City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie Anderson

I decided to pick up City of Saints and Thieves because of its setting- Sangui City, an imaginary city in Kenya based on Nairobi. The author, Natalie Anderson spent the past decade in Africa working for NGOs, so I presumed her depiction of the continent would be pretty accurate. Considering the vastness and cultural diversity of Africa, it is shockingly sad that there re so few Young Adult novels set in the area. Needless to say, I was very glad to find Anderson’s debut.

After reading Anderson’s vivid, gritty depictions of Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I am especially disappointed in the lack of YA novels set in Africa. City of Saints and Thieves follows Tina, a teenage member of one of Sangui City’s most notorious gangs, the Goondas. Before joining the Goondas, Tina’s family fled the DRC for Kenya and her family worked for an affluent businessman on Sangui City’s “Hill,” (where the wealthy live). Tina joins the Goondas after her mother is murdered, by who she believes is their former employer, Mr. G. As Tina travels to find out who killed her mother and to exact her revenge, she listens to other women’s stories of the atrocities that led her mother to flee the DRC with Tina and her unborn sister.

City of Saints and Thieves is a relevant novel because of its description of the human rights violations happening every day in the DRC. Unfortunately, I did not ever come to love Tina. She’s described as tough as nails, but sometimes falls a little flat, especially when she says she’s “not like other girls.” This comment is misogynistic because of the implication of “other girls” as being bad or inadequate. With the feminist message this novel is trying to convey, sentiments like Tina’s can be confusing and a little hypocritical.

Natalie Anderson’s City of Saints and Thieves is a good read- if not for the setting and message alone. It is very important to address the issues of the systemic kidnapping, rape, and murder of African women and refugees.

March Wrap Up

What Happened in March?

In contrast to previous months, my March has been far from boring. On March 10, I got accepted into  my top choice high school. I’m thrilled to say I’ll be starting there in the fall. Unfortunately, there was also the biggest snow storm I’ve ever seen, so any hopes I had of an early spring were crushed. But hey, there’s always April!

Debut Author I Loved

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset          fullsizeoutput_112

March was a sequel kind of month, and the debuts that were launched this month weren’t very appealing to me. Unfortunately, I could not find a debut author I truly loved. However, I will say that I have absolutely adored Han Kang’s Human Acts, which came out in January.

What I Blogged About

Blog: My Favorite Female Characters

Review: Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven

Review: King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard

Blog: The Perfect Books to Read This Spring

What I’m Excited for in April

April 4: Gem and Dixie, the latest by Sara Zarr, finalist for the National Book Award, is released.

April 25: North of Happy by Adi Alsaid comes out.

April 26: Hulu releases their mini series adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

The Perfect Books to Read This Spring Break

The coveted Spring Break is soon to be here! After a long, snowy winter, I am very glad to have a small respite. Unfortunately, many on Spring Break are vexed by the problem of too much time- whether that be because they are on a flight somewhere tropical, or (in my case) staying at home with nothing to do. Luckily, Spring has brought many great new releases that will keep you turning pages and losing track of time. Here are some of my favorites.

1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

I am a huge fan of Laini Taylor so I was thrilled to find out that her ethereal, fantastical Strange the Dreamer does not disappoint. Be forewarned: Taylor’s newest is impossible to put down once you’ve started it.  Read my full review here.

2. Gem and Dixie by Sara Zarr

National Book Award Finalist Sara Zarr’s latest is about two sisters with a complicated family life. Gem and Dixie used to be as thick as thieves, but an absent father and oblivious mother drew them apart. When an unexpected opportunity pulls them together, will they take it and rekindle the close bond they once felt?

3. Almost Adulting by Arden Rose

Personally, I am not the biggest fan of celebrity memoirs, however Rose’s debut was full of funny and relatable essays about dating, traveling, and mental health. Almost Adulting is a light read great for a day on the beach.

4. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is a realistic look at every type of relationship- friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships (specifically between sisters).  After you’re done with this poignant novel, be sure to check out the newly released film adaptation. Check out my full review here.

5. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Lara Jean’s story finally comes to a close this May in Always and Forever, Lara Jean. In preparation, I would suggest reading the beginning of this sweet-but-never-saccharine series. Read my review of P.S. I Still Love You, the second book in Lara Jean’s story, here.

 

 

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

xsj_vb3p        30256109

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.