feel Arthur’s giddiness over New York and a budding romance, you feel for Ben and the sting of a recent break up, you share their hopes, and you root for them. Arthur is such a Becky Albertalli character—smart, eager, hilarious, and endearing. Ben, on the other hand, grounds the narrative. Adam Silvera’s imprint. Bit of a nerd, video game-playing, angsty, and all cynicism. At one point, he has a conversation with Arthur about being Puerto Rican but also “being so white and not speaking Spanish,” and I think it invites the reader to a bigger discussion about color and race.

“If I’m going to feel something, I want to feel it.”

As with the authors’s other titles, friendship is central to the story in this novel. And there is quite a cast of secondary characters, all as well written and diverse. Ben’s “bromance” with his best friend Dylan is probably my favorite. It is one of support and utter affection. And outside of Ben and Arthur, their scenes together are some of the ones I enjoyed the most. There is Jessie and Ethan, Arthur’s best friends back in Georgia, and I don’t know what this tells you about me, but there is this confrontation between the three, and it is one that has stuck with me and one that I bring up in conversations. Further exploration of friendship includes how people in one have to make room for romantic relationships and how people navigate shifting friendships because of break ups within a circle. There is of course the present parents, too, which we are increasingly seeing more of in YA. I appreciate how involved the Seusses and Alejos are in their children’s lives, of which the former provides a messier look at marriage.

“But maybe this isn’t how life works. Maybe it’s all about people coming into your life for a little while and you take what they give you and use it on your next friendship or relationship. And if you’re lucky, maybe some people pop back in after you thought they were gone for good.”

What If It’s Us is also just ridiculously charming. There is a line in the book that goes, “I’m smiling so hard my jaw hurts.” And that is such an accurate image of my reading experience. The banters, as well as pop culture references, are aplenty and Arthur has no chill that his chapters are often laugh-out-loud funny. But if there is one thing about this that I’m not a fan of? It is the epilogue. It seems gratuitous, to me at least, and I would much rather we skipped it altogether.

In the Venn diagram of Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera fans, the overlap tends to encompass a larger area. And What If It’s Us will certainly delight those who find themselves in that area. But on the off chance that I’m wrong and it doesn’t quite live up to your expectations, remember that you’re not obligated to like it, though you would be wrong not to.

4.5 out of 5

Author

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Becky Albertalli is the author of the acclaimed novels Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (film: Love, Simon), The Upside of Unrequited, and Leah on the Offbeat. She is also the co-author of What If It’s Us with Adam Silvera. A former clinical psychologist who specialized in working with children and teens, Becky lives with her family in Atlanta.

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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, marketing assistant at a literary development company, and 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, and Adam was selected as a Publishers Weekly Flying Start. He writes full-time in New York City and is tall for no reason.

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You can read What If It’s Us, too! Enter THIS giveaway for a chance to win one (1) finished copy. Entries are open worldwide (with the exception of the UK, South Africa, Australia, and India due to publishing/selling rights) and will be accepted until 11:59pm (PHT), October 19th.

BUT! What if you have two (2!) more ways to score a copy? Massive thanks to HarperCollins International and their generosity and incredible support, you have! Head over to JM’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, which you can find HERE and HERE, respectively, to find out how. And good luck! Maybe the universe wants you to meet Arthur and Ben. The universe definitely wants you to meet Arthur and Ben.

Check out the rest of the tour stops!

October 5
Reading Through Infinity
Aimee, Always

October 6
Struggling Bookaholic
Kath Reads

October 7
Drizzle and Hurricane
The Ultimate Fangirl

October 9
Book Freak Revelations
Chasing Faerytales

October 10
The Bibliophile Confessions

October 11
Bentch Creates
Hollie’s Blog

October 12
Read by Nicka

Have you read What If It’s Us? Is this the cutest or is this the cutest? And with whom did you relate the most: Arthur or Ben? If you haven’t read it yet, talk to me about your favorite Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera books instead! Sound off in the comments below!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.Signature 02

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

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

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

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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).

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

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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!

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

REVIEW: Galgorithm by Aaron Karo

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Title: Galgorithm
Author: Aaron Karo
Format: E-ARC
Publication: May 5th 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (thank you Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: High School Romance, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

What if the secrets of dating and love were revealed in one simple formula? That’s the tantalizing proposition high school senior Shane Chambliss offers the hopeless and hapless guys who come to him for relationship advice.

After the girl of his dreams breaks his heart, Shane devises a mysterious formula called the Galgorithm and establishes himself as the resident dating guru at Kingsview High School. But his attempts to master the art of romance go outrageously awry.

As Shane tries to navigate the ensuing drama, he must follow his heart, abandon all the rules, and ignore his own advice in a quest for true love. What he discovers, no formula could ever predict…

Review

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

Galgorithm is a fun, light, if often trite, read with short chapters that make for an easy entertainment. Here’s the thing with the author, Aaron Karo is a comedian and this is evident throughout the book. Shane is funny, though he can get cheesy at times. But, hey, I’ll take peanut butter with my pancakes. (Yes, on a scale of one to bacon—one being the lowest and bacon being, well, bacon—peanut butter receives one-point-five in the Food Analogy Scale of Awesomeness.) And there are instances where Shane is existential but also faintly reminiscent of Ryan Dean West’s hormonally-charged voice, albeit toned down and with a bit of maturity.

“He’s the most finicky guy I’ve ever met. He nitpicked everyone and everything. Girls were “too nice.” The air was “too breathable.” He once said that a sandwich was “too bready,” which I think pretty much defies the laws of sandwichness.”

Meanwhile, Jak, Shane’s best friend since childhood, is so witty! She has a thing for ruining perfect moments and Karo nails this all the time. Almost everytime she’s in a dialogue, it’s sarcastic and all that teen stuff. My main issue with this novel, however, is the lack of a unique, stand-out voice. I mean, all the side characters kind of blur in the background and, though Shane and Jak were enjoyable to read about, they were predictable.

“”What is almond milk anyway?”
“It’s milk from ground-up almonds. It’s healthier because there’s no dairy.”
“That feels like one of those made-up facts.””

The novel is very contemporary so it doesn’t take a move of muscle to get into the story. Plus it isn’t before long until a Harry Potter reference comes up. And, darn, what a reference! I seriously laughed out loud at this one (which I’ll do you a favor and not spoil for you). In addition, there are other pop culture references but I especially like that Twitter and emojis are mentioned. This novel will appeal to fans of Will Gluck’s Easy A.

“”Easier said than done.”
“Life is easier said than done, Shane.””

Galgorithm is at its core a high school rom com, and much as it lets you down at some points for using a hackneyed trope, it still is something to pick up when you want to relax and just stay in for the night or when you want a quick read that’ll make you grin.

3.0 out of 5

Author

Aaron Karo

Aaron Karo is an author, comedian, and screenwriter. His books include Galgorithm, Lexapros and Cons, I’m Having More Fun Than You, Ruminations on Twentysomething Life, and Ruminations on College Life. He was born and raised in New York, currently lives in Los Angeles, and always pays on the first date.

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Have you read this one? Do you share my opinion? If not, it’s okay. We can still discuss. Or if you haven’t read it yet (considering it’s not out ’til next week), have I been helpful in determining whether you’d pick it up or not? And, ultimately, what is your favorite high school romance? Come on, let’s talk!

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

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REVIEW: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places

Title: All the Bright Places
Author: Jennifer Niven
Format: Paperback, 388 pages
Publication: January 6th 2015 by Knopf/Random House Children’s Books
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: Bullying, Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

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

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

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

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

Review

I want to begin by clearing the air: I have very conflicting feelings about this book, in that I love parts of it, and others not so much. Also, this is going to be—and it is—a lengthy article. So if you’re not exactly up to that, you can read the next paragraph and just jump straight to the second-to-the-last one.

All the Bright Places is a thoughtful, provocative tale about mental illness and teenagers, speckled with bons mots. And though it has off-putting turns, it is poignant all the same. Niven has written people. Not just mere characters but actual people, with actual emotions, actual stories, actual battles. So painfully real it left me in a trance after closing the last page.

“It’s my experience that people are a lot more sympathetic if they can see you hurting, and for the millionth time in my life I wish for measles or smallpox or some other recognizable disease just to make it simple for me and also for them. Anything would be better than the truth.”

The novel switches between perspectives from Finch and Violet. And if you do anything, do not attempt to find out what Finch’s problem is before diving in. I made this mistake (I didn’t research; I was listening to a podcast and bam!) and it marked a substantial difference. Because I imagine it would’ve been more excruciatingly gripping to guess what’s the matter with him. See, Theodore Finch is interesting. He’s compulsive and at times reckless but funny and endearing, to boot. He slips into momentary pretentiousness but that only renders him more charming. Early on, it’s apparent there’s something amiss. And with each passing chapter, the tension only accumulates. I’ve often hear people describe a character as someone who “jumps off the page/screen” and this is a spot-on description for Theodore Finch. Then there’s Violet Markey who—this is not a spoiler—suffers from PTSD. She’s using her sister’s death as a wall around her. I’ve read quite a few books about depression to gather that while for outsiders it looks easy—get out more, talk to someone, get over yourself—it’s really hard to move past the black slug (as Jasmine Warga’s Aysel puts it). And this is the main thing about Violet; she acknowledges the world outside her wall but she’s waist-deep the black slug.

WorthlessStupid. These are the words I grew up hearing. They’re the words I try to outrun, because if I let them in, they might stay there and grow and fill me up and in, until the only thing left of me is worthless stupid worthless stupid worthless stupid freak. And then there’s nothing to do but run harder and fill myself with other words: This time will be different. This time, I will stay awake.”

Another thing that sets All the Bright Places apart is the nuanced backstories. The bad guy isn’t just a bad guy and the good guy isn’t just a good guy. Plus, the parents are present. There’s something to be said of parental roles in young adult fiction and Niven captures the two sides of the spectrum with an informed tone. There is this one harrowing scene, which I hope no one has to experience ever, that sent a sick punch in my guts. And then you get to the author’s note and it’s a whole new level of visceral reaction.

“The smile I give her is the best smile I have, the one that makes my mother forgive me for staying out too late or for just generally being weird.”

I have issues with the romance department. And I don’t want to be the guy who argues that love isn’t necessary in this one but I’m gonna be that guy. Because and especially because it has a beginning I do not buy. It felt like it was somehow forced coming from Finch’s viewpoint. I also think the later parts drag. Of course I want closure but I think it still could’ve been achieved a few pages shorter. Albeit, I’m being highly subjective in here. I’m not saying Niven did wrong. It’s her novel. It’s Finch and Violet’s story. The author has every right.

“”She was my best friend.”
“I’ve never had one. What’s it like?”
“I don’t know. I guess you can be yourself, whatever that means—the best and the worst of you. And they love you anyway. You can fight, but even when you’re mad at them, you know they’re not going to stop being your friend.””

For fans of John Green (yes, the blurb got this one right) and Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and Other Black Holes, you want to read this one. All the Bright Places does a great service to this ever shifting and vibrant community by talking about a topic that most people would much rather prefer not to talk about and it’s for this reason that I’m grateful Jennifer Niven had her YA debut.

Fun fact: I never, for once, read before how one’s handwriting is characterized like “chicken scratch.” And yet, this is thrown around inexhaustibly when I was growing up. So there’s that.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American BlondeBecoming ClementineVelva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books, The Ice MasterAda Blackjack, and The Aqua Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander.

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Have you read All the Bright Places? If not, did I convince you to pick it up? I’m curious: have you noticed the recent rise, in YA specifically, in books dealing with depression and mental illness? And do you have recommendations up your sleeve regarding this? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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

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REVIEW: Winger by Andrew Smith

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Title: Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Publication: September 2nd 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (first published May 14th 2013)
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Humor, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: Boarding School, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Ryan Dean West’s life is complicated.

He’s a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a boarding school for rich kids. He’s stuck rooming with the biggest jerk on the rugby team in the dorm for miscreants and trouble makers. And he’s totally in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks of him as a little kid.

As Ryan Dean tries to get a handle on school, life, and rugby, he finds himself muddling through a lot of decisions and making some major mistakes along the way. But nothing can prepare him for what comes next. And when the unthinkable happens, Ryan Dean has to find a way to hold on to the important things—no matter what.

Review

Disclaimer: I am inarticulate and this review cannot hope to bring justice to the class act that is Winger.

With a pitch-perfect character voice, unflinchingly bawdy humor, spot-on illustration and out-of-nowhere-in-your-gut knockout punch, I fell completely in love with Winger. I’m still in a book hangover, really.

“”Dude, her being pissed just shows how much she cares about you,” Seanie said.
That sounded like something you’d tell your kid before giving him a spanking.”

I’m a big fan of humor, especially—albeit not exclusively—wry. But almost every single book I’ve read in the past, with the exception of Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and one scene from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, wasn’t able to elicit that much savored, much anticipated no-really-I-am-laughing-out-loud-in-real-life laugh. It’s frequently just snorting and I’m-laughing-on-the-inside-right-now kind of thing, which is fun too but you get my point. Winger, however, is another beast. I snickered at page 3 and by 13 had my first laugh IRL. At page 51, it was obvious Winger will be an all-time favorite (spoiler: I was right, heck was I right). The tone is impeccable and Sam Bosma, who did the illustrations, understands Smith’s work and that fully comes across in his comics and charts and diagrams, which not only are outrageously hilarious but are also windows to our protagonist’s wits and sensibility.

“”Aww,” she said. “What a cute boy.”
Okay, I’ll be honest. I think she actually said “little boy,” but it was so traumatizing to hear that I may have blocked it out.”

Ryan Dean West, the narrator and our hero, has one of the most genuine, honest character voices I’ve ever read. He’s smart and angsty and funny and hormonal and dorky and he knows it. His voice and story resonate with such effortlessness and gravity. I believe there is something equally captivating and aching in coming-of-age stories, and Smith neatly captures this raw, beautiful—if often awkward and painful—teenage experience. Winger feels like an instant classic.

“After that, I didn’t have any idea what to say. I just sat there staring at her. I was so lost, I even thought about the Preamble to the Constitution.
I, the people, am such a loser.”

I also adore the relationship RDW has with the secondary characters; almost everyone jumps off the page. His former roommates Seanie and JP both have their own flavor and texture. It is no feat to picture Seanie doing his stalking outside the curtains. Chas Becker, his roommate, has got to be my favorite. I was kind of reminded of Cath and Reagan from Fangirl, but, like, raise the bar to the outermost limit of mean. I enjoyed the threats and banters and admire how Smith developed the relationship between these two people who couldn’t have been more disparate. Then there’s Joey Cosentino who’s super awesome and sort of provides the parental, authoritative figure for our protagonist. He’s gay and awesome.

“‘Cause I knew what it felt like too, being so not-like-all-the-other-guys-here. And I don’t mean I know what it felt like to be gay, because I don’t, but I do know what it felt like to be the “only” one of something.”

As for the plot, it’s easy for a reader to convince himself that he knows what the author is going for. And I almost fooled myself. But I didn’t see the trajectory of the story until it’s staring me in the face. That’s not saying it’s unrealistic; it’s skillful. The emotionally charged final act will stab the reader but leave him with hope. Plus, the story telling is just downright masterful. Andrew Smith irrevocably won me over with Winger and I surely am going to pick more of his titles.

5.0 out of 5

Author

Andrew Smith

Andrew Smith is the author of several award-winning novels for young adults, including The Marbury Lens. He lives in a remote area in the mountains of Southern California with his family, two horses, two dogs, and three cats. He doesn’t watch television and occupies himself by writing, bumping into things outdoors, and taking ten-mile runs on snowy trails. He maintains a blog about his strange writing life.

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REVIEW: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

My Heart and Other Black Holes

Title: My Heart and Other Black Holes
Author: Jasmine Warga
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publication: February 10th 2015 by Balzer + Bray/HarperTeen
Source: Bought from National Book Store
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic, Romance
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | The Book Depository | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Sixteen-year-old physics nerd Aysel is obsessed with plotting her own death. With a mother who can barely look at her without wincing, classmates who whisper behind her back, and a father whose violent crime rocked her small town, Aysel is ready to turn her potential energy into nothingness.

There’s only one problem: she’s not sure she has the courage to do it alone. But once she discovers a website with a section called Suicide Partners, Aysel’s convinced she’s found her solution—Roman, a teenage boy who’s haunted by a family tragedy, is looking for a partner.

Even though Aysel and Roman have nothing in common, they slowly start to fill each other’s broken lives. But as their suicide pact becomes more concrete, Aysel begins to question whether she really wants to go through with it. Ultimately, she must choose between wanting to die or trying to convince Roman to live so they can discover the potential of their energy together.

Review

There is something equally beautiful and pensive about Jasmine Warga’s debut novel; it does not romanticize depression. Even with a turn not quite so unexpected, it feels natural. She gets it, this author.

“Anyone who has actually been that sad can tell you that there’s nothing beautiful or literary or mysterious about depression.”

I like that Aysel (pronounced like “gazelle,” as she told one of her classmates) can find humor, albeit twisted in times, amidst her black slug of sadness. It isn’t an instant connection, yes. I dig Aysel’s voice after a couple of chapters, but it took a while for her character to grow on me. But even that was organic. When I began caring for Aysel, I was all in. I wanted her to reconsider things. I wanted her to ditch the suicide plan. I wanted her to save Roman. I wanted her to be saved.

“This must be a sign from the universe—if the only time you get lucky is when you’re planning your suicide, it’s definitely time to go.”

I wouldn’t deny that Roman is my favorite character though. He’s complicated and you see the layers in him. He’s not some enigmatic-equals-attractive dude. I actually sort of wish there were pov chapters from him or bonus ones or something. And I spent half of the book feeling queasy knowing these teens are planning their suicide. I also appreciate the inclusion of the parents of both characters. I prefer that there were more interactions but I understand, too, that when you’re a teenager (and forlorn, besides), adults are almost always a detached reality.

“I guess pretty much everything in life is about the perception of the observer.”

Ultimately, My Heart and Other Black Holes is about the walls a person—and depression—builds around her. That isolates the person and locks everyone out. It is about the unheard cries for help. I was deeply moved by a scene centering on the relationship between Aysel and her mother. That particular part, I think, shows really well the depth of Aysel’s character. But Warga, who divulges in the author’s note her personal encounter with depression, creates a heartening, realistic conclusion. I believe there’s a recent rise in YA books dealing with depression and suicide, and My Heart and Other Black Holes is one of those that tackle this thoughtfully and insightfully.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Jasmine Warga

Jasmine Warga grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. Before becoming a full-time writer, she briefly worked as a science teacher. This is her first novel.

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Rainbow Rowell Week, Day 4: What to Read Next After Eleanor and Park

Rainbow Rowell Week

A Diversified If-You-Like-This-Try-This.

For five days this week*, Bookish and Awesome is celebrating Rainbow Rowell Appreciation Week. You can read the previous posts here, here and here.

I guess it’s fair to say that Eleanor & Park was the book that really catapulted Rainbow Rowell into the position she’s currently in. I mean, not to discredit her other titles (Fangirl is my favorite, if you haven’t noticed) or anything. But it’s what most of us would consider our gateway to her, wouldn’t it? And I know a lot of you out there love it. So for today, I’ll be throwing recommendations for what to read next if you like Eleanor & Park.

Of course, in and of itself, Eleanor & Park has diversity in it. Park is half-Korean after all. But for these books I’m gonna talk about, I consciously picked novels with the MC(s) being of color and/or LGBTQ. Because these lives matter too, our lives. And just how Rainbow plainly put it in her website, “because it’s up to people like me, who write, to write them.”

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other—and the power of their friendship—can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

At its core, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a story of love in all its complexity. It gave me that same bittersweet taste that Eleanor & Park has. The two MC’s are both Mexican-American, that’s one point for ethnic diversity. And another for gender identity. Also, this is one of those books that―while it’s about diversity―is so much more than just about diversity. Diversity is there not for the sake of diversity, but because it just is. Basically, I’d recommend this to anyone, any day.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: college applications, Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

So. First love? Check. Low self-esteem? Check. Family dysfunction? Check check. Gabi’s a Latina and there are issues involving sexual orientation and gender roles. Obviously this screams Diversity. I must add, however, that I haven’t read this one. But award-winning Cuban-American author Meg Medina approves, says Quintero’s writing “gets at everything, all at once.” And, honestly, you can’t go wrong with that.

If I Ever Get Out of Here

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Lewis “Shoe” Blake is used to the joys and difficulties of life on the Tuscarora Indian reservation in 1975: the joking, the Fireball games, the snow blowing through his roof. What he’s not used to is white people being nice to him―people like George Haddonfield, whose family recently moved to town with the Air Force. As the boys connect through their mutual passion for music, especially the Beatles, Lewis has to lie more and more to hide the reality of his family’s poverty from George. He also has to deal with the vicious Evan Reininger, who makes Lewis the special target of his wrath. But when everyone else is on Evan’s side, how can he be defeated? And if George finds out the truth about Lewis’s home―will he still be his friend?

A relationship (in this case friendship) that’s built on a shared love of music? Does that ring a bell? Not to mention the MC is from a poor family. He also happens to be American-Indian and is often picked on at school. Again, I haven’t read this one but I’m totally sold. Mary Quattlebaum of The Washington Post wrote, “funny, poignant . . . Lewis is a wry, observant narrator.” Plus, this book is set in the ’70s and Eleanor and Park‘s in the ’80s.

ALSO. Jen of Pop! Goes the Reader published a very funky Fangirl-themed The Writing’s On The Wall! So much love for Rainbow Rowell and Fangirl! (PS. This article has nothing to do with Bookish and Awesome.)

Which of these titles have you read? Which ones will you read? Also, if you want to blog about your personal experience with Rowell or her books, grab that header image above and leave a comment below. I’ll link up to you in the coming articles! Or we can bring this to Twitter. YES! Share your Rainbow Rowell stories using the hashtag #RainbowRowellWeek. Again, Happy Rainbow Rowell Appreciation Week !

*Why this week you ask? Because it’s her birthday last 24th!

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