I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Oh, my heart! One minute this book had it bursting with happiness and the next it was broken to bits. The last book to send my emotions on such a roller coaster ride was The Fault in Our Stars (although I wasn't reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears with this one, thank God).
I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by both twins, in two different times of their lives. Both narrations are perfectly interwoven, and the whole story is revealed to readers only at the very end of the book. Along the way, each twin narrates their version of events in their own distinct voice.
All of the characters were fantastic, but especially the twins. They both develop tremendously throughout the book, and their changes are seen mainly through the eyes of the other. This, combined with their individual artistic creations, adds volumes to their characters. I am head-over-heels in love with both of them, their myriad eccentricities, and the way Nelson wrote them.
If I ever meet Jandy Nelson, I am going to hug her for writing not one but two gorgeous love stories into this book. Fairly realistic and definitely swoon-worthy (I was honestly so happy I was lightheaded at one point), both Noah's love story and Jude's deserve some serious praise.
Towards the end of the book, Nelson starts to wax poetic a but much; the last chapter is filled with its fair share of cheesy lines. The chapters themselves are rather monstrous in size (some of them are 100+ pages) and should probably have been broken down more. However, the guidance-counselor quotes and incredibly lengthy chapters weren't egregious enough errors to take anything away from this shining example of YA fiction.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a rooftop to yell about this book from.
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.
Everything Leads to You is the perfect book to read on a lazy afternoon, or backstage. Emi's job as a set decorator - in Hollywood, not even just in a high school - made me like her instantly. As a theatre tech, I probably got a lot more into Emi's project than most readers. Even without a drama background, readers will find the backlot setting interesting and different from most YAs.
Lacour has a particular talent in bringing characters to life. Emi is both prodigious and down-to-earth, grown up and talented while still being a typical teenager. Even the characters in the movies Emi works on undergo character development.
The best element of this book is the romance. It's written like a million other romances, but that's what makes it awesome. Everything Leads to You is a completely unabashed lesbian romance, a shining example of LGBTQ representation in YA. Romantics everywhere will be smiling when they finish this book.
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
A dead girl walks the streets.
She hunts murderers. Child killers, much like the man who threw her body down a well three hundred years ago.
And when a strange boy bearing stranger tattoos moves into the neighborhood so, she discovers, does something else. And soon both will be drawn into the world of eerie doll rituals and dark Shinto exorcisms that will take them from American suburbia to the remote valleys and shrines of Aomori, Japan.
Because the boy has a terrifying secret - one that would just kill to get out.
The Girl from the Well is based off a well-known ghost story, and even though it has already been adapted several times, Chupeco brings new depth for the story. It's creepy but not bone-chilling, more dedicated to the characters than the horror. Okiku is an incredibly complex character, a vengeful spirit as well as Tark's protector. I loved her.
Although I'm not the best judge, it felt like Chupeco did a lot of research into Japanese mythology/folklore, not just for Okiku's story but for the basics of Tark's story. The tie-in to Japanese legend is what really made the story; if Chupeco had simply invented a character who avenged the deaths of children the story might have become a melodramatic horror film pretty quickly. Instead, it gave me goosebumps.
I'll be honest, I'm not the most hardy when it comes to horror, but I do like to be scared by horror books. The Girl from the Well wasn't outright scary - I didn't feel the need to check over my shoulder every two seconds - but I think that part of that was due to Chupeco's development of Okiku's character. Unlike most horror characters, she has a depth and a human side to her that make it hard to be really scared of her. Unless you're a child-killer. Tark's demon was another whole story - she freaked me out. But I didn't really get the sense that she was threatening to me, the reader, which is what makes most horror books so...freaky. (I have to say, though, imaging a drowned ghost walking on the ceiling and gurgling...no, thanks).
The entire book is written in Okiku's voice, which fits her character perfectly. It's slightly threatening, and sad, and it has a tone of formality to it that suggests age. The other characters' voices, which come through in their dialogue, are equally well-written, though Okiku's is the most impressive. It sets the book's writing apart from a lot of books, as does the relationship between Tark and Okiku. If you're thinking romance, think again - although their relationship develops throughout the book and is both cute and slightly disturbing, there's no paranormal romance! Thank you, Rin Chupeco!
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Emily Bird was raised not to ask questions. She has perfect hair, the perfect boyfriend, and a perfect Ivy-League future. But a chance meeting with Roosevelt David, a homeland security agent, at a party for Washington DC's elite leads to Bird waking up in a hospital, days later, with no memory of the end of the night.
Meanwhile, the world has fallen apart: A deadly flu virus is sweeping the nation, forcing quarantines, curfews, even martial law. And Roosevelt is certain that Bird knows something. Something about the virus--something about her parents' top secret scientific work--something she shouldn't know.
The only one Bird can trust is Coffee, a quiet, outsider genius who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. And he believes in Bird. But as Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what really happened that night, Bird finds that she might know more than she remembers. And what she knows could unleash the biggest government scandal in US history.
I am so disappointed! Government scandal, martial law, and epidemic disease are all great ingredients for a book, but they just didn't work this time. The general idea of Love is the Drug is fantastic, but the details are more flawed. Most of the plot of was made up of vague impressions, which got very confusing very fast. If you asked for a detailed synopsis of the book, I honestly wouldn't be able to give it to you. In a nutshell, the government did something very scandalous but not very surprising and a bad guy tried to keep it hidden but failed. Of course, the only reason he failed is because he scared Bird into uncovering the scandal, but that's a discussion for another time.
The bad guy is Roosevelt David, who is supposedly a very dangerous rogue homeland security officer. Only problem is, he's not that scary. Most of what he does is speak cryptically and act like a poorly-scripted character in a low-budget Bond knockoff. If you're going to cast a character as terrifying, you have to give readers some reason to fear them, and there wasn't really any reason to fear Roosevelt until the end of the book (you can argue that he should be feared in the beginning, too, but at that point there's no concrete evidence, so I hold my ground).
The other characters - especially Bird - are what saved this book. They represent a range of personalities, and they are almost all people of color, which is great to see with so many white characters in YA books. Bird herself was the best character, in my opinion. I admired her rebelliousness, and her bravery, especially during her final few confrontations with Roosevelt. However, I lost a bit of respect for her when she fell victim to typical YA-romance stupidity.
Speaking of the romance, not all of it was stupidity. Johnson did an excellent job of building Bird and Coffee's relationship, and I have to admit the two of them were pretty cute together. The only fault I can really find with Bird and Coffee's romance is that they treat it like it's true love. Not to say that you can't fall in love when you're seventeen, but the idea of finding the one and only person you could possibly be happy with is an overused cliche - and not just in YA. The otherwise sweet romance suffered a bit because of that.
Love is the Drug had so much potential, and I really wish it had lived up to it. Had Roosevelt been a better villian, or the plot been easier to follow, or the romance not so cliched, I might have given it one or two more stars. As it is, I wouldn't recommend it to readers looking for stories about government scandals or epidemics; I might recommend it to romance readers who want something a little more exciting than boy-meets-girl.
Welcome to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz
What’s your worst nightmare?
For Ivy Jensen, it’s the eyes of a killer that haunt her nights. For Parker Bradley, it’s bloodthirsty sea serpents that slither in his dreams.
And for seven essay contestants, it’s their worst nightmares that win them an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at director Justin Blake’s latest, confidential project. Ivy doesn’t even like scary movies, but she’s ready to face her real-world fears. Parker’s sympathetic words and perfect smile help keep her spirits up. . . at least for now.
Not everyone is so charming, though. Horror-film fanatic Garth Vader wants to stir up trouble. It’s bad enough he has to stay in the middle of nowhere with this group—the girl who locks herself in her room; the know-it-all roommate; “Mister Sensitive”; and the one who’s too cheery for her own good. Someone has to make things interesting.
Except, things are already a little weird. The hostess is a serial-killer look-alike, the dream-stealing Nightmare Elf is lurking about, and the seventh member of the group is missing.
By the time Ivy and Parker realize what’s really at stake, it’s too late to wake up and run.
This is probably the wimpiest horror book I've ever read - and I have been reading wimpy horror books for years (ever since Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark traumatized toddler-me). Now that I've come to appreciate the horror genre, I want to be scared. Afraid to keep reading but unable to put the book down, sleeping-with-the-light-on, shaky-handed scared. I was utterly disappointed by this book.
At one point I put on horror movie sound tracks as background noise to try and make up for the complete lack of creep factor. Sure, there were a few moments were I was undoubtedly uneasy, and I can certainly understand why the characters were terrified, but I did not share in their fear. Some parts of the plot (the serial-killer lookalike hostess, for example) were completely pointless, thrown in as if Stolarz pulled random ideas out of a B-List Horror Movie Grab Bag. Maybe I should have seen that coming - after all, the (fictional) Nightmare Elf film franchise that the story revolves around is undeniably B-list horror.
This type of book definitely has a place on the bookshelves of readers who are looking for less frightening horror books. Welcome to the Dark House is perfect for younger readers just graduating from the Goosebumps series, although some of R.L. Stein's stories completely trump Stolarz' in terror.
The characters were only marginally better than the plotline. All of them exhibit classic horror-movie stupidity at some point, unfortunately. They have a little bit of complexity to them, but only Ivy is really developed - and all of the girls are described mainly in terms of how cute/hot they are. Petty, insta-love relationships spring up (quite literally) in the middle of life-or-death situations. My only response to this is a massive eye-roll.
I don't mean to offend anyone who did enjoy this book - up until last year, this is probably the extent of horror that I would have been willing to read. However, if this book scares the pants of you, my advice is to at least try sleeping without the night-light.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.