None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT+
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: May 24th 2011

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

“Because ‘You’re perfect just the way you are,’ is what your guidance counsellor says. And she’s an alcoholic.”

A plane full of beauty pageant contestants crash lands on a deserted island. The girls must find a way to survive while keeping up their pageant training for when they are rescued. After all, there can only be one Miss Teen Dream!

The beginning of this novel is a fascinating satire, full of misogynistic tropes, fake brands, fake ads, and fun fact sheets about the girls. The Corporation informs the reader about the world the novel is set in, about what a good girl is like and what products they have to use to stay desirable. It’s a set-up for a very interesting story that parodies our world – but it loses itself along the way.

There was a cheesy action movie subplot that was more than the book needed. At some point, the book stops being about girls finding themselves, humour and feminism and turns into a very bad action movie. The book becomes TOO ridiculous in its attempts to be silly satire it just becomes over-the-top and more boring because of it. Evil lairs, ridiculous dictators and a ship full of hot boys all clash together in a huge mess.

The ending is a huge mess of an action scene, several convenient coincidences and just unsatisfying. The book tells the girl’s futures…which don’t seem much changed after a harrowing experience for the most part and bam happy ending even though the world isn’t changed for the better.

That’s not to say I disliked the book entirely. The premise is strong, and it does feature some good representation.Bray did make her main cast a little too large for her to handle, and the main ones were a fairly stereotypical (gun-loving Texan, dumb blondes etc.) but the thought was there. The fault is that this book just has no idea what it is or where it was going. It has elements of several potentially successful stories and tries to shove them all down the reader’s throat at once.

The highlights of this book are the “commercial breaks” and footnotes that build the world these girls live in. Period Pets, Lady Stache Off and other fun brands pepper the pages with good humour and great satire. I only wish these elements had been better explored instead devolving into a cheesy spy novel.

For Fans Of: Only Ever Yours

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah by Erin Jade Lange

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Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: February 16th 2016

4 OUT OF 5 STARS

“All of us, or none of us.”

There is no reason these four teens should ever be together. Andi, York, Boston and Sam belong together like dogs and vacuum cleaners – but when an accidental crime forces to band together they become closer than any friends they had before. They have to sort this whole mess out, and while they do they discover that none of them are exactly what they seem.

Rebel Bully Geek Pariah is a fast-paced thrill ride from start to finish. The opening barely stalls a second before leaping into the exciting action-packed plotline. This is a book that is incredibly easy to tear through in one sitting. The timeline is a little less than twenty-four hours so all the events happen incredibly fast and nothing ever feels dragged out.

Despite the short timeline the characters get some fairly decent fleshing out with the exception of Boston. York, Andi and Sam all get complex backstories with at least one terrible tragedy each (which is a little ridiculous but makes for riveting reading). As the plot twists and turns, and as circumstances change we still manage to learn about and connect with this ragtag group of teens.

Sam’s relationship with her four-years-sober druggie mother is an interesting touch. The exploration of their relationship through Sam’s memories and the flash-forewards of Sam telling her the story are fascinating. The sort of love-hate relationship is what drives the heart of Sam’s character and her willingness to do almost anything for a certain fiddle.

Unfortunately, the ending was a bit of a disappointment. It feels rushed, and it lacks the weight that the rest of the novel had and seemed to be building up to. It feels like a story suddenly cut off when there could have been more. The character arcs in the last few pages are messy and don’t make a lot of sense.

The book is a little over-dramatic, and the smidgeon of romance included was VERY unnecessary but this book is above all thrilling. There’s not a single slow moment. If it’s not a car chase then it’s diving into a character’s painful past.The characters make incredibly questionable decisions but the book never stops being fun.

For Fans Of: This is Where it Ends

Secrets of a Reluctant Princess by Caset Griffin

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Publisher: Entangled: Teen
Publication Date: March 7th 2017

3 OUT OF 5 STARS

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

Adrianna Bottom was always the butt of everyone’s jokes in Seattle. With her geeky personality and a dad who runs a bathroom business she never stood a chance. L.A. is a chance to reinvent herself, as well as star in a reality TV show. As Adrianna focuses on being popular she realizes she might be losing her only chance at a boy she actually likes. Worse, she might be losing herself.

Live action role-playing is an interesting twist in the young adult romance category. Books involving this hobby are pretty rare – and so it’s interesting to see it represented. However, Secrets of a Reluctant Princess isn’t breaking any other new ground. The romance at first interaction is dull. The trail of stupid misunderstandings is tired. There’s nothing worse than watching characters whine about something that could be solved with a simple conversation. Worst of all, the popular kids vs. “geeks” is outdated.

The idea that people who like geeky things are outcasts is tired. Hollywood is sustained by superheroes now, no one will tease you because you like Wonder Woman. Being a “geek” is not longer taboo. Jocks and prissy popular girls are hilarious stereotypes that rarely exist. Four-fifths of the popular crowd have no personality other than dumb or mean and even the main girl is just “friendly”. Popular kids have interests too.

There was also perhaps too much time spent defining the LARPing sessions rather than focusing on the relationship between Adrianna, her friends, her parents and her crush. The reality show was a good plot on its own. LARPing was a good plot on its own. Together they feel like too much, like the book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

The ending is also particularly unsatisfying. Sexual harassment is excused as a “mistake” (a repeated aggressively) mistake by a dumb teen. Parents using their child for fame and exposure who get upset when their child poorly affects their business were “well-meaning”. A shady reality show producer (who shows a seventeen-year old’s underwear on television) is mildly punished and let go.

For all it’s faults, it’s still a fun read if you don’t take it too seriously. There are several major occurrences of second-hand embarrassment, and you’ll be frustrated by dozens of misunderstandings but it’s cute. The main guy is handsome and kind, maybe a little too perfect but lovable. Adrianna isn’t the brightest bulb but she’s sort of relatable.

If you like mildly geeky things and romance this book will definitely satisfy, if not impress you.

For Fans Of: The Only Thing Worse than Me is You