King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

I have always been a sucker for so-bad-they’re-good things. I love shows like Gossip Girl and devour movies like Love, Actually. When it comes to books, I like to think I have better taste. But, the truth is, however poorly written and dully executed a novel like King’s Cage is, I still love it. I am a huge fan of Victoria Aveyard. I have met her multiple times at book festivals like YALLWest and have reviewed every single one of her books (Red Queen, Glass Sword).

Aveyard’s first novel, Red Queen, was fantastic. The plot was unique and compelling and the characters were interesting and likable. Unfortunately, Glass Sword, the sequel to Red Queen, and King’s Cage, the third novel in the series, fell short for me. The writing in both novels was overly dramatic, even silly at times. Besides this, the only character I grew to like was Evangeline Samos, who has been competition to Mare, the protagonist (Evangeline is not the antagonist per se, but not on Mare’s side) since the first page. Evangeline was a breath of fresh air- a reminder of what Aveyard can do.

“I know now I didn’t know what love was. Or what even the echo of heartbreak felt like”

What I felt King’s Cage lacked the most was great character writing. There are three narrators in this novel, all of whom sound more or less the same. These characters, especially Mare Barrow (the titular character in Red Queen) made choices that felt like they were made for the plot to continue, not because it was the correct choice for the character. However drawn out King’s Cage was (it just hits 500 pages) Aveyard still kept me turning pages. The plot wasn’t particularly interesting, but she is fantastic at dangling secrets and intrigue right beyond your reach.

I will continue to read Aveyard’s writing, even after her latest efforts. Maybe it’s my love for so-bad-they’re-good things, but I know she can get back to the distinctive writing she showcased in Red Queen, even if it takes a couple more tries.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

My first thought when picking up this book was, “I don’t want to read about another sugar coated book about loving the skin you’re in.” I have been blessed with a fast metabolism, and thus, have never gone past size 2 in clothing. Before reading Holding Up the Universe, I hadn’t really given thought to the enormous amount of unwarranted, unnecessary, and unhelpful comments that are directed to those that weigh a little more than what we define as average. I come from a place of privilege when talking about body issues, but it is undeniable that Holding Up the Universe has changed the way I will think and talk about my body and others’.

Holding Up the Universe follows Libby Strout, formerly know as “America’s Fattest Teen.” She left school in fifth grade, but has decided to go back to her local high school for her junior year. She is perfectly secure with her weight, but, upon returning to school, realizes others are not. And after a cruel joke is played on her, she is thrust into the high school spotlight.

“What is this whole ‘fat girl equals whore’ bullshit?… Why am I automatically a whore? How do that even make sense?”

Despite my initial reaction, I was excited to read Jennifer Niven’s latest novel. Her debut, All the Bright Places, fell short in terms of plot but was absolutely extraordinary when it came to characters and message. Unfortunately, Holding Up the Universe fell into the same trap. Libby’s romantic story arc felt forced and more like a tool for furthering the plot than a natural next movement. The more natural plot progressions came when Libby was dealing with grief over her mother’s death and auditioning for a dance team she had idolized for years.

While Holding Up the Universe suffers tremendously when it comes to plot, it still has a message important for every girl. The body positivity and self love Niven writes about never feels preachy, but always get the point across. Hopefully in her next novel, Niven will continue her superb writing and drop the superfluous romance.

My Favorite Female Characters

Happy International Women’s Day! Today, we are celebrating extraordinary women, so I figured we should talk about some extraordinary female characters as well. While every female character may be unique and special, a couple stand out in the crowd. Here are my favorite female characters in Young Adult literature.

1. Parker Grant- Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Throughout Not If I See You First, Parker handles her blindness with cutting humor and grace. While she may struggle internally, she always presents a strong front. This is damaging to her at some times, but her confidence and courage never wanes. It is also worth noting that Parker Grant is the only character on this list written by a male author.

2. Lina Vilkas- Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Lina’s story takes place in Siberia, where she and her family are trapped in a concentration camp in WWII. In one day, she goes from promising art student to prisoner. Her resilience and unflinching hope in the face of unbelievable tragedy is truly inspiring. Bonus: Lina’s cousin Joana is a wonderful and equally inspiring protagonist in Sepetys’s third novel, Salt to the Sea.

3. Violet Markey- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

After the death of her sister Eleanor, Violet’s world is turned upside down. At the beginning of All the Bright Places, Violet’s coping methods are non existent. However, as the story progresses, so does her character development. In the novel, Violet creates an online magazine, Germ, which author Jennifer Niven decided to create in real life. Check it out here.

4. Kristin Lattimer- None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Kristin is best described as the poster All-American girl. This all changes on homecoming night, when she tries to have sex with her boyfriend and subsequently discovers she is intersex. This means that while she has the outward appearance of a girl, she has male chromosomes. Kristin’s story challenges what it means to be female and made waves in term of intersex visibility when it was released.

5. Kate Thompson- Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

Kate embodies strength in its most literal meaning. After her father is murdered, Kate disguises herself as a boy and takes to the gritty plains of the American Southwest. Kate’s endurance and focus, both mental and physical is powerful to read, making her a no brainer to end this list.

February Wrap Up

What Happened in February?

February was a mellow month for me. I tried to focus on schoolwork and avoid thinking about my boarding school applications which I had submitted in January and would hear about in March. I have also found that I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump. Many of the new releases I read in February were a little lackluster. Hopefully spring will bring better books.

Debut Author I Loved- Ibi Zoboi, American Street

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Zoboi draws upon her own experiences to write American Street, a novel about Haitian immigrant, Fabiola. This timely debut is not to be missed!

What I Blogged About

Review: Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin

List: 5 Sunny Reads to Transport You Away from the Cold

Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

What I’m Excited for in March

March 7- The Inexplicable Logic of my Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz hits shelves.

March 19- My birthday! I turn 14.

March 21- Feminist author Rebecca Solnit speaks at Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck, NY.

March 28- A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi comes out. Check out my review of her debut.

March 28- Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor is released. Click on the title to see my review.

 

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

The less you know about E. Lockhart’s newest, Genuine Fraud, the better. Similar to Lockhart’s last novel, We Were Liars, Genuine Fraud features unreliable, wealthy-beyond-belief young adults spending summer on a Massachusetts island. Unlike We Were Liars however, Genuine Fraud‘s narrator, Jules, also spends her time in Cabo, Puerto Rico, London, and San Francisco. In these cities, Jules is caught in an unhealthy friendship with an affluent young women trying to figure out her place in the world. Even that description is perhaps revealing too much.

E. Lockhart has a talent for creating nuanced, vivid settings. Whether this talents comes from her hilariously lifelike background characters or strange descriptions of ordinary moments is unclear. Throughout the novel, I never felt like I couldn’t picture exactly where Jules was (although these places changed nearly every chapter).

“She was depressed and she didn’t love you anymore and she didn’t love me enough to stay alive, either. Stop acting like there’s anything else that could have happened.”

Genuine Fraud is the perfect book to read in a single sitting. It’s just over 250 pages and poses a question that will keep you turning pages.While it may lack depth, it makes up for it with twisting plot lines and descriptions that will make you feel like you’re standing right next to the main character, Jules. Be sure to pick up E. Lockhart’s newest when it comes out this September.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Lauren Oliver. I adored her novels Vanishing Girls and Panic , and I really enjoyed her Delirium trilogy. The way Oliver so perfectly captures teenagers in every novel is extraordinary. Too often, I find myself reading her dialogue and thinking, “I know someone who would say just that.” She truly has a gift. However, when it came to Before I Fall, I was a little nervous. The movie adaptation of her novel is slated for March 3, 2017, and generally I do not like the Young Adult movies that are adapted into books. I hated Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl and disliked If I Stay and The Fault in Our Stars. Luckily, Before I Fall does not disappoint.

“Anyone who’s ever been through high school understands you have to stick together against parents, teachers, and cops. It’s one of those invisible lines: us against them. You know this, like you know where to sit and who to talk to and what to eat in the cafeteria, without even knowing how you know.”

Before I Fall portrays teenagers as they truly are; multi faceted. Every character in Oliver’s novel has realistic, understandable thoughts, actions, and emotions. There is not one who feels cookie cutter or stereotypical. The teenager Before I Fall follows is Samantha Kingston, a high school senior living in Ridgeview, Connecticut. One night, while driving home from a party with her girlfriends, Sam is struck and killed by a car. Instead of dying, Sam simply wakes up the next morning and repeats the day she just had. In her own words, it’s like a morbid Groundhog Day.

“That’s the thing about best friends. That’s what they do. They keep you from spinning off the edge.”

What I loved most about Sam’s story is that it was ordinary. There is absolutely nothing special about her. The day Sam dies is similar to a day most teenagers can relate to; hitting snooze one too many times, sitting through school, then going to a party. As Sam repeats her day, trying to understand what’s happening to her, she has the same thoughts she’s had on other days, in different context. For the reader, it’s a strange sense of déjà vu (of course, the reader understands what’s happening).

I loved Before I Fall and I’m counting down the days until it hit theaters. Here’s to hoping the movie is just as fantastic as the book.

5 Sunny Reads to Transport You Away From The Cold

We’re deep into the winter, and without the cheer of the holidays, everything can get a bit dreary (especially if you’ve been reading the news lately). While a spontaneous trip to Palm Springs or Hawaii might not feasible, don’t worry, these YA books will have you covered.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

A Fierce and Subtle Poison follows seventeen year old Lucas, who spends his summers at his dad’s hotel in Puerto Rico. The way Mabry weaves the native plants and flowers of Puerto Rico into her dark magical realism is ingenious- and will have you buying tickets to the next flight to the tropical island.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

This romance set in sunny Los Angeles never skimps on describing the details of the setting. After all, the main character is an aspiring set designer, so she spends an unhealthy amount of time observing the space around her.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

I really don’t know if Out of the Easy is set during the summer or the main character Josie just doesn’t go to school. Either way, Ruta Sepetys’s second novel set in the humid French Quarter of New Orleans is not to be missed.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas

The only novel on this list that will make you want to skip Spring Break this year, Haas’s murder mystery set Aruba doesb’t leave out a single gruesome detail. Dangerous Girls draws major inspiration from Natalee Holloway’s murder.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

This roadtrip romance is the perfect novel for feeling adventurous on a $9.99 budget. As someone who has taken a summer roadtrip, I can attest that Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour is  completely realistic, and captures the unexpected moments of driving across the country for three weeks.

Tell Me Something Real by Calla Devlin

I’m a sucker for books set in San Diego, and when it comes to setting, Calla Devlin’s debut, Tell Me Something Real doesn’t disappoint. Even though Tell Me Something Real takes place in the 1970s, the picture of San Diego Devlin paints is achingly realistic. As I read, I found myself exclaiming excitedly, “I know exactly where she’s talking about!” Parts of Devlin’s novel also take place in Northern Mexico; Tijuana, Ensenada, and Rosarito. While descriptions of these cities are much briefer, they always feel fleshed out, and it is clear Devlin has done her research.

Aside from the setting, Tell Me Something Real is lackluster at best. While Devlin’s characters are all at least semi-interesting, a lot of them felt like caricatures, especially the love interest, Caleb. He is absolutely indistinguishable from Augustus Waters (The Fault in Our Stars), or Theodore Finch (All the Bright Places). His dark hair, blue eyes, and love for Kerouac paired with his brooding attitude and aptitude for surfing make him annoying and forgettable. The love story between Vanessa and Caleb always feels forced, almost like it didn’t quite belong. Without the love story, Tell Me Something Real would have been an extremely compelling novel about sisters grappling with their mother’s imminent death and how that changes their family dynamic.

“Her death will destroy us, but it will also free us of small burdens, of the constraints of her fatigue and nausea and strong opinions.”

Another weak point of Tell Me Something Real is the plot. The twist near the middle of the novel felt like I was reading Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon all over again- not a fresh debut. While Devlin recovers and creates a memorable scene between the sisters her novel is centered around, the story still suffers from lack of originality.

Hopefully Calla Devlin will write something stronger next time. She certainly writes setting well and included a couple nicely written scenes, but Tell Me Something Real fell short when it came to almost everything else.

Your Last Minute Shopping List

We’ve all been there- a few days before the holidays and you’ve done absolutely none of your shopping. Friends, relatives, that weird probably an aunt that always comes to Christmas dinner- all the people you need to get gifts for start piling up. Don’t worry. Everyone appreciates a good book and this list has only the best books.

For the person who’s read everything: For this person, you can’t just wrap up Divergent or The Hunger Games and call it a day. In fact, you can’t name a book they haven’t read. The Graces by Laure Eve was a quiet September release, perfect for lovers of A Fierce and Subtle Poison or Bone Gap.

For the person who “doesn’t like reading”: This is the “I’ll just see the movie,” friend. We all have one, and no matter how annoying they can sometimes be, we love them. Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything is a short, sweet romance novel- with a movie starring Amandla Stenberg in the works.

For the person who just finished (and loved) The Fault in Our Stars: The next big book is here. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven tells the story of two depressed teenagers in love. Deciding to ignore their parents, they set off on an adventure tour of their home state. Sound familiar? This novel is very well written (in fact I liked it better than The Fault in Our Stars) but has a plot that is not very original.

For the person who started singing carols in May: My True Love Gave to Me is a short story collection from your favorite YA authors, edited by Stephanie Perkins. It’s basically Love Actually in print form.

For the person who’s already sick of the snow: I hate the snow. Living in New York however, it’s pretty unavoidable. Luckily, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson never fails to transport the reader to days of dripping ice cream cones and flamingo pool floats.

For the suprise gifter: By far the most awkward moment of the holiday season is when a friend gives you a gift you didn’t anticipate and you don’t have a gift to give back. Don’t worry- More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera is a crowd pleaser you can always pull out in a pinch.

For the person who loves kale smoothies and chlorophyll water: Found exclusively in artisanal coffee shops in Williamsburg, this friend only reads J. D. Salinger and Jonathan Safran Foer. They can be a tough person to think of a gift for, but I promise they’ll think I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson is cool. Bonus points: When put next to an avocado toast, this book is totally instagrammable.

For the person crushed that PLL is ending soon: Teenagers around the world were heartbroken when they heard Pretty Little Liars was in its last season. Destined to join Gossip Girl, One Tree Hill, Friends, 90210, Gilmore Girls, and legions of other trashy-but-totally-watchable shows, this book turned hit TV show has been around since 2006. Vanishing Girls by YA veteran Lauren Oliver is perfect for this person.

For the person who wants an escape from 2016: Furthermore is about as far from reality as it gets. Author Tahereh Mafi is known for her lyrical yet never flowery prose and her newest does not fail in continuing that legacy.

For the person who prefers non fiction: Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin just won YALSA’s award for best Young Adult nonfiction novel of 2016. It’s well deserved- this meticulously researched read about Daniel Ellsberg, government insider turned traitor during the Vietnam war gives a fascinating glimpse back into the not so long ago past.

For the adult on your list: Hipster film fanatics and dads everywhere will love the gift of Bad Dads, a coffee table collection of Wes Anderson film inspired artwork.

The Graces by Laure Eve

“You’re not like us. You’ll never be like us…Here’s the ugly truth- some people are ordinary. The best of them at least have the intelligence to know it.”

This is my favorite quote from British author, Laure Eve’s newest, The Graces. The Graces follows a town’s obsession with it’s most mythical family- The Graces. The five of them are rumored to be witches. Esther and Gwydion are the parents. They have three children. Fenrin and Thalia are the twins- ethereal and magnetic. They go through friends like expensive clothing- a new favorite every week. The youngest is Summer, who is anything but her charismatic siblings. She calls herself a witch. They live in an unreachable beachside mansion with a mind of its own.

While the mystery around the Grace family is said to be because they are witches, many undertones in the novel suggest that is not the case. The unnamed California beach town where the story takes place consists of residents that would be labelled middle class on a good day. The Grace family however is old money rich. They are, as one of them said in the quote above, a whole different breed. They chug expensive bottles of French wine without thought and throw wildly elaborate parties for every occasion. Their relatives are senators and movie stars.  Everyone in town, especially new girl River, seems to have an unnatural obsession with them.

“Grace birthday parties had been legendary… mothers around town would pray that their child would get an invitation so they could come, too, and lounge in Esther Grace’s spacious French kitchen, drinking cocktails in slender flutes and stealing glances at her pretty husband.”

River is desperate to be a Grace. She daydreams incessantly about Fenrin’s lips and becoming Summer’s best friend. She succeeds in befriending Summer, but their relationship is so unnerving and toxic it’s sometimes hard to read. When something goes wrong with Fenrin however, River is thrown from Summer’s side. The Grace family immediately closes ranks, and when they do, there’s no getting in their way.

At it’s core, The Graces is a novel about power. Being born in to it, seeking it, and what you’re supposed to do when you find it. While the Grace family may not be magic, they certainly bear an eerie resemblance to the mythical one percent of old money Americans, and how the rest of us are so captivated by them.