Warcross by Marie Lu

I absolutely love Marie Lu, but her Young Elites trilogy was not my favorite. They felt boring and a little contrived, which was why I was so worried when I began to read Warcross. Additionally, Warcross centers around video games, a topic I am completely uneducated in. But, her Legend trilogy has remained a constant favorite of mine, so I picked Warcross up.

Initially, all my worst fears were confirmed. Warcross begins with bounty hunter Emika Chen flying around Times Square, following people who have amassed steep debts gambling on the popular video game warcross. From the moment Emika began describing the beauty of Times Square, it was clear Lu lives in Los Angeles.

“Everyone- everyone– played Warcross. Some played it intensely, forming teams and battling for hours. Others played by… lounging on a virtual beach… Still others played by wearing their glasses while walking … showing off their virtual pet tigers…. However people played, it became a way of life.”

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July Wrap Up

What Happened This Month

I cannot believe it’s August already! July seems to have flown by. Many books I’m excited about came out this month, such as Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana. Also, at the bookstore I worked at, I worked an event with Joyce Carol Oates, which was incredible.

40B239F2-556B-4B10-96B9-99D9C85906A4.jpgWhat I’m Reading Right Now

I’m reading When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I’ve been searching for the perfect summer read and I think I’ve just about found it. Unexpectedly funny and heartfelt, Menon’s debut is perfect for a beach day. Although I’m not done with When Dimple Met Rishi, I have high hopes. Stay tuned!

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A Million Junes by Emily Henry

A Million Junes was the last book I read in Morocco for a couple reasons. The first: I didn’t really want to read it. I didn’t love Henry’s debut, so I thought A Million Junes might be similar. Second: A Million Junes is pitched as a romance novel, which is not exactly the genre I gravitate towards. Third: This reason’s a little silly, but it’s true. All of the other books I brought were paperbacks, and I didn’t want to lug around a heavy hardback book in my bag. But, eventually, with no other options left, I became deprived of words on the page, and picked up A Million Junes.

While A Million Junes is technically a romance novel, the heart of the story is about a struggle all teenagers go through- growing up and reconciling their parents’ views with their own. June, the protagonist, falls in love with a boy from a family her late father believes is evil. June cannot fit this description with her boyfriend, Sal, who she feels is one of the only people making an effort to understand her. At the end of the day though, her father is dead. He can’t stop her.

“Grief is an unfillable hole in your body. It should be weightless, but it’s heavy. Should be cold, but it burns. Should, over time, close up, but instead it deepens.”

Simultaneously, June is entering senior year in high school. While her friends are all planning out college, careers, and beyond, she is content staying at home. She feels the need to be a homebody, a traditional, scrappy, farmer’s daughter. This is everything Sal and his family are not- which is what seems to fuel the divide. June is forced to reconsider her whole life when she meets- not a boy, don’t worry- her creative writing teacher. Suddenly, she has an outlet and a way to explore her world. Maybe leaving the farm her family has owned for generations wouldn’t be too bad after all.

A Million Junes is the story of a girl caught between two worlds- where she is and where she might want to go. While there are whimsical elements to the story (a pink ghost, dandelion fluff that lets you jump into memories), I found the most touching moments were grounded in realism. Henry’s second novel felt real in a way her first did not- it is clear to me she has grown enormously as a writer.

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

“I just don’t like how she feels the need to describe every chair in the room when writing,” a friend told me when describing Harvard professor and Guggenheim fellow Claire Messud’s latest. With this review in mind, I went into The Burning Girls was doubt on my mind. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. It may just be a difference in preference, but I really enjoyed the detail Messud wrote in- I feel it added layers and dimension to the suburban Massachusetts town she was describing.

The Burning Girls is the story of a crumbling friendship as told by teenage Julia, who feels left behind by her childhood best friend Cassie. The two meet as toddlers and the story follows them through tenth grade as their dynamic shifts and they grow into their adult selves. Julia lives a predictable life- the middle class daughter of a dentist, she is comfortable but always reaching for something more. It seems she is drawn to Cassie because of the unpredictability she adds to Julia’s life. Cassie has a tumultuous home life and a lack of foresight- when her hand is mauled by a dog in the beginning of the novel the circumstances make it no surprise to the reader. The two grow apart in high school. Cassie falls into a party-girl persona and obsession with someone she will never have. Julia follows the path lined up for her- success on the school’s speech team, nice boyfriend, new friends with similar interests and aspirations.

“Sometimes I felt that growing up and being a girl was about learning to be afraid. Not paranoid, exactly, but always alert and aware, like checking out the exits in the movie theater or the fire escape in a hotel.”

 

It is nice to see a realistic depiction of growing into yourself as a teenager written by an adult, but something just felt off in the novel. I found the observations about growing up as a girl relatable and introspective, but the sometimes the depictions of teenagers felt outdated. Cassie and Julia talked almost like modern teenagers, but not quite. They almost acted in the same way as modern teens, but not quite. The liked the same things as modern teens, but not quite. At times, The Burning Girls felt like a novel written about teenagers by an adult.

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

Books like This Savage Song are like candy to me. Easy to read, fast paced, and a little predictable, I enjoy reading these novels as a break from denser novels with more complex themes. Books like This Savage Song are often labelled as bad, but I believe a book doesn’t have to be a literary masterpiece with layers of meaning to unfold for it to be an engaging read. A good book should be defined as something you enjoy, and that was exactly the case for me in This Savage Song.

Victoria, “V. E” Schwab’s debut for young adults follows two teens, Kate Harker and August Flynn. Kate is a stereotypical Young Adult heroine: rich, white, rebellious, and somehow, despite her upscale grooming, a fantastic fighter. August is not so stereotypical. In fact, he’s not even human. He is a Sunai- a being borne of a tremendous tragedy (in his case a school shooting) who looks human but feeds on the souls of “sinners” (defining who that means is a main topic in this novel). The two live on opposite sides of a city and meet at an affluent prep school. But, little does Kate know, August is spying on her for his family which is on the brink of war with her family. Their parents are not exactly mob bosses, but pretty close to it. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Romeo and Juliet? Not quite. August and Kate are never romantically involved, instead working as friends to stop a looming uprising of beings similar to August- Malchais, who are borne from the violent death of a human.

“It was a cruel trick of the universe, thought August, that he only felt human after doing something monstrous.”

This Savage Song is not completely original, but that is kind of nice. I like the comfort of knowing what’s going to happen and the certainty of an ending with a bow wrapped around it. Still, This Savage Song surprised me in some places. Occasionally the script veered off a typical YA dystopian novel, but overall, it remained on brand. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad. I’m going to read the next in this duology, Our Dark Duet, and I encourage you too as well. It can be nice to escape your world sometimes.

The Best Books to Bring on a Long Flight

Recently, I flew nine hours from JFK airport in New York all the way to RBA in Rabat, Morocco. The trip was long, but made much nicer by all the books I brought along to read. If you have a lengthy flight coming up and are stressing over what to read: relax! Hopefully, these recommendations will give you an idea.

The Novel You’ve Been Wanting to Read Forever

A long flight is the perfect time to crack open a novel you’ve been wanting to read but are perhaps intimidated by (whether that be because of length, language, themes, etc). For me, this book was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This read was probably my favorite out of the five and I cannot recommend it enough!

The Page Turner (Preferably Fantasy or Adventure)

This novel is for when you just want to lose yourself. Best for quickly passing time, I would recommend This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab. I recently saw her at an event and was immediately fascinated by her easily phrased yet thoughtful writing. Another great read is Strange the Dreamer or Daughter of Smoke and Bone both by Laini Taylor.

The Guidebook

A friend gave me Insight Guide to Morocco, but I would also recommend any guide by Lonely Planet. My advice is to use these guides to get a general sense of your destination, but to not make exact plans from them. Sometimes, it can be more rewarding to just wander.

The “Research” Novel

Under the guise of research, find an interesting book by a native author or book set in your destination. I checked out The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca by Tahir Shah.

An Old Favorite

Sometimes, when venturing so far from home, you may begin to feel homesick. I associate certain novels with times or places in my life, so I will usually bring an old favorite that reminds me of home. Besides quelling homesickness, this book will allow you to rediscover why you love to read. I brought To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

I remember first reading To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han in seventh grade and immediately finding a connection with the protagonist, Lara Jean. My mom had just died and I was searching for someone not to tell me it was going to be okay or that they were so sorry, but someone to show me they can be successful and flourishing without a mother by their side. Lara Jean was exactly that. Her mom had died when she was nine (she was sixteen at the beginning of the novel) and Lara Jean was still thriving.

“I have a feeling that when I’m Stormy’s age, these everyday moments will be what I remember: Peter’s head bent, biting into a chocolate chip cookie; the sun coming through the cafeteria window, bouncing off his brown hair; him looking at me.”

Two books and a few years later, I am still finding solace and relatability in Lara Jean. She is now eighteen and about to go off to college. The center of her story has shifted to her relationship with her boyfriend and her changing family dynamic (her father is getting married). I loved the way Han portrayed Lara’s feelings about her step-mother-to-be. After my mom died, I moved in with my dad and his girlfriend, similar to how Lara Jean’s dad’s fiance moves in with her family. The relationship between Lara Jean and her father’s girlfriend is at some times complicated, but always realistic. Even still, the best relationship was between Lara Jean and her mother. Lara Jean struggles with advice her mother gave her, “never go to college with a boyfriend.” This advice, which goes against what Lara would like to do, leads to a struggle between honoring a beloved mother’s memory and moving on successfully. This is something I struggle with, too. How Han manages to capture exactly what I felt during this challenge, I am unsure. Whatever she does, it is truly moving.

And I haven’t even talked about the relationship between Lara Jean and her boyfriend, Peter. He is not just a plot device used to further character development, but a three dimensional person who is not restricted to what would be most convenient to write about. Throughout the novel, it felt like Lara Jean was an older sister or cousin, laughing and telling you about her many successes and failures.

Novels like Han’s remind me about why I love Young Adult. Sure, there are great novels about girls defying the system or liberating their authoritarian societies- but there are also stories like Lara Jean’s. These stories reach out to girls who may be struggling and give them a genuine perspective they can connect to and learn from. Lara Jean’s last chapter closes with everything it began with- the awkwardly sincere and perpetually hopeful writing of a teenager girl trying to figure her future out. I can’t wait to share her story with my little sister when she gets older.

PS: Check out my review of the second novel in Lara Jean’s story, PS I Still Love You.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Remember 2012, when books like Divergent and The Hunger Games were popular? Dystopian novels had a moment, then faded into contemporary hits like The Fault in Our Stars. Until a recent resurgence in the popularity of dystopian classics, I hadn’t really thought of dystopians that much. Race, religion, space colonization, pollution, classism, nuclear weaponry, disease, shrinking privacy and growing surveillance- every issue under the sun seemed to already have a book written about it. Yet still, National Book Award winner Neal Shusterman, has written a dystopian truly unlike any other.

In the not so distant future, humankind has reached the apex of technological improvement and created the Thunderhead (meant to be like iCloud), the most powerful super computer in existence. It had eradicated disease, hunger, pollution, any true sense of class- but most importantly the Thunderhead has found a way to end mortality. No one can die naturally (and if they do decide to hurl themselves off a building for instance, they can be “revived”). This has turned  humanity into, as one character remarks, archaic cartoons like Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner. However, due to population growth, some humans must be “gleaned.” This is the job of scythes, of which the two protagonists are training to become.

“The greatest achievement of the human race was not conquering death. It was ending government.”

What is so remarkable about Scythe is that there is truly no problems with the society. The government is not corrupt because there is no government, crime rates are microscopic because there is no motivator if everyone is equal, and the Thunderhead is not some robo terrorist that is hell bent on destroying all life. While some find this lack of visceral conflict boring, I enjoyed this aspect of Scythe. Instead of fighting for a “better” society, the characters spend the majority of their time pondering the ethics of killing- not whether it should be done, but how exactly it is done most humanely and if it is truly killing if the “victim” is willing to die. Of course, there is some conflict- but not the bloody, violent kind that dystopian novels tend to favor.

“Innocence is doomed to die a senseless death at our own hands, a casualty of the mistakes we can never undo. So we lay to rest the wide-eyed wonder we once thrived upon, replacing it with the scars of which we never speak, too knotted for any amount of technology to repair.”

I love books that force me to consider my own ideals, which is why Scythe is now one of my favorites. Seasoned author Neal Shusterman does not disappoint, so I urge you to head to your favorite indie bookstore today and pick up a copy of his latest.

5 Great Books About School

I only have three weeks left of school- then I’m off to Morocco for a month. Throughout my middle school experience I have found many books about the horrors,  terrors, and gruesome three years of middle school. Some of these books are fantastic- some are far from it. Here are five books I feel like exemplify my school experience (so far). Onto the next chapter!

Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

Written by teenager Maya Van Wagenen, Popular follows Maya as she navigates 8th grade while following Betty Cornell’s Guide to Teen Age Popularity. Awkwardly funny, Popular explores generational differences and what makes a modern teenager. Check out my full review here.

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Also written by a teenager (it’s no coincidence the best books about teenagers are also written by them), Falling into Place follows a teenage queen bee who decides to end her life. If you liked Before I Fall, you’ll love this. Check out my full review here.

The Graces by Laure Eve

The Graces is by no means a realistic depiction of high school. Often, it borders on fantasy. However, the underlying messages of wealth, class, and idolization of the rich are issues teenagers work through every day. Check out my full review here.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

With an unflinching, candid voice Starr Carter describes race relations and being one of two African American kids in her tony, white prep school. Starr’s inner commentary is funny yet insightful- I often found myself stopping my reading to think about what she said. Check out my full review here.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour

Nina LaCour’s debut about a girl reeling after her best friend’s suicide is a savvier, smarter, and better written alternative to the popular 13 Reasons Why. Check out my full review here.

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

I absolutely adore Nina LaCour. She writes candidly about relationships- friendships, romance, family, in a way few other authors do. Through a mixture of inside jokes, intelligent observations, and awkwardly realistic interactions, LaCour builds characters so real they practically step off the page.

We Are Okay follows grief stricken Marin staying at her virtually empty college over winter break. Before her matriculation that fall, Marin’s grandfather (and only living relative) killed himself, causing her to flee her hometown of San Francisco for freezing New York. As all the best authors do, LaCour draws on her own experiences- in her acknowledgments, she remembers her own recently deceased grandfather. Over Marin’s winter break, she begins to untangle the relationships she left behind in San Francisco and why exactly her beloved grandfather’s death was so painful.

“She leans over our table and turns the sign in the window so that it says CLOSED on the outside. But on our side, perfectly positioned between Mabel’s place and mine, it says OPEN. If this were a short story, it would mean something.”

While I loved the themes of We Are Okay, I felt the writing was sometimes clunky or clichéd. I have noticed an uptick of more metaphorical writing in Young Adult and I am not a fan. This may be more of a personal preference, but I believe it is more admirable to be concise yet detailed- not meandering and flowery.

We Are Okay tackles isolation- which is, in Marin’s case, both literally and figuratively. LaCour also writes about honesty and what is left unsaid in relationships and how these omissions may shape false perceptions. LaCour continues to stun while writing about seemingly normal lives. I look forward to her next book.