Posts Tagged With: ya lit

Turtles All the Way Down

I read my first John Green book in 2012 – which, you may know, is when his last one came out.  I loved them.  I went from having read none to having read all six of them within the same amount of months.  In a way, his books reminded me of Sarah Dessen’s.  They told the stories of teenagers trying to navigate their lives in a way that helped me navigate mine.  My favorite part about John Green books is that they always left me with the sense that everything was going to be okay.  I had a lot of anxiety in those days, so that feeling was crucial to me.

For four years after reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had no new John Green to read.  When he announced a new book, I was thrilled.

Turtles All the Way Down is about Aza, a teenager living with OCD and anxiety.  While she tries to cope, despite feeling overwhelmed, the world around her goes on.  A billionaire goes missing and her best friend, Daisy, wants to solve the mystery and collect on the reward.  The search has Aza reconnecting with an old friend who becomes a better one.  While her own inner world crashes, she has to learn how to manage her mind while participating in the world around her.

I believe every story we write has a little bit of autobiographical truth to it anyway, but this one was explicit.  At the reading in Charlotte, John talked about his own struggles with mental illness similar to Aza’s and how he managed it.

Now, I don’t have OCD.  In fact, I don’t have any diagnosed anything when it comes to mental illness.  But I still saw pieces of myself in Aza, thoughts she had that young Kari felt too.  He does such a thorough job of creating Aza’s voice and placing the reader in her head that I could feel the anxieties creeping back.

This story in no way glorifies Aza’s mental illness.  Instead, it does exactly what it’s intended to do.  For those who have never experienced something like this, it shines a light on what it’s like to live in a constant battle with your own brain.  For those who are currently living with it, it does something even more important.  It shows a realistic portrayal that proves there is a world outside of your head.  It gives a guide for how to live in it.  And it does what every John Green novel has ever done for me: it tells you that everything will be okay, even after the world has collapsed around you.

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I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but sometimes…I can’t help it.  I like books that are going to look good on my shelf.  Usually that’s something vintage, either leather-bound or with something beautiful on the cover.  This time it was a bound manuscript.

I wasn’t expecting Golden by Jessi Kirby to be anything spectacular.  Maybe it was the format or maybe it was the fact that I’ve been disillusioned with YA fiction in general.  Either way, I was wrong.  I read Golden at the beach and really enjoyed it.

Parker is about to graduate from high school, after having done everything just right, read: “whatever her mother told her to do.”  With the biggest accomplishment of her life to date looming ahead, it’s time to start thinking about the future and what she really wants.

The basic storyline is a typical YA motif: the coming of age and choosing your own life story.  There’s the dynamic best friend attempting to convince the main character to take more risks and the cute boy she could have at the snap of her fingers if she were ever brave enough to snap her fingers.  Pretty average stuff.  But under it all is a mystery that keeps the reader interested.

While trying to figure out where her future leads, Parker finds a journal from ten years ago, written by a girl whose life ended at the age Parker is at now.  Despite the stories about the girl’s perfect life, Parker sees the parallels and how easy it is to do what is expected of you.  As she unfolds the past, she starts to see the future more clearly.

If you’re looking for a YA book that has something different, this is the one.  It’s a fun, easy read with enough substance to keep you interested.  I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

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Once and For All

Sarah Dessen has been my favorite author since I was fourteen.  I’ve read all of her books and get the new ones as quickly as I can.  Her latest, Once and For All, is obviously written by a different person, a Sarah Dessen who’s grown and is reacting to the world around her.

Louna has seen a lot of marriages come and go, courtesy of her mother’s wedding planning business.  But its hard to believe in true love because, if you only get one, she’s already lost her chance.  But Ambrose believes in second chances and wishes, and he hopes to make Louna believe in them too.

I enjoyed Once and For All, though the quality after the magic of her writing in Saint Anything was slightly disappointing.  It is clear she used this writing to work through her grief about recent news events.  I don’t fault her for this – it’s what writing is for – but it did affect the story’s cohesion.

The chapters alternated between the main story and flashbacks of Louna’s life before. It worked for Louna’s character, revealing crucial information about her past in a format that allowed the reader to know her as she is and what made her that way.  It shows the ways tragedy can affect a person.

Unfortunately, trying to write two love stories in one book distracted from the main plot.  Neither romance was as immersive as most of her books are.

Despite this, the characters are as charming as ever, including William, Louna’s mother’s gay business partner, and Louna’s best friend Jilly.  I mention them by name because they were my favorites, and every scene they appear in feels like hanging out with a friend.

Overall, I did enjoy Sarah Dessen’s Once and For All…I just wouldn’t recommend it as anyone’s first Dessen novel.

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Crooked Kingdom

There are few books that I love so much I need to read the sequel immediately, but I loved Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows that much.

Six of Crowsin case you’ve forgotten is an amazing sci-fi/fantasy, heist YA novel about six misfits who become a team.  The sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is the best love story I’ve ever read.

Okay, obviously, there is a new heist.  At the end of Six of Crows, the team gets screwed out of a payday and Inej is captured.  Kaz intends to get his money and his girl, and so we have a sequel.

The rest of the team has problems too: Nina is fighting withdrawal, Jesper’s father shows up, Wylan’s is looking for him and has been hiding his mother for years…  Meanwhile, the rest of Ketterdam – and the whole world it seems – has turned on them.

This is why it’s a love story.  In the first book, Kaz pulled the team together.  In the sequel, they pull together themselves.  They don’t stay for Kaz, they stay for Inej…and then each other.

Usually, I hate stories that “pair everyone off,” but this one is done so well, I can’t object.  Mathias is still prejudiced but is fighting it, not necessarily for Nina, but with her help.  Kaz gets Inej back and has to decide if he can keep her and protect her simultaneously.  Inej is incredible (and a role model for all of us) because she wants him but refuses to betray herself to keep him.  And Wylan and Jesper…god, Wylan and Jesper…

But that’s not why it’s the best love story I’ve ever read.  The couples are perfect for each other, but the true love story of Crooked Kingdom is the family the six of them create together.  Back in Ketterdam, with everyone against them, they learn to rely on each other and become the family they’ve all lost.  They learn to trust each other and compensate for each other’s weaknesses  In Six of Crows, they ere a team; in Crooked Kingdom  they become a family.

Don’t get me wrong: the heist is exciting.  With Kaz’s ingenuity (and the other’s talents) they con the whole city and finally bring don Pekka Rollins, Jan Van Eck, and even Per Haskell.  It’s very satisfying to see them pay for their crimes, but it’s even more satisfying to see the characters you come to love in Six of Crows grow during their performance in Crooked Kingdom.

Obviously I advocate for everyone to read Six of Crows first, but Crooked Kingdom is worth reading.  Even if the first book as a quarter as good as it was, I’d suggest people read it for the sequel’s sake.  In the first, you fall in love with the characters; in the second you fall in love with the family.

All that to say…you should read Six of Crows.  You will then feel compelled to read Crooked Kingdom.  You’ll enjoy every minute of it and wonder where these characters have been all your life.  I promise.

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The Geography of You and Me

I hesitate to say The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith is “not your typical YA love story” because, in a lot of ways, it kind of is.  Two teenagers meet by chance and immediately fall in love, more of less.  Their relationship faces certain obstacles which serve to bring them closer to each other.  It’s light and breezy and overall a fun read.

The difference is that the main characters, Lucy and Owen, spend most of the book apart from one another.  The story focuses on their individual stories as they travel and grow.

The traveling is what made me fall in love with this book.  The two started in New York City (*heart eyes*) and then traveled in opposite directions.  Owen went west, ending up in Seattle and Lucy moved to London after traveling through most of Western Europe.  Since the story focused on their individual travels, it showed off their individual development.  When they came together in the end, it felt more like a beginning than an ending.

Instead of the relationship carrying the story and being used to develop the characters, the characters develop on their own and give the relationship an emotional weight that is deeply rooted in the individuals.  Despite lacking a base setting, between the characters and the writing, the reader is never lost.

It’s an easy read, and it leaves the reader with a warm-fuzzy feeling, but it also makes you think about the world as a whole and travel as a life-changing phenomenon.  You become invested in the characters and their development.  The relationship is secondary, only important because it makes them happy, but it’s still well-done.  It’s definitely in my top 10 as far as YA goes…but god, does it make me want to travel again…

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Six of Crows

A couple weeks ago, a friend (who doesn’t usually talk books with me) sent me a Snap.  “Have you read Six of Crows?  I think you’d really like it!”

I made a note of it but, because I wasn’t buying books at the moment and won’t read books I don’t own, I figured it would be a while.  Then a different friend let me choose a Blind Date with a Book for my Christmas present.  Based on a very vague description, I chose Six of Crows.

“I thought you’d end up with that one,” she said.  “I think you’ll really like it.”

A third friend got really excited when I put a picture of the book’s maps on my SnapChat story.  This book came highly recommended…and it absolutely lived up to the hype.

The description for my blind date was “felt like watching Leverage.”  To me, it was a mix between Leverage and Firefly.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a fast-paced heist story.  These characters are on a Mission and every action either brings them closer or further from their goal.  With all the twists and turns, the reader is constantly desperate to find what happens next.  It’s an exciting plot, but the best part is the characters and their found-family dynamic.

You can pick your own favorite…but if it’s not Inej, you’re wrong. The Wraith is the glue that holds the team together.  Everyone loves Inej.

But they’re ALL wonderful.  Kaz is a beautiful train wreck, Wylan and Jesper are adorable, Nina gets to be a different kind of strong than Inej, though just as powerful, and Matthias grows so much and so realistically over the course of the story.

Between the plot and the characters, the story is unique and fascinating, but it’s the writing that elevates it all.  Bardugo describes this sci-fi universe with enough detail that it presents a vivid picture.  The action is described so clearly that it’s like we’re there.  She looks into each character’s mind so clearly that the reader can understand the motivations even they may not recognize yet.

By the end of the book you will be sucked into the action, but also so in love with the characters that you feel like you’ve gone on a trip with your new best friends.  It’s so good that I’m going to actually buy the sequel as soon as Christmas is over.  It’s amazing.

Don’t let the “YA” label fool you.  If you like sci-fi and adventure, this is the story for you.  And who doesn’t like adventure?

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You Are Here

The other week, a friend of mine was getting rid of books and asked if I wanted any.  I grabbed You are Here by Jennifer E. Smith, just because I’d been thinking of reading more by that author anyway.  It wasn’t until a different friend grabbed it from my pile that I had any idea what it was about.

Yeah, Peter and Emma?  They take a road trip.

I’m not sure I could have made it through any other book, considering the mood I’ve been in.  For some perspective, I started this book at 10 a.m. and took about 13.5 hours to read it (including work and driving and an episode of Arrow).  It’s YA which accounts for some of its easy-to-read qualities, but it’s also a fast-moving story that emphasizes the message that it’s the journey and not the destination that matters.  It had characters that I rooted for and wanted to stick with through the journey.  And while the characters did get into some trouble, it kept making the point that sometimes you have to do what you have to do…and the people who really love you will come around eventually.

There were things I didn’t like about it.  Some of it felt like it moved too quickly: I would have wanted more story from the actual driving.  In that same vein, the romantic relationship that develops between Peter and Emma seems forced.  In fact, it’s pretty out-of-character for Emma, considering every time we’re in her head it seems clear she just thinks of him as a friend she doesn’t want to lose.  I feel she could have learned to treat him better without having to “fall in love” with him.  I also feel like she has undiagnosed ADD and her parents (as professors) should look into that instead of assuming she’s just “different.”

But overall, the theme of “You are here” and being lost/wandering isn’t necessarily a bad thing was something I needed to read…besides the irony that they spent all this time and effort getting to North Carolina when I am doing my damnedest to get away from it.  They each have an idea of what they’re looking for and come away with so much more.  The spirit of adventure is alive and well, and I hope it’s rubbed off on me.

So…here we are, folks.  Gold star at this spot.  Just like Emma and Peter, it’s time to see where the little dotted lines take us.  Just one more week now.

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Paper Towns for a Paper Girl

This will be the last one.  Probably.

When I started reading John Green books in high school, my favorite was An Abundance of Katherines.  I liked Looking for Alaska too, because it was beautiful and poetic and addressed some things I struggled with at that time in my life.  The Fault in Our Stars still has tear stains from the first time I read it.  But I rushed through Paper Towns and shrugged it off.

But of the four, Paper Towns is the one I’ve reread twice in the last year and the one I’m currently obsessed with.

Neil Gaiman once said books find us when we’re ready for them.  This is one of my deepest held beliefs.  If you pulled a random book from my shelf, I can probably tell you what was happening in my life that led me to choose that story.  I can also tell you how reading it affected me, both in the moment and in shaping who I am today.  They would have had different effects – or none at all – if I hadn’t been ready for them.

But every once in a while, you catch a book just a little too early.  Maybe you flip through it in a bookstore and put it back, or someone gives it to you and it ends up in a pile with all the others.  Maybe you even pick it up and read through a few pages or chapters before tossing it back.

That’s all right, these books say.  I’ll wait right here.  Come back when you’re ready.  And this was what Paper Towns did for me.  Even though I read it to the end, I didn’t read it completely, and it waited until I was ready to.  It even seemed to give me a sign that the time was coming.

I reread it right before the movie was released and I related so much then to Q, getting lost in Margo and her mystery to shut out his fear of the future.  And I reread it this week, feeling a weight in my chest every time Margo says that the strings inside her broke.  Because now I understand what she means.

It occurs to me that everyone doesn’t have this relationship with books.  Not everyone can point to one and say, “This one literally saved my life when I was fourteen and sixteen, and twenty and twenty-three.”  Not everyone can point to one and say, “I had no idea who I was before I read this, but it was like looking in a mirror and I understand myself a little better now.”  Maybe other people don’t need that, but I do.

Paper Towns didn’t do either of those things the first time I read it.  It didn’t even do those things the second time, even though I did enjoy it a lot more.  But this week, when the strings were pulled so tight that I was sure they’d snap, when I wanted nothing more in the world than to pull a Margo (screw the months of planning, just get in the car, get your revenge, and get out of town), this is what that book has been waiting for.  Margo escapes and Q tells her no one is irreparably broken, and that gave me hope when I needed it.  She gets to be her true self and Q realizes that the light only gets in through his broken places.

Margo is still broken, but with these things, she learns how to go on with her brokenness.  Accepting the brokenness is what allows her to stop being made of paper.


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The Bermudez Triangle

In case you couldn’t tell from Tuesday’s post, I’m still reeling.  It’s made me want to read something fluffy and LGBTQ related.  Maureen Johnson’s The Bermudez Triangle (also called On the Count of Three) was the only one I had on hand.

Despite how I usually feel about her work, I didn’t love it.  I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

Like in all her books, the characters are real, with all the strengths and flaws that come with it.  The girls were the heart and soul of this book and the reason I kept reading when it got hard.  I needed to know what happened to Mel and Nina.  Even Avery, with all her mistakes, had me rooting for her in the end.

Mel’s storyline was the best part.  There’s no other word for it: she blossoms.  In the beginning, she’s timid and unsure.  But once she comes to terms with the fact that she’s gay, she begins to mature and open up.  She even learns to stand up for herself – in her own way, of course.

The characters’ reactions are just as authentic as the characters themselves.  Nina’s shock and fear are explored before she settles into her role as best friend and comforter.  Mel’s divorced parents argue until her dad tells her everything will be okay.  Parker’s initial disappointment that she doesn’t return his feelings is evident, but he moves on and becomes her confidante.  No one reacts perfectly, but most of them do their best.  And Mel has enough support to deal with the ones who don’t.

So what’s the problem?  I guess I’m just tired of people treating other people like crap and getting away with it.  There’s a point where Nina says, “Sometimes you have to let people say they’re sorry.”  That’s great and all, but how does she trust those people again?  How does she know they really are sorry when they haven’t done anything different?  It’s not quite the message of self-care and healthy relationships I was looking for.

Though the characters have grown, the end shows all the relationships have gone back to normal without anyone working for it.  Maybe they can sometimes, but after everything else that happened, this “perfect ending” felt hollow.

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You Can’t Go Home Again (Even When You Do)

I debated whether or not I would read The Isle of the Lost by Melissa de la Cruz.  Once I did, I loved it and the movie so much that I knew I had to have Return to the Isle of the Lost as soon as it was released.  I found it at an independent bookstore on Wednesday and had finished it by Friday.

It starts by showing how our precious Villain Kids are doing at Auradon Prep.  This was my favorite part.  The best thing about sequels is seeing how the characters have grown while still remaining true to themselves.  It also continues the theme that shows the difference between the good guys and the bad guys isn’t all black and white.

The relationships have also developed.  It’s not that she did this incorrectly, but I liked some of it more than the rest.  The quartet’s friendship (and their friendships with Auradon kids) keeps getting stronger.  In the last book, this friendship was just developing.  In this one, it is a solid frame for the rest of the story.

The only romance that is significant to the plot is Ben and Mal’s.  Even when separated it’s obvious how much they care for and respect each other.  When Mal reminds Yen-sid that Ben is king now, its fierceness comes from her faith in him.  And when Ben sees Mal is heading into danger again, he shows his concern but never thinks to stop her, knowing how capable she is.

The other romantic relationships are barely mentioned, but I would have preferred they be left out completely.  While Doug and Evie can be cute, I felt her being single goes more with her character development in the movie.  The sudden implications of Jay and Carlos crushing on Jordan and Jane respectively felt like a Disney response to the Internet wanting the boys with each other instead.  Honestly, Carlos seems too young for any romance just yet.

The plot was intriguing and original until about chapter 35, and Melissa de la Cruz knew it because she prefaced it with the quote from Peter Pan saying, “All this has happened before.”  The sequence that follows echoes the one in the last book where each of the four must face their personal demons.  The twist is that their demons are meant to come from the darkness in each of them instead of their parents this time.

The problem is that Cruz focused more on how they are like their parents instead of their own inner struggles.  The emotions just aren’t vibrant or authentic, which is why it feels like an echo instead of a peek into the characters’ hearts and minds.  It’s disappointing because, both before and after this sequence, Cruz demonstrated her understanding of these characters and their growth.  These scenes, which focus on the individuals in a way the movies can’t, were an opportunity to explore who they were beneath the glamor.  Evie could have truly acknowledged the witch in her while Mal embraced her dragon blood.  I hope this is a storyline that the movie picks up because their backgrounds deserve more. In the same way, the audience should see Carlos struggling with the scars his mother left him.  Instead of showing us how Jay rejects his father’s dream, she could have shown his true heart’s desire.

The parts of the book set in Auradon are fun and interesting, but the section wherein we actually Return to the Isle of the Lost suffers from a lack of the darkness omnipresent in the last book.  We can blame it on the difficulty of marrying a “happily ever after” with these characters’ dark backgrounds or on the pressure to conform to a Disneyfied world view, but one thing is certain: this fear of the darkness makes what could be a bold, compelling story fall flat.

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