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.
Solitaire by Alice Oseman
My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.
Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.
I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.
I really don’t.
This book just got better and better the more I read. I started off vaguely intrigued but unsure if I was going to like it, and by the end it had totally blown my mind. The concept of Solitaire and its mission was engrossing (and there is definitely some influence from tumblr ideologies in there).
Tori isn't immediately the most likable character (she's sort of a downer, and she doesn't like books), but the more I read, the more I liked her. The more I related to her - and not just on a blogging-teenager level. She is deeply flawed, in the sort of way most human beings are, and that made her feel very real. I almost feel like I've been snooping in my friend's diary, to be honest.
Tori narrates the way teenagers think, which most YA authors get wrong. (This may be due to the fact that Oseman was eighteen when she wrote Solitaire, but that only makes me more impressed with her.) She also recognizes when she's being thickheaded or irrational, which makes her more likable. Plus, all of the main characters undergo a bit of character development - the most remarkable being Tori's, of course. Even Becky, who starts out a little flat, becomes a really interesting character.
Oseman deserves some serious congratulations for Solitaire. This book is 400 pages of distilled teenagedom - with some anarchy thrown in. Teenagers will be able to relate, and older readers will thank God they survived this craziness.
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
I am convinced that Rainbow Rowell lives in a radioactive library, because she has writing superpowers.
Landline is just as fabulous as all her previous books (which I love with all my heart), and maybe even more so, because it's adult fiction. I don't read much adult fiction for the simple reason that I have nothing in common with forty-somethings worried about high school reunions and impending divorce. Not only that, but a lot of those forty-somethings are insufferably whiny.
In swoops Rowell to save the day!
Landline tells Georgie and Neal's story in what is essentially three parts: the time they met, 1998 (where Past-Neal is), and the present day. The writing is gorgeous, the love story sweet, and the conflicts realistic. Georgie and Nearl have a much more believable love story than three quarters of the fictional couples out there. And they deal with their problems like normal people instead of reality TV stars.
Every character in Landline is one-of-a-kind and gorgeously written. They are all lovably flawed, and some of them are hilarious, and the kids are adorable. Even the side characters are fantastic. There's even a touch of diversity!
With a magic telephone, Back to the Future refernces, and fantastic writing, Rowell has taken the cake in adult romance. I don't have enough adjectives to describe this book. Ingenious, brilliant, and witty come to mind, with about a hundred others.
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
A.S. King's ability to write a book that feels real, no matter what unrealistic elements are included in it, is one of my favorite things about her writing. Her characters could live down the street from you, or have the locker next to yours. Vera is no exception. Even with a touch of the supernatural (hello, Charlie), Vera's story resembles that of thousands of ordinary teenagers: falling in love with your neighbor, dealing with grief, dealing with your parents and their philosophies...
Vera and Charlie are both brilliant characters; they're complicated and flawed but still likable. Interestingly, they are mirror-images of each other as well. The other characters are also pretty well hashed out, although we don't get as close a look at them. Even Jenny Flick - cast as the crazy, slacker bitch - was reasonably developed.
I absolutely love the way the book is narrated: Vera tells the story with brief, occasionally wise, interludes from her father, Charlie, and the Pagoda. Mr. Dietz's parts filled in the holes of Vera's backstory and explained a lot of her eccentricities (another thing I loved - seeing just how much Vera and Charlie's respective parents influenced them). Having the Pagoda - an inanimate object - interrupt every few chapters was genius on King's part. I feel like that pagoda taught me something about the world, although I have absolutely no idea what it is.
Another stroke of King's genius came in the form of Charlie, the pickle in Vera's Big Mac. King puts forth a very interesting view of death. Charlie's dead, but he isn't exactly in an afterlife, nor is he a typical ghost. As he tries to communicate with Vera and get her to clear his name, the reader learns a little at a time about his death and Vera's life with him. Suspense in waiting to find out how Charlie died, and why his name needs clearing in the first place, is well-paced. I don't think I stopped reading for more than an hour at a time
I would recommend Please Ignore Vera Dietz to A.S. King fans and people who like really good contemporary books. You won't be disappointed.
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid
Five strangers. Countless adventures. One epic way to get lost.
Four teens across the country have only one thing in common: a girl named LEILA. She crashes into their lives in her absurdly red car at the moment they need someone the most.
There's HUDSON, a small-town mechanic who is willing to throw away his dreams for true love. And BREE, a runaway who seizes every Tuesday—and a few stolen goods along the way. ELLIOT believes in happy endings…until his own life goes off-script. And SONIA worries that when she lost her boyfriend, she also lost the ability to love.
Hudson, Bree, Elliot and Sonia find a friend in Leila. And when Leila leaves them, their lives are forever changed. But it is during Leila's own 4,268-mile journey that she discovers the most important truth— sometimes, what you need most is right where you started. And maybe the only way to find what you're looking for is to get lost along the way.
It is impossible to stay sad while reading this book. The sweet, never-fail happy endings alone will boost your mood, but add in the adventurous, unconquerable Leila, and your frown will do a backflip.
Each character narrates only a short portion of the book, their own little adventure that ties into Leila's larger story. In the short amount of time each character gets to narrate, Alsaid develops them fully, not only with backstories, but with hints at what their futures might hold. Readers get to know Leila as she pops up in the other characters' lives, but it isn't until the last part of the book that she tells her own story - which was a creative and brilliant way to develop her character. Leila and the mystery she presented worked well to tie all the stories together.
Leila herself was exciting and witty, constantly getting into trouble. The various and often hilarious ways she helped the other characters reach their happy endings were heartwarming; sometimes a bit cheesy, but sweet all the same. There was quite a bit of romance, too (some of which was also cheesy). Only one relationship seemed a bit sudden and potentially underdeveloped; the other two were believable but cutesy.
Let's Get Lost is a good book to read on the beach or on a road trip, or when you just need a literary pick-me-up. It doesn't deal with very serious matters (for the most part; there are a few heavier parts) and doesn't require as much thought as, say, A Tale of Two Cities. This is a book to read for pure enjoyment and leisure, one that will leave you with a smile on your face.
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley
In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter's senior year of high school, he is forced to examine everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.
Meanwhile, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. When those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.
Normally, I wouldn't pick up a book that made so much of itself just in its blurb. Either it raises my expectations too high or it seems like the book is making too much of itself. Some poorly-blurbed books rise above their adjective-filled summaries, but Where Things Come Back does not.
I do agree that the story had a generous helping of absurdity. Religious zeal, prophetic visions, and weird imaginings of zombies fill the chapters. Cullen also repeatedly talks about himself in the third person (When one does this, he often...) which got old fast. Beside the absurdity, though, Where Things Come Back doesn't really live up to its descriptors.
I've heard a lot of good things about this book, and to be fair, some of them are true. The characters are likable and interesting; and Cullen makes some good points in his rambling. The chain reaction that begins with Benton Sage and spans the length of the book was pretty clever, but Cullen's chapters were duller.
If you've read more than one of my reviews, you've probably caught onto the fact that I dislike most YA romances. Where Things Come Back was happily instalove-free, but the romance still fell flat. (This may contain spoilers) It starts with Cullen's obsession over the girl, Ada, who is incidentally the hottest girl in town. Of course, Cullen gets the girl - but more because she pities him and he idolizes her than because they actually love each other. I hesistate to call it a "love story," actually; there wasn't much love. Alma Ember's love stories were a bit more realistic.
Whaley did a great job of combining the stories of Benton Sage, Cullen Witter, and everyone connected with them. They wove together seamlessly, which is no small feat. The writing of Where Things Come Back was by no means subpar, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped to.
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
Lucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they're rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.
Lucy and Owen's relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and -- finally -- a reunion in the city where they first met.
As a rule, I stay away from romance books, because I am always disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn't the right word. I just find romances to be too cliched, with too little plot. I can appreciate a good love story, but there comes a point where I can't help but roll my eyes.
For fans of teen romances, this is a fantastic book: it's sweet and the characters are fairly well developed. There wasn't much happening besides the love story; even the travel was really an extension of the romance. Throw in some family troubles and you've covered the entire plot.
I'm being a bit harsh. Honestly, I enjoyed The Geography of You and Me. As someone with permanent wanderlust, I absolutely adored the world-travel aspect of the book. The romance was sweet and I was rooting for Lucy and Owen, I'll admit. That doesn't mean there wasn't a whole lot of fluff and a few nearly-painful cliches, but The Geography of You and Me is definitely in the top 20% of teen romance.
No One Else Can Have You by Kathleen Hale
Small towns are nothing if not friendly. Friendship, Wisconsin (population: 688) is no different. Around here, everyone wears a smile. And no one ever locks their doors. Until, that is, high school sweetheart Ruth Fried is found murdered. Strung up like a scarecrow in the middle of a cornfield.
Unfortunately, Friendship’s police are more adept at looking for lost pets than catching killers. So Ruth’s best friend, Kippy Bushman, armed with only her tenacious Midwestern spirit and Ruth’s secret diary (which Ruth’s mother had asked her to read in order to redact any, you know, sex parts), sets out to find the murderer. But in a quiet town like Friendship—where no one is a suspect—anyone could be the killer.
This book is strange and wacky and I absolutely love it.
No One Else Can Have You starts off with the discovery of Ruth Fried's body, stuffed with straw and hung from a tree in the middle of a corn field - a pretty gruesome scene. As Kippy investigates her friend's death, she uncovers shocking police negligence, small town secrets, and the darker side of Friendship. But this is not an overly serious story.
Although a lot of heavier themes run through the book (murder, grief, PTSD, etc), No One Else Can Have You is funny and, above all, entertaining. Most of the dialogue contains "okeydokeys" and "don'tcha knows", the story takes a number of unexpected turns, and the characters are hilarious. Some of them are almost caricatures, but Hale rounds them out and gives them realistic and endearing qualities along with their goofier ones. Kippy herself has a lot of personality, as eccentric as she is lovable. Her honest, occasionally foot-in-mouth narration kept the story interesting. Actually, she's pretty badass. And although she's no Sherlock Holmes, Kippy was better than a lot of YA "detectives."
The murder, in all its grotesqueness, was the perfect offset to the strangeness of Friendship and its inhabitants. Kippy's investigation was amateur, as to be expected (what sixteen-year-old has access to a forensics team?), but it also carried a lot of weight with it. As Kippy uncovered more evidence that the killer was still on the loose, and as that evidence was repeatedly ignored by the police department, the more dire the situation became. Friendship's smiling, happy populace contrasted with all the secrets the town kept buried like black and white, and the contrast kept the book from being too dark or too light.
There were a few little things in the book that I didn't like as much or weren't, technically, politically correct (ie, referring to Norse mythology as "Nazi stuff"), but overall it was a solid read. The pacing is perfect, all the crazy things work, and even the romance is good. If you're looking for a cold, hard mystery novel, this isn't it. But No One Else Can Have You is a wildly entertaining story with a dark side, and the most fun you'll ever have reading about murder.
September Girls by Bennett Madison
When Sam's dad whisks him off to the beach for the summer, it doesn't take him long to realize this sleepy vacation town isn't what it seems. Time slows down around here, cell phones don't work, and everywhere Sam looks, he sees strange, beautiful girls. Girls who are inexplicably drawn to him.
As Sam begins to unravel the mystery of the Girls and their beach, he's forced to question everything he thought he knew about love, growing up, and becoming a man.
September Girls was a bit of a roller coaster ride - not emotionally, but in terms of how much I liked it. Some parts of the book were written almost lyrically, while other parts were more of a ramble. There were a few parts where Madison was clearly shooting for philosophical but didn't quite get there. Other parts were a bit more crude (there is a lot of talk about dicks/boobs/asses, and a lot of importance is placed on sex). Sam is especially guilty of that; case in point being this quote: "The moral of the story is that if you're ever offered anything that seems like it might lead to sex, there is no turning back. You just have to take it as it comes or you will remain a virgin for life." (page 123).
I have really mixed feelings about the Girls. They were mysterious and lovely and intricate, but they were also incredibly confusing. Madison didn't include much of a backstory for them; just enough for readers to gain a basic understanding. The Girls were an original twist on mermaids/sirens and they were fascinating, so I'm a little disappointed their history wasn't explained more.
The love stories had a lot of good points. Madison took the time to develop both of them, and they were both pretty sweet. I think the romance was my favorite part of the book, actually, except for maybe the end. That bit was very good. The characters, especially the main ones, but a few side ones too, were solid. They surprised me a couple times and were pretty realistic (barring the supernatural aspects of the Girls).
I enjoyed September Girls, especially the romance and mermaids, but I didn't find it all that amazing. A good beach book, but not the best read of the summer.
Trouble by Non Pratt
When the entire high school finds out that Hannah Shepard is pregnant, she has a full-on meltdown in her backyard. The one witness (besides the rest of the world): Aaron Tyler, a transfer student and the only boy who doesn’t seem to want to get into Hannah’s pants. Confused and scared, Hannah needs someone to be on her side. Wishing to make up for his own past mistakes, Aaron does the unthinkable and offers to pretend to be the father of Hannah’s unborn baby. Even more unbelievable, Hannah hears herself saying “yes.”
I was really intrigued by Pratt's novel because of Aaron's role as psuedo-dad, which made it stand out as more than just another teen-mom book. Trouble stood out in many other ways, too. Most books about teen moms either revolve around a love story with the absent/less-than-ideal father or around the mom's feelings about having a baby so young. Trouble definitely dealt with those issues - Pratt couldn't very well ignore them - but there was a lot more thrown into the mix. Hannah's reputation, what Aaron does to help save it, the effect Hannah's pregnancy has on her life and those around her, unusual family dynamics, grief, guilt, and forgiveness - all of these things are elements in Pratt's book. Hannah and Aaron deal with realistic and sometimes unconventional problems in one of the most life-like books about teen pregnancy I've read.
I don't want to pigeonhole Trouble as nothing more than a "teen-mom story,"because it has a lot more to it than that. Aaron's personal struggles add another whole layer to the story. The emotions surrounding Aaron's past and Hannah's uncertain future were raw, with no sugarcoating. Tears welled up a couple of times while I was reading.
The characters are lovely (or, in some cases, incredibly awful human beings). They handled things badly, they tried to put everything to rights, and even when they were going about it all wrong, they were lovable. (Again, excluding those couple of people. No spoilers.) Pratt presents Hannah's situation as it is, showing the downsides and consequences without shaming her. Aaron's character is troubled and moody without being melodramatic or annoying. I loved the way the characters interacted and the way their relationships changed. And I really loved hearing the story from both Aaron and Hannah's points of view. The way Pratt did the dual-narration was clever; she switched perspectives several times within a chapter to show both POVs without having to reiterate anything.
Trouble was an excellent book. It was moving and realistic, and Pratt captures the messiness of life beautifully. Trouble isn't perfect, but the good parts outnumber and outweigh the not-so-good parts. Many high-school kids will be able to relate to Aaron and Hannah, even though they're (hopefully) not in a similar situation.
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.