News Years Resolutions + What I’m Excited for in 2018

Year In Review

I can’t believe 2017 is over! It feels like just yesterday I was making new years resolutions for last year. It’s been a tough year, but I’ve grown from it and there’s been many moments I know I will cherish. For instance, the transition to boarding school was a welcome challenge and I cannot wait for the next four years. However, it can be easy to overlook big (and small) moments of joy when we are faced with the current news cycle. This year, I learned it is important now more than ever to use my voice to contact my representatives, stand up for what I believe in, and to fight for my rights.

“That’s the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give


bestofBest Young Adult Books of 2017

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway. It is hard to imagine any “best books” list without Benway’s National Book Award winning Far From the Tree. This story of three siblings begins with middle child Maya grappling with giving her baby up for adoption just as she was given up for adoption sixteen years ago.

Warcross by Marie Lu. Lu’s sci-fi thriller was an unexpected favorite. I am not usually drawn to either genre, but something about heroine Emika Chen was immediately compelling.

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Books for People Who Hate Reading

It’s that time again. The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time to pick out gifts. I find picking out the perfect present a stressful hassle, but I know that everyone, even those who absolutely despise reading, can take pleasure in the gift of a good book. Without further ado, here is the third annual holiday gift guide:

For the person who “doesn’t like reading”: 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi feels simultaneously like a sweeping multi generational family story and a collection of vignettes of each family member. This lends to easy, yet thoughtful readability.

For that one cousin you see at every reunion but have never actually talked to:

National Book Award winner Far from the Tree by Robin Benway is perfect for everyone. Far from the Tree follows three birth siblings torn apart by adoption, but reunited through interesting circumstances.

For the person who just wants to see the movie:

We all love Amandla Stenberg, and her newest movie, slated for release in 2018, is based off Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give. The Hate U Give follows Starr, a black teenager who witnesses her unarmed friend get shot by a police officer.

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No More Book Reviews by Ava

I started blogging about books in 2010 when I was seven. Now, for half of my life, I’ve written weekly about books online. I originally started on Tumblr because of the free platform and easy customization. Now, I blog on WordPress, where I pay a small annual fee for my own URL and more advanced customization options. Book Reviews by Ava is small- consisting of around 500 followers across all platforms (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, and WordPress). Because of this, if the FCC repeals net neutrality, Book Reviews by Ava will likely be no more.

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I am a full time high school student, so I do not make a steady income. Book Reviews by Ava is my passion project. I love blogging and I love the fact I can reach anyone in the world with my writing. Net neutrality makes sure I have an equal playing field to do so. Net neutrality is the simple idea that the internet is equal for all. This means all can access and create whatever content they wish. Without net neutrality, internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Comcast can charge fees to be able to look at certain websites or slow down websites that compete with their own.

Net neutrality protects everyone from start up companies like Etsy or Reddit to small book blogs like mine from predatory ISPs who will speed up or slow down our internet speed based on if we pay a fee. I will not be able to pay additional fees so that my blog loads at a competitive speed.

Not convinced that you should be worried? Check out this graphic from the Washington Post. In 2014, while Netflix and Comcast were in negotiation Netflix’s loading speeds plummeted on that network. In February 2014, Netflix loading speed shot back up. This proves companies will slow down the speed of competing websites if net neutrality is repealed.

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Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

33830437It is clear National Book Award winner Robin Benway enjoys writing about families. I was first introduced to Benway through Emmy and Oliver, her fifth book. The story begins with Oliver, who returns to his hometown after being kidnapped by his father. Far from the Tree, Benway’s sixth book, follows three siblings who discover each other after being put up for adoption and through the foster care system at birth. Although Benway’s writing occasionally feels contrived or superfluous, the message of Far From the Tree is short and sweet: family, although complicated, is essential.

The first character we are introduced to in Far from the Tree is pregnant Grace. We meet Grace as she is giving her baby up for adoption, just as her mother gave her up sixteen years ago. As Grace settles into postpartum depression, the root of her depression is slowly uncovered: she wants to find her birth mother. Grace obsessively worries if her daughter will turn out okay, so she hopes she can reassure her birth mother that she turned fine. I found Grace’s story the most powerful because it has the most circularity. Grace goes through the same struggle her mother did, which makes it all the more resonant.

The second character we meet is the fiery youngest child, Maya. Maya is loud without speaking (although she speaks more than enough) and is constantly immature, similar at times to my younger sister. Maya has family troubles, including an adoptive sister jealous of Maya’s newfound biological family, a semi-absent dad, and an alcoholic mom. However, her story often felt secondary to her siblings’. Perhaps this could have been remedied if Maya’s relationship with her adoptive sister was touched on more.

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Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

dhramebwsaaxmu6I remember when The Fault in Our Stars first got big, and I desperately wanted to read it. I was a Young Adult book reviewer, there was no reason I shouldn’t. But, I had a big obstacle. My mom. She made a point to read everything I read, and I didn’t want her knowing I was reading a romance novel. Because of this, I went through extraordinary lengths to get my hands on that book. I couldn’t buy it from my local bookstore, check it out from the library, or even borrow it from a friend (they would tell their parents, who would inevitably tell my mom). Eventually, I found it at a used book sale and hid in it my room, where I would literally read under the covers with a flashlight. Anyways, here I am, four years later, and able to say that I actually bought a John Green book and read it in public. Luckily, my mom will never know.

The first thing you must know before reading (it’s John freaking Green, of course you’ll read it), is that it will be painful. Turtles All the Way Down follows Aza, a teenager who struggles tremendously with OCD. Her story is so visceral perhaps because of Green’s experiences as someone who suffers with OCD. Green writes from inside Aza’s head- which means every thought she thinks, we, too, think. Her obsession is with the bacteria in her body and in others’ bodies, so she drains and reopens a wound on her hand constantly. Aza describes her thoughts as spirals, “the thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.” This analogy is true for the reader as well. I often found it difficult to follow Aza’s thoughts, and longed to be able to pull her out of the “spirals” she begged to be released from.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

693208Okay, so, full disclosure: I’m cheating a little with this review. This isn’t my first time reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, but the last time I read it was around fifth grade. Going into rereading, I didn’t remember much, except the fact that Alexie uses the word “faggot,” a lot (he doesn’t really, I think it just stood out because I was still shocked whenever I heard someone curse). As a 10 year old, I don’t think I really picked up on all of the themes and nuances of Alexie’s National Book Award winning novel, so I was excited to dive back into it.

“It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing that you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.”

One of the biggest differences in reading I had this time around was the fact that Junior, the main character, is my age now. It is such a weird feeling, going back to old favorites and being the same age as the protagonist. Even weirder is flipping past the copyright page ( it’s the one across from the title page) and seeing the 14+ age marker. I remember being 10, looking at that and feeling so proud for reading something that was marketed towards older kids. Now, I’m the older kid! So, in a way, I was nostalgic for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian before it even started.

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September Wrap Up

What Happened in September

September was my first month of high school! Being at a boarding school is certainly a jarring departure from the public middle school I am used to, but I am so glad to be here. I won’t lie- it’s extraordinarily hard to find time to read for fun here and I’m not sure how I’ll keep up Book Reviews by Ava. But, I know somehow I’ll find a way. Anyways, I’m so excited to see what the next four years have in store.

banner-historical-fiction-part-7-06What I’m Reading

Right now, I’m reading Anya’s War by Andrea Alban. Alban provides a window into a lesser known part of history- Shanghai during the Holocaust. Although some parts seem a bit tedious or unnecessary, the titular character Anya’s perspective is one I’ve never read about before.

What I Blogged About

Review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer. I either love or hate Meyer’s novels, and I’m glad to say I love Renegades, the first book in a new duology.

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Homegoing was a sweeping debut about a Ghanian family, specifically two sisters, as generations travel from the Gold Coast, to the cotton field of Alabama, to the streets of Harlem, and everywhere in between.

Review: North of Happy by Adi Alsaid. Alsaid’s fourth novel, about a boy working through grief by way of cooking, was lackluster at best.

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Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer is a tricky author. I adored her first series, the Lunar Chronicles, a futuristic (but not dystopian) retelling of popular fairy tales. It was light without feeling boring or simple. Her next project, a stand alone prequel to Alice and Wonderland was, simply put, a jarring departure from what I expected. This contrast made me skeptical, but still excited to see if Renegades could return Meyer to the author I know and love.

28421168-_uy400_ss400_.jpgRenegades is set in Gatlon City, a city similar to Gotham or Metropolis-  fake, futuristic and based on New York. In Gatlon, we follow two protagonists. The first is Adrian, the do-gooder son of the city’s most famous superheroes, who’s just trying to make a name for himself. There’s also the vengeance driven Nova, the niece of the city’s most famous super villain. When Renegades begins, we follow Nova as she manages to weasel her way onto Adrian’s training group, where she attempts to destroy the superheroes from the inside out. It’s a classic setup, but Meyer makes it work, adding her own twists, some which I saw coming, but many I did not.

“Maybe Ace really was a villain. Or maybe he was a visionary. Maybe there’s not much of a difference.”

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

As I sit in front of my computer, trying to piece together a review, I have found Homegoing is incredibly hard to write about. What do I mention first? The vivid descriptions that transports you through pages? The way every character is so individual yet related to every character before them? The deeply political yet never condescending writing? Rarely have I been so blown away by a novel, especially a debut.

booktalk-532c4a2f3d3a64a8It is hard to describe the sweeping epicness of Homegoing in one short review. The novel follows the family tree of two half sisters throughout the course of 300 years. Each chapter intimately describes a member of the family as they move from the Gold Coast, to Alabama, then to Harlem, and more.

“The news made it sound like the fault lay with the blacks of Harlem. The violent, the crazy, the monstrous black people who had the gall to demand that their children not be gunned down in the streets.”

What captivates me most when reading is usually the setting or characters, and Gyasi writes both wonderfully. With fourteen main characters, it can be confusing to remember who’s who, but Gyasi makes a point of creating a unique cast of characters, both in motives and personality. Continue reading

North of Happy by Adi Alsaid

I have heard so much about Adi Alsaid, but, until North of Happy, I had not read any of his books. Reviewers either love or hate him, but I walked away feeling neither emotion, more just a feeling of “this is it?” North of Happy was not shocking good, nor was it shockingly bad. It was just okay.

27391973Alsaid’s fourth novel follows Carlos, a teenager drifting through life after his brother is tragically killed. Carlos lives in Mexico City, and one of my biggest disappointments with North of Happy is that we did not get to see his neighborhood at all. With such an interesting setting, especially one Alsaid knows wells, seeing as he grew up there, I was sad to see Carlos jet off to Seattle the first chance he got.  This feeling of lost potential is one I felt throughout the novel. There were so many places I wished Alsaid elaborated- from setting to characters, and everywhere in between. The only place I really felt Alsaid’s potential shine through was when he was describing the food Carlos was making or eating.

As in many classic coming of age novels, the protagonist wants to be something unthinkable to his upper-class parents. In the particular novel, Carlos wants to be a chef, much to the distaste of his wealthy, banker father. When Carlos described the food he was eating, the novel became transcendent, the words electric. I mean, I’m a vegetarian, but there were more than a few instances where I would have happily ate what Carlos was preparing. These moments made me forget my qualms with the novel and instead happily read further.

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