Grrls on the Side by Carrie Pack

tumblr_inline_oqsdu5xem31sr6nal_1280.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Duet Books
Publication Date: June 8th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

1994. Punk is in. Fat isn’t. At least that’s how it seems to Tabitha. Her ex-best friend bullies her, she hasn’t ever found a real group and her only friend is a guy she hangs out with behind 7-11. When Tabitha is given a flyer for a Riot Grrl meet up, she finally finds a group. Then she begins to discover a lot more about herself.

The absolute highlight of this book is the zine pictures. Each zine has a cute style and interesting articles written by the characters. It helps develop the characters views and personalities in a fun way while giving the book a definite style. Zines are very 90s, and it really creates an atmosphere.

The plot itself is a rather standard coming of age affair. Tabitha is working on discovering herself, she has some family issues. She struggles with romance. She struggles with her self-image. It does have a nice punk spin and I really love the vibes that Pack has created. Strong, sexy punk girls galore. There are so few male characters I can count them on one hand including minor players. Sometimes it’s nice to have a no boys allowed book.

Good representation in a book that’s fun to read is something I’ll always support. Of course, a book about Riot Grrrls is going to have some fabulous feminism but it also talks about race and how women of colour experience different struggles. It showcases those struggles. Tabitha is fat. Several characters are stated as bisexual. Just good all around.

There were a few plotlines I was a little disappointed with though. At one point in the book, Heather begins acting a little friendlier towards Tabitha…and we never see her again. If the friendship was not going to be redeemed then that scene was pointless so why include it at all? Marty’s plotline is also never completely tied up. She’s a bitch, and while Tabitha tells her to behave better we never see her mend bonds with her friends.

While it definitely suffers from a few hanging plot threads, Grrrls on the Side is a fun, diverse and spunky read.

For Fans Of: Holding Up the Universe

Advertisements

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

HateUGive_10-10Snap.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
Publication Date: February 28th 2017

5 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”

Starr lives in the impoverished neighbourhood of Garden Heights but goes to a fancy prep school. She walks the line to avoid seeming “ghetto” or sassy with her white friends while keeping her school and home life separate. When Starr witnesses her friend Khalil’s death at the hands of a police officer she has to make a choice. Will she speak out and risk ruining the image she’s cultivated? Or will she let injustice go unchallenged?

You need to read this book.

Upfront, there are a few moments that seem a tiny bit out of place and preachy but the story and every message taught are incredibly important. Impressively poignant and extremely relevant for current society. Starr’s story is exciting, tragic and impossible to put down.

For many readers, this story will be all too familiar. We have seen the news. We have see the court proceedings, we have seen them over and over again. For white readers, this book is an incredibly valuable insight into the emotions and lives behind the news and perhaps the closest we can hope to get to trying to understand.

There are a few jokes at the expense of white people, which seems to bother several reviewers. I personally thought they were just sort of silly harmless stereotypes (like white people loving their dogs too much) and I can’t really see how anyone was offended. Do I think you should read this book at the risk of being uncomfortable? Yes, but ultimately that is your call and I’m all for full disclosure.

Messages and importance aside, Thomas is a brilliant writer. All of her characters feel like reflections of the real world. She knows how to make people feel like people, even if they do a few bad things. The emotions this book evokes are incredible. I still shudder when I think of the scene Starr witnessed and how well it was written.

There are plenty of books that have important messages, but when you find one that’s exciting and well written it’s like winning the lottery. The Hate U Give is an important book before anything else, but it’s a great read too.

I try to avoid tired old review clichés but The Hate U Give is a must read.

For Fans Of: What We Saw

Optimists Die First by Susin Neilsen

North-American-Optimists-Cover.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Publication Date: February 21st 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing Early Readers in exchange for an honest review.

Petula is sixteen and terrified of life. Freak accidents happen every day so she must always remain vigilant. She doesn’t cross without looking both ways, walk near construction sites, or eat ground beef. When Jacob joins her art therapy group, Petula begins to open up, but she isn’t the only one with secrets.

This book is quirky, cute and fun. From cat-lovers, crafters, record collectors, film geeks and bookworms this book has something for everyone. There’s plenty of good representation from gay to amputees. It’s a very diverse read that has laughs and cries throughout.

The romance is the issue. It’s fluffy and slow and a nice portrayal of sex, but it’s a little love as the cure-all drug. Love doesn’t make mental illness better. Throughout this book, several therapist type things are bashed and the real cure is a cute boy. No.

The other slight issue is FULL OF SPOILERS. LOOK AWAY TO AVOID SPOILERS. The love interest does something very bad. He deserves to feel guilty. He deserves to not enjoy life ever again. However, this book compares it to a tragic accident. That he’s been punished enough and people should still be friends with him. No. There are things that you don’t deserve forgiveness for and this is one of them. I was very unhappy with how this was dealt with and made to seem like he was even sort of a victim.

I want to love this book. Susin Neilsen has written things I love. She’s Canadian. I love cats and books. There are so many good things going on. I cannot, however, give this book the five stars I was hoping to when I began reading.

The story is good. There are so many cute moments with family, friends and lovers. There are cats. I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a fun time and quite a quick read. However, the issues with the romance and how certain things were dealt with left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

For Fans of: All the Bright Things

None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

NoneoftheAbove_Cover.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Publication Date: April 7th 2015

3  OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Kristin Lattimer is popular, pretty, athletic and newly voted homecoming queen. After a botched attempt at sex leads her to the gynaecologist she finds out she’s intersex. Kristin is full of questions. Does this make her a man? How will this affect her future? And most importantly what will everyone think? When her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school Kristin is tossed into turmoil struggling to deal with her identity while navigating a hostile environment.

None of the Above was definitely an interesting read. Learning about AIS and seeing how Kristin deals with her diagnosis kept me turning pages. Diversity is important and this book casts a main character that I’ve never personally seen before in young adult literature. This book has an important message, and the facts are interesting, but this isn’t a great book outside of that.

The characters are mostly flat. Kristin is naive and sort of dull. Faith is too good to be true. Vee is a bitch who’s only sort of nice to her friends. Sam is the classic jock. Darren is a loveable nerd. It’s hard seeing these characters interact when so few of their relationships are believable. How did Kristin not know her long-term boyfriend was a homophobe? Why is she so quick to forgive Vee when she’s said such cruel things?

The plot is pretty obvious, nothing surprising happens. The ending could use some work. It feels very abrupt. SPOILERS: There’s very little build-up. Terrible things happen and then boom, book over. Kristin deals with something terrible, is saved by a white knight, falls in love and is cured of her anxiety and depression. She’s ready to face the world again because the right boy wants her.

In short, this book covers important topics. It’s full of interesting facts, but it’s not a good story. A good read to learn some basics about AIS but not a book with rich characters or plot.

For Fans of: Holding Up the Universe

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

9781250111395.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Publication Date: March 14th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You’ve never been in anyone’s shadow. You are your own light source.”

Charlie is a famous vlogger turned movie star, and she has a VIP pass to SupaCon the best fan convention ever. It’s set up to be the best experience of her life until she finds out that her former co-star is attending. Jamie and Taylor, Charlie’s best friends, are tagging along. Taylor is going to meet her favourite author and have fun despite anxiety making her fear the worst. She’s going to have a great time with her best friend Charlie, and Jamie who she wishes was a bit more than a friend.

For diversity, this book gets two thumbs up. A fat protagonist with severe anxiety and autism. The second protagonist is a POC bisexual woman who’s bisexuality is actually explicitly stated in the book. The love interests are both POC. Wilde has researched and written relatable characters while being sensitive to how minorities are being represented. Queens of Geek looks at biphobia, racism and the nasty sides of fandom head on while still being fun and funny.

The con scenes were fantastic. It really captures how it feels to be a fan surrounded by so much excitement and fandom. Unfortunately, some of the more fanciful scenes (mainly the zombie maze) were drawn out and felt like cheap gimmicks to force characters together. The sheer scale of the zombie maze didn’t feel terribly real, several full-size sets with hundreds of actors for a single attraction is extravagant for even the largest cons.

The romances themselves were a little cheesy and it’s unbelievable how fantastic everything works out for everyone. The setting and the diversity were what brought me to this book and kept me with it. The plot is just fine. I was never really thrilled by any plot activity and the ending was fluffy and cheesy and not something I’m likely to remember.

I like happy endings, and I love a good fluffy romance, but this was a bit much. It’s cut and dry fluff. It never really feels like there’s any real issue, and it makes the plot sort of dull. I wish there would have been more focus on the convention than on the cheesy romances. Or at least more issues within the romances to keep the story fresh. There’s never any real stress that the couples won’t be happy and together so aside from cute points there’s no interest in reading them for me.

Not everything should go right for the protagonists. Not every wrong thing should be a fakeout. Sometimes something bad should happen and not be immediately fixed with just a slightly different path. Denying your character cake from a table and giving it to them at the very next table isn’t a compelling obstacle. Bad things can happen and different good things can happen. A character getting everything they ever wanted is sweet but not an interesting story.

Queens of Geek is definitely a unique and interesting story, but it could have been more if things had been a little less sickeningly sweet.

For Fans Of: Geektastic

The Lives of Desperate Girls by MacKenzie Common

9780143198710.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Date: September 19th 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In a tiny community in Northern Ontario Chloe Shaughnessy goes missing. Not long after a native girl, Helen, is murdered. Chloe was Jenny’s best friend, and Jenny might know something about the night Chloe went missing. The cops are desperate to find out. They’ve put Helen on the back burner to focus on Chloe’s disappearance, an act that disturbs Jenny. She decides to investigate the murder herself while keeping her lips sealed about what she knows.

The Lives of Desperate Girls touches on the very real issue of police ignoring missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada. It also covers other serious topics, but this is its main focus. Almost no one cares that Helen is missing. She’s just a native girl. Chloe was special. Despite being Chloe’s best friend Jenny wants to help Helen too.

As a protagonist, Jenny is good, kind, brave and slightly bland. She’s almost too good and caring to believe while also doing terrible things. She does stupid, reckless things and never sees a consequence and they’re cast as the right thing to do. She does very wrong things but because she did them they were honourable. Everything she does is cast in a noble light even when it’s a shitty thing to do. Tom is much more interesting but the book would have been better off without the romance.

The romance in the book was thrilling and at least almost realistic. Tom and Jenny feel strange together, and they just sort of happen with no real rhyme or reason. The ending had the potential to feel real and good but that was tossed aside. Jenny and Tom meet in a dire situation in the heat of the moment and even then their relationship seems a little ridiculous. Nevermind how rare it is for high schoolers to appreciate those a grade beneath them, Jenny and Tom have never spoken before suddenly being in love.

Despite those two complaints I really did love the story. I was caught up in the mystery of what happened to Chloe and Helen. Wanting to know what secret Jenny knew. Were the two girls connected in some way? Common explores racism, rape culture, slut shaming and the indifference that surrounds them. It’s definitely nice to see these depicted in a Canadian setting when so many like to forget that there are issues in every country.

It was a bit slow-paced for a mystery, and the ending didn’t really satisfy me but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

For Fans Of: Vanishing Girls

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

IMG_7975.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through LibraryThing in exchange for an honest review.

Mars, Eli and Blake die in a tragic accident involving texting and driver. To their living best friend Carver it doesn’t feel like an accident. Carver is the one who texted them. He struggles with grief while dealing with the rage others feel. He tries to let go by having “goodbye days” where each of his friends has a chance to be remembered.

Zentner has portrayed friendship with excellence. Each boy feels full and well realised, and their relationship to each other feels tangible. The grief shared by Carver and their families will be shared by readers as well. Carver himself is a little cold and sort of dull. There are thousands of aspiring writer boys in young adult fiction (write what you know etc.) and he’s just not as special as any of his friends or their relatives.

Unfortunately, there are some very unnecessary romantic undertones through the whole story. Jesmyn is a well-written character but from the second she meets Carver it’s obvious that romance is the end game. It’s not an interesting addition to the plot and at times overshadows the grief and friendship plotlines. Not every book needs to have a romance and someone close to you dying isn’t a great starting point for a relationship.

The flashbacks and the goodbye days were the highlights of the book with the plot of Carver being held criminally responsible coming in close second. Zentner divulges bits and pieces of each dead boy’s personality in a way that keeps you page turning to find out the next secret. It does feel like Blake was given more time with Eli and Mars having significantly less development, but you still want to know more.

The ending wasn’t particularly strong. I hated all the focus on Adair for her to be tossed aside. The ending should have focused more on Carver moving on (ex. applying to school, laying flowers on graves etc.) and not on a romantic scene between him and Jesmyn.

This was an enjoyable read, I wanted to know what was next. However, I couldn’t get over the romance forced into a story that had absolutely nothing to gain from it. It feels like a story that belongs in another book and adds exceptionally little to Carver’s plight dealing with grief and guilt aside from guilt boners for the girlfriend of a dead friend. It serves only to make Carver less sympathetic and fill pages.

The friendship is amazing, Zentner has a clear grasp of what makes friends and family special. Of how hard it is to know someone. I wish he had focused more on that.

For Fans Of: Playlist for the Dead

Amish-cover.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Romance, Contemporary
Publisher: Blue Moon Publishers
Publication Date: June 13th 2017

2 OUT OF 5 STARS

Disclaimer: A free copy of this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

After being caught shoplifting Sam Stonesong moved from Philadelphia to Lancaster. She’s struggling to stay part of the popular crowd and hoping to find a boyfriend. When she meets a mysterious guy in a pizza parlor things start looking up. As Sam works to build a relationship her issues with her mom and her popular friends start to get worse, and Zach is definitely keeping secrets.

Zach is Amish. Which is painfully obvious from the first time he’s introduced because of the title. Amish Guys Don’t Call makes it clear there’s going to be an Amish guy somewhere in this book. If, for half a novel, the protagonist is going to struggle to work something out, then the reader shouldn’t know. It makes the protagonist look dumb and makes the story feel slow because HE’S AMISH OF COURSE HE IS.

The plot is all over the place with several subplots that are never really properly resolved. There are scenes that feel oddly out of place and sort of pointless (Hell House wasn’t really necessary for Zach to reveal he was religious, the Sunday work thing got that across). The book ramps up VERY slowly, climaxes…and then peters out without proper conclusions to any of the plots aside from the weird romance.

Every character is keeping secrets and aside from Zach they’re all pretty awful people. Their secrets are used to explain their actions but it’s still hard to sympathize with awful parents, catty teens and worst of all Sam. Sam is awkward. A phrase which here means has the emotional intelligence of a rock.

She makes “jokes” that are far and beyond cruel and is surprised when they fall flat. She’s the irritating character archtype who’s smart, unique and different (ugh people who enjoy twilight are dumb etc, people who party are lesser.). Her love interest immediately knows she’s “special”. It’s a character that’s been done to death and it’s not interesting.

Zach is the gem of this book. Despite his secret being not so much a secret he’s mildly interesting, a good human being and very likeable. His relationship with Sam is a bit boring, there’s no real reason for them to be attracted to each other at first and the chemistry is weak at best.

The teens also feel very fake. There is some knowledge of slang present but it reads more like “cool-mom trying to slang” than real teens. The “cyber-bullying” was an absolute joke where the worst insults were maybe at a 2nd grade level of savage.

It was a book that tried to do too much. Deal with divorce, drug addition, leaving an oppressive community, dealing with shoplifting addiction, dealing with bullying, dealing with first love, dealing with religion etc. As a consequence it didn’t do anything particularly well. The characters are two-dimensional and the plot is a bit of a mess. It wasn’t a terrible read and had some funny/relatable moments but it definitely doesn’t elicit high praise from me.

For Fans Of: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

9780141357058.jpg

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 4th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“You are wanted.”

Libby Strout was America’s Fattest Teen. Jack Masselin suffers from a rare neurological disorder that keeps him from recognizing faces. When their worlds collide it’s not in a good way. They both end up in counselling, where they start to see each other a little differently.

This is not All the Bright Places. It will not shake your world and shatter your heart. What Holding Up the Universe IS is a delightfully fluffy read with both a fantastically fat protagonist and a protagonist from an interracial family who has a disability.

Libby is strong, and readers will immediately want to root for her. She’s full of life, positivity and pop culture references. All geeks know there are few things as exciting as a fictional character sharing your fandom. Jack’s condition is interesting but as a character he’s not incredibly likeable – and let’s face it because this comparison was inevitable – he’s no Finch.

Niven’s writing style is strong and just as easy to read as her previous young adult novel. Something about her work just flows and the two separate POVs have very distinct voices. That said there are a lot of cliches (enter Bitchy Popular Girl, Kind Religious Girl, etc.) and there’s also a touch of love curing something that love shouldn’t reasonably cure.

This is a romance, plain and simple. Libby’s weight issues and Jack’s cognitive disorder are side stories. In fack Jack’s prosopagnosia is almost his only character trait aside from being a jerk, but maybe I still liked him a little. The characters here were a little too dependent on their one defining feature (which I may have been blind to in All the Bright Places) but Niven’s writing makes in enjoyable.

This isn’t a groundbreaking book, but it’s fun and fast. This is a book full of good feelings and happiness. It’s not incredibly deep despite its social commentary, but it’s an enjoyable read and sometimes that’s all we really want.

For Fans Of: Dumplin

Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

25437747

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books (UK)
Publication Date: February 25th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“But people we love come and go, Caddy. That doesn’t mean we loved them any less at the time.”

Caddy has always been the nice girl. The problem with nice is that it’s dull. Caddy is ready to have a significant life event, or a boyfriend or at least to lose her virginity. When Suzanne moves into town, beautiful and mysterious, Caddy doesn’t really like her. Has her relationship between Caddy’s best friend Rosie and Suzanne grows, Caddy becomes jealous. Over time their dynamic shifts and it’s clear that Caddy isn’t going to get quite the year she wanted.

The author’s note calls this book “a love story without romance”, and I truly think those are the best words for it. It’s so rare to see a story purely about friendship without some sort of romantic subplot shoving it’s way in.It’s refreshing to see a book focused entirely on the ups and downs between three girls in a story where the boys are just problems to overcome and barely matter.

This is a story about how trauma lingers. That even after escaping abuse a person is changed. That things aren’t just going to be better now that they aren’t suffering like before. People carry their battles with them, and it’s not as easy to fix as walking away. Beautiful Broken Things explores the lasting effects of trauma not only on the victim but on all those around them. On people who want to help but maybe aren’t doing the best things. On people who are trying so hard and can’t handle the responsibility.

Trauma isn’t simple or beautiful and despite the title Beautiful Broken Things makes this clear. Trauma is messy and painful for everyone. It doesn’t end in a clean bow where the victim rides off into the sunset surrounded by friends. There’s therapy, and lasting issues and relapses.

The story is beautiful and important and bittersweet. Unfortunately I didn’t love any of the characters. In fact I sort of hated most of the adults and disliked Caddy and Rosie quite a bit. The issues with some of the adults are never dealt with, leaving them to be neglectful or just poor parents without ever looking deeper and Caddy is a brat. She means well but there’s nothing sympathetic about a rich girl with a good family who’s sad because nothing “exciting’ (read: terrible) has happened to her.

That said reading about her relationship with Suzanne and Rosie is fascinating. Seeing how mental illness can truthfully affect relationships without the usualy romanticism present in young adult literature is a treasure. It acknowledges that mental illness CAN be difficult to deal with. Despite how Caddy romanticizes them it’s clear by the end of the novel that things like this can break relationships and damage people – but with proper help things can be repaired.

A beautiful novel about female friendship, mental illness, difficult decisions and the journey towards healing after trauma.

For Fans Of: Asking For It