Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

Fangirl follows twins Cather & Wren, as they explore college, the changing nature of relationships, and first love. What differentiates this book from others is the focus on fan fiction.  Cath is obsessed with the fantasy series, “Simon Snow”, and spends most of her time thinking and writing about characters Simon and Baz. However, issues arise when extrovert Wren begins to drift away from fandom to experience all that college life has to offer.

The book opens with a Wikipedia-like entry about the Simon Snow series. Immediately, it is evident that Simon Snow is a reflection of Harry Potter.  Every chapter begin with an excerpt of Gemma T. Leslie’s “Simon Snow”  or a fanfixx.net entry by Magicath. While I could manage snippets of Simon Snow, I completely skipped over the long passages when Cath begins reading it to Levi. I didn’t care to read a story within a story and preferred to read about Cath’s socially awkward life rather than Simon Snow’s fictional characters.

Although Cath’s social anxiety hindered her ability to meet people, she did fall for her roommate’s ex-boyfriend and happy go lucky, Levi.  In all honesty, I found is surprising that Levi would pursue the standoffish, immature and inexperienced Cath.  As their relationship slowly progresses, the intimate scenes are always sweet, not explicit.  Levi is just one of the distinctive characters that play a role in this book. The rest of the supporting cast of characters are well written, and relatable in their own way.  The family dynamics are interesting and mental health issues are evident.

Overall, I thought Fangirl was refreshing for new adult fans.  If you’re looking for a dark story with a tragic bad boy love interest, look elsewhere.  I had a smile on my face reading this book, especially when I picked up on the pop culture references (including Twilight!).  Even if you aren’t a fanfiction enthusiast, I think you will still enjoy this coming of age college tale.

Creeps by Darren Hynes

Fifteen-year-old Wayne Pumphrey wishes he were courageous enough to actually send the heartfelt letters he writes to friends and family. He also wishes his father would drive on the right side of the street, his mother would stop packing her suitcase to leave, and his sister would stop listening to Nickelback. But most of all, he wishes that Pete “The Meat” would let him walk to school in peace. After all, how many times can one person eat yellow snow?

Then one morning, while facing Pete and his posse, Wayne is rescued by Marjorie, the girl with a dead father and a mother who might as well be. Together, the two of them escape Pete’s relentless bullying by rehearsing for the school play, and an unlikely friendship is formed. As they grow ever closer to one another, they begin to dream of escape from their small town and restricted lives. But Pete now has plans for both of them—and after a moment of sudden violence, nothing will ever be the same again for Wayne, Marjorie, or Pete himself.

creeps

Named after a Radiohead song, this Canadian book realistically portrays the affects of bullying on victim, perpetrator, and their families.  Set in Labrador, this story is mostly told in third person narrative, but also includes letter entries from fifteen year old Wayne Pumphrey.  He writes to his family, teachers, bullies, God and his only friend Majorie. I enjoyed this addition as it allowed insight into Wayne’s world, including his nightmare home life. The letter to his bully, Pete the Meat (on pg. 104) was particularly heartbreaking as Wayne tries to understand why he had become the target of their aggressive bullying.

Dear Pete The Meat,

Is it the way I walk? Talk? Is it because I’m small? Is my laugh strange? My voice? Do I smell funny or dress stupid or style my hair the wrong way? Are my eyes too far apart? WHAT?

I found Wayne’s letters to carry more maturity than how he typically acted and spoke, so it’s a real shame that he never found the courage to send them out.  Although, I’m not sure how much of an impact it would have had on his bullies, but maybe, just maybe it could have prevented the awful, terrible, horrific scene involving Wayne and Majorie. I quickly moved from being extremely uncomfortable to utter shock with the surprising ending!

For all the above reasons, I think Creeps is a great conversation starter about bullying for high school students.  For more books on bullying, see: Hate List by Jennifer Brown & 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

moon

Meh. I know the many Sarah Dessen fans will disagree with me, but I found The Moon and More to be just an okay read.  I much preferred What Happened to Goodbye.

Don’t expect much drama, action or cliffhangers in this book. Rather it consists mostly of mundane details of a teenager about to embark on college. Summer jobs, romantic and family relationships, and common worries about growing up are all very much explored. In that aspect, teens will be able to relate to Emaline. I on the other hand, was a little bored.

The best feature of the book was the setting of Colby. Emaline lives in the beach town of Colby that is flooded by tourists every summer. It is perfectly described and easy to image.  The subplot of the local Colby artist was an interesting element and coming from a small town, I could understand the protectiveness and cautiousness of letting ‘outsiders’ in.

 

Winger by Andrew Smith

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

 

winger

Self -described ‘skinny-ass loser’, Ryan Dean West has one of the most real voices I’ve came across in YA fiction.  The text can be raunchy and ‘perverted’, but always raw as Ryan Dean narrates his coming of age experience in boarding school, including  important firsts and serious heartbreak.   His illustrations and graphs (my favourite being ‘things that make Ryan Dean West Stupid, pg. 145) added visual interest throughout this thick book.  Even though it is quite lengthy and intimidating for reluctant readers, the story and characters will immediately hook the reader to become a quick and memorable read.

Readers will be laughing their way through the majority of this book. I only expected heartache after reading the back cover quotes describing it as “ …powerful, sweet and heart wrenching.” About half way through, I predicted the ending, but hoped I wasn’t right.  I connected with the characters and felt like I knew them, so I was tearing up in the last couple of heavy pages.

For the most part, I like the graphic cover photo.  It captures the raw, honesty of the book. My only complaint is that ‘Winger’ is 14 years old, but the model looks mid-20s.  However, the final cover was likely out of Smith’s control, so I won’t hold it against him.  Pick up this awkward, cringe worthy, hilarious, honest, sad book today.  You won’t regret it.

 

Review: Easy by Tammara Webber

From Goodreads:

Rescued by a stranger.
Haunted by a secret
Sometimes, love isn’t easy…

He watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior…

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he’d worked so hard to overcome, and the future she’d put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth—and find the unexpected power of love.

 easy

When looking up ‘new adult’ books, Easy by Tammara Webber was a title that kept appearing along with Slammed by Colleen Hoover.  Since I adored Slammed, this read-alike was an obvious choice.  Why do I love new adult, sooo much? Well, I am one!  As much as I like YA, I do sometimes crave a little more mature content.  ‘New adult’ targets this missing piece in the publishing world, and includes real issues that college students, and young adults face.  While I have not personally dealt with the very serious issue of sexual assault portrayed throughout ‘Easy’, I realize that it is a real concern for college campuses everywhere.

I think Webber handled the delicate topic of sexual assault well, and I appreciated the emphasis on the need to report such incidents, and the message that it is NEVER the victim’s fault.  I just expected Jacqueline to show a little more emotion after the attack, but she quickly focused all her attention on classes, her ex-boyfriend and new crush. That being said, everyone experiences trauma differently and we can’t expect the same reaction from everyone.

This attempted sexual assault in the first couple of pages powerfully sets up the storyline of the book. I thought the college setting was portrayed realistically, but no professor of mine would have been so quick to forgive missing an exam.  Also, I’m not familiar with the Greek fraternity system, so I really didn’t understand the boys’ rationale in covering up the assaults. However, I did like the portrayal of how different individuals (victim, families, friends, social groups) are all affected by such a crime.  It shows how an attack on one person has a rippling effect on other people’s lives.

In terms of Jacqueline and Lucas’ budding romantic relationship, I thoroughly enjoyed the flirty email exchanges.  Yet, I found their on/off status to be a little frustrating.  When they were ‘on’, they had undeniable chemistry, which created some pretty steamy make out scenes.  I must warn you, Lucas fits the tortured, hot, tattooed bad boy love interest that is often played out in YA novels.  But, he does manage to step a little outside the box, as he is also portrayed as sensitive, artistic, and intelligent. In the end, you can’t help but fall for Lucas too.

A recommended read; especially for those that enjoyed Slammed.

Wonder by R.J Palacio

From Goodreads:

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?

wonder

Inspired by all the other ‘Auggies’, Palacio wrote this Wonderful funny, contemporary, junior fiction book about a boy born with a facial deformity.

Divided into eight parts, August’s story is told by a variety of intertwining characters:  August himself, Via (his sister), Summer (his friend), Justin (Via’s boyfriend), and Miranda (Via’s old friend).  Some perspectives were a curious addition, as I didn’t feel they were completely necessary to provide insight into August’s struggles.  I was expecting to come across the bully’s (Julian) point of view, and hoping for August’s parents.  Sadly, I was disappointed.

I loved reading about August’s loving and supportive family. The dynamics are interesting, especially with the insight to Via’s feelings of neglect and the special bond with her grandmother.  Coming second to August all the time would be extremely difficult. However, being born with a facial deformity would be even more challenging. I think August’s enduring spirit and his ability to poke fun of himself is what readers will fall in love with.  Although it is classified as ‘junior fiction’, it has an important message of acceptance, fitting in, inner beauty and bullying that makes it a great read for all ages.

As the story closes, the uplifting ending was just a tad too perfect and a little unrealistic.  However, the overall warm message about courage and love really tugged my heart strings so I’m willing to let my critiques go. I know everyone has their own insecurities (often not as obvious as August’s) but it’s a nice reminder to ‘always try to be a little kinder than necessary’ to all those you come in contact with.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

From Goodreads:

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

forgive me

I picked up this advanced reading copy (to be released August 2013) at OLA this past January.  At first, I noticed the interesting cover, and then I recognized the author, Matthew Quick (author of Silver Linings Playbook).

I found the book to be an honest, yet difficult read. The storyline boils down to a day and half of Leonard planning a murder/suicide. Immediately, I found Leonard to be a very unlikable pessimistic character until we finally learn why he has such hatred toward his classmate, Asher.  Leonard demonstrates all the warning signs of suicide (change in appearance, giving away possessions) and only his teacher Herr Silvermann and elderly neighbour Walt seem to notice.  His family situation saddened me.

His teacher recommended that Leonard write letters from the future to help him imagine his future and serve as a reminder that his life can get better. Although I think the idea behind it makes sense, I didn’t enjoy the inclusion of his sci-fi letters. I found them so out there and I’m not even sure how that could even help him as it won’t even come close to resembling his true future. Also, the letters were never explained until after the first one, so I was very confused when I first came across it.   I also didn’t enjoy the over use and length of the footnotes. I have never seen such lengthy footnotes; some take up the majority of the page.

Overall, I think a lot of reluctant readers (especially teen boys) would enjoy this book.  It is a contemporary read that includes: curse words, a WW11 Nazi handgun, threat of violence, a mysterious Holocaust teacher, and the questioning of religion and adult happiness.  I found the ending very fitting and true to the story and characters, even if it wasn’t the happiest.

Review: Winter town by Stephen Emond

Every winter, straight-laced, Ivy League bound Evan looks forward to a visit from Lucy, a childhood pal who moved away after her parent’s divorce. But when Lucy arrives this year, she’s changed. The former “girl next door” now has chopped dyed black hair, a nose stud, and a scowl. But Evan knows that somewhere beneath the Goth, “Old Lucy” still exists, and he’s determined to find her… even if it means pissing her off.

I think Emonds did a great job at writing a contemporary YA novel that tackles issues that have long plagued teens and young adults. In the book, Lucy is experiencing the effects of a broken home and turning to drugs and alcohol. On the flip side, Evan is dealing with his micromanaging parents and trying to live up to their expectations.

Both Evan’s and Lucy’s story is told in third person. The first half is Evan’s perspective and the second is Lucy’s. I found that it was less confusing than alternating chapters. It is interesting to note that Evan’s chapters were named after Beatles songs, and Lucy’s had Beach Boys (their favourite artists).

Visual elements played a big part in the book starting with the beautiful cover.  Circles created from a hole punch were used as snow!  Since art/comics are significant in both Evan and Lily’s lives there are bits of cartoons throughout the story. At the beginning of every chapter there is also a two-page cartoon spread. I’m not a huge cartoon/graphic novel lover so I have to admit I didn’t quite understand Evan’s drawings of ‘Aelysthia’ (Evan and Lucy’s made up fantasy world).

Overall, many teens will be able to relate to having dysfunctional families, the difficulty of maintaining childhood friendships, and living up to others expectations.  The book will also appeal to those that appreciate graphics to break up the text.

In the end, the book reminded me to not ‘sweat the small stuff’ in my daily life as others around me are often dealing with much bigger issues. On tough days, try to remember:


Review: Dead To You by Lisa McMann

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It’s a miracle… at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn’t going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he’d be able to put the pieces back together. But there’s something that’s keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable…

Wow, I read this book at record-breaking speed. I could not put it down. I found myself reading faster and faster to get to the shocking ending.  As you read through this book, expect to feel a wide range of emotions as you follow the very lost and confused character of Ethan.  The story is told entirely from his perspective, so I found myself empathizing with his frustration at his lack of early childhood memories. At first, I was so shocked and angered at how Ethan’s younger brother Blake treated him, but as Blake aggressively continued, I too began to wonder—what if he’s right? It’s the character of Blake and Gracie (the ‘replacement child’)that help to hook the readers into the story. I really liked how Gracie eased the tension too.  The whole situation (parent’s worse nightmare come true) felt really authentic as they tried to adjust and put together their new life as a family. Without a doubt, it would be a messy difficult task, and I’m glad that McMann showed them obtaining professional help.  Overall, it is a darker themed book and will not appeal to all readers but I’m glad I picked it up.

*Just a warning note- since the story is told from Ethan’s unfiltered perspective, there are some sexual references, and explicit language.

Review: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Goodreads:

I’m telling you why we broke up, Ed. I’m writing it in this letter, the whole truth of why it happened.

Min Green and Ed Slaterton are breaking up, so Min is writing Ed a letter and giving him a box. Inside the box is why they broke up. Two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. Item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

                   

After visiting the HarperCollins booth at the OLA conference, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Daniel Handler’s book, Why We Broke Up. The booth was promoting the book with a ‘why we broke up’ display, allowing people to post the reason why their relationship ended.  Not only was the title heavily promoted, it also received recognition as a 2012 Printz Honor Book (excellence in young adult lit). Lastly, readers may better know author Daniel Handler as his other pen name ‘Lemony Snicket’.  Yes- it’s true! Handler wrote the fabulous, A Series of Unfortunate Events.  With all this build up, I was expecting great, great things from this book. 

Unfortunately, I’m telling you why I didn’t like your book, Daniel Handler.

First off, I could never connect with the sophisticated/artsy/mature/old soul of a teenager, Min. She never felt authentic to me and I was annoyed when she constantly referred to old movies/scenes.  I’m not even sure they were real movies, but honestly, I don’t care enough to find out. I mostly skimmed through any reference to an old movie or actor (which was a lot!)

Min’s narration made me bonkers. It was stream of consciousness writing, so she just wrote on and on and on with really long sentences that didn’t always make a lot of sense. It made the writing really hard to follow and I often had to go back and re-read the passages.  If I had a difficult time reading the break up letter, I’m pretty sure the co-captain of the basketball team isn’t going to read a 300+ page break up letter.   Min would be better off burning the stuff.

I almost wish I got an e-book version of this book because it is physically heavy. The thick glossy pages made my wrists hurt! Also, in terms of formatting, the book could have done without all that white space surrounding the text. However, I did really like the addition of Maira Kalman’s drawings of things Mina placed in the breakup box. I also loved reading the break up stories of other YA authors on the back of the book.

Overall, it’s really up to you to decide whether you want to start a relationship with this book…  our personalities didn’t match, but perhaps you fared better? Let me know!

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