Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Title: The Edge of Falling
Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release date: March 18th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Growing up in privileged, Manhattan social circles, Caggie’s life should be perfect, and it almost was until the day that her younger sister drowned when Caggie was supposed to be watching her. Stricken by grief, Caggie pulls away from her friends and family, only to have everyone misinterpret a crucial moment when she supposedly saves a fellow classmate from suicide. Now she’s famous for something she didn’t do and everyone lauds her as a hero. But inside she still blames herself for the death of her sister and continues to pull away from everything in her life, best friend and perfect boyfriend included. Then Caggie meets Astor, the new boy at school, about whom rumours are swirling and known facts are few. In Astor she finds someone who just might understand her pain, because he has an inner pain of his own. But the more Caggie pulls away from her former life to be with Astor, the more she realises that his pain might be darker, and deeper, than anything she’s ever felt. His pain might be enough to end his life…and Caggie’s as well.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Like the rest of the blogosphere, I loved Rebecca Serle's debut, When You Were Mine, so I was very excited for another novel by the author. And luckily, Rebecca Serle did not disappoint - her writing is amazing, and I loved The Edge of Falling just as much as When You Were Mine!

I loved Caggie's voice throughout the story. She speaks very directly to the reader, which I'm not usually a fan of, since it can easily turn preachy or be used as a cop-out to give way too much backstory when it's not needed, etc. But Rebecca Serle totally made it work; scenes that could have been boring were somehow fascinating because Caggie's voice drew me in so completely. Caggie's voice feels so real and honest, and it presents the story in an entertaining and captivating way. Even though she makes some bad decisions, I felt for Caggie throughout the story. Her grief is heartfelt and honest, and I understood her even at her worst.

The secondary characters are good, too, for the most part. Caggie's parents' withdrawal and absence is kind of the point and an important part of the story, but I still wish we had gotten a bit more insight into their characters. While we do get to know Hayley, Caggie's little sister for whose death she blames herself, very well, I wish she hadn't been idealized quite as much, even if it makes sense for the way Caggie is grieving. I did really like Peter, Caggie's older brother, as well as her best friend Claire. (Can Claire get her own story, please? Her life sounds like the kind of intense I'd love to read about.) There's also a love triangle in The Edge of Falling, but before you run away screaming - this one actually works! This one feels very authentic and makes sense within the story. The relationships with both guys are very well-done, even though I wish the developments between Caggie and Astor hadn't come quite as quickly and had been explored in more depth.

I also loved the NYC setting. This felt a bit like a guilty pleasure, since The Edge of Falling is very much about the elite upper class society of New York, reminding me of the Gossip Girl series, and all those other rich-white-people stories I loved when I was 12. And even though I now realize that over-representation of the upper class in fiction, as well as The Edge of Falling's failure to discuss the issue of class in any meaningful way, is problematic, I couldn't help but love Caggie's descriptions of her life in the city. It might just be because I have some kind of weird obsession with New York City, but I loved how perfectly Caggie's voice captures the feel of the city. I especially loved Caggie's game of walking around in the city, and just going in the direction where the walk sign is on whenever she gets to an intersection and seeing where it brought her - I really want to try this one day.

One issue I had with The Edge of Falling is the lack of suspense. I don't really mind that it's predictable, because (in my opinion) a character-driven about overcoming grief doesn't really need unpredictable plot twists to be a good novel. But Caggie has some secrets about what happened when she "saved" her classmate who was trying to kill herself that could have easily been revealed in a surprising way towards the end. While we don't find out the details of what exactly happened that night until close to the end, it's mentioned in passing many times before than, so there is no element of surprise. Again, I don't think this story necessarily needs a plot twist like that, but since we already have this secret, I wish it had been utilized more to create a surprising revelation at some point in the novel.

I absolutely loved The Edge of Falling. Rebecca Serle perfectly balances beautiful writing that makes you stop and think with intriguing, relatable characters that move the story along. The Edge of Falling is an entertaining yet thought-provoking read that I definitely recommend. I can't wait to read more by this author!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review: Some Boys by Patty Blount

Title: Some Boys
Author: Patty Blount
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: August 5th 2014
Pages: 339
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Some boys go too far. Some boys will break your heart. But one boy can make you whole.
When Grace meets Ian she's afraid. Afraid he'll reject her like the rest of the school, like her own family. After she accuses the town golden boy of rape, everyone turns against Grace. They call her a slut and a liar. But...Ian doesn't. He's funny and kind with secrets of his own.
But how do you trust the best friend of the boy who raped you? How do you believe in love?
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to review. I really, really wanted to love it, because this is such an important topic and there aren't enough YA books out about it. And I do think that Grace's story is an important one that needs to be told. The rest of it, though, I didn't care for too much. Ian did not work as a love interest because he displays some very problematic opinions and not enough character growth

Grace's story, by itself, is what I really liked about Some Boys. Reading about how deeply this rape has affected her, and how terribly the community is reacting to it, was my favorite part (even if that sounds bad). Not because I enjoyed it, of course, but because I think this is a really important story to tell so that people can maybe understand what this is like. Grace's feelings are so well-developed, and I felt for her throughout the novel. She is so strong, and even though it gets a bit preachy at times, her opinions are very important to read about.

Whenever Ian was talking about what happened to Grace, or about rape or gender roles or anything like that, I just wanted to slap him. He has ridiculously problematic opinions. He judges girls so, so much - whenever a girls hooks up with one of his friends, he judges them for being easy and talks about how he doesn't understand why girls let guys do things like that. His double standards are just ridiculous, and his slut-shaming is just out-of-control. One of the lines that pissed me off the most was when he's thinking about the way Grace dresses and the way that makes guys not respect her. He goes, "Why do girls not get that there's a fine line between looking good and asking for it? [...] It's like the people who leave their doors unlocked and then cry when they're robbed. Why are girls not smart about this?" These ideas just made Ian a completely unappealing love interest for me.

I know I should have expected him to have these opinions at the beginning of the novel, since him growing from these problematic ideas to understand what happened to Grace is kind of the point of the novel. But... Ian barely changed over the course of the novel. The only reason Ian finally decides to believe Grace is because he finds a video on Zac's phone that proves that Grace was telling the truth. Because he sees that Grace had told Zac no and that Zac forced himself on Grace anyways, he believes that it's rape. But the thing is, even without that information.... it would have still been rape. He knew that Grace was drunk enough to have passed out while it happened. The fact that whether or not she fought him or not is irrelevant and that it was rape either way is never even addressed, and for a book attempting to raise awareness about this issue, that's a major flaw.

The whole ending is just really cheesy. After the coach sees the video and kicks Zac off the team, everyone hears that it was "actually" rape and comes crawling back to Grace. And Grace accepts her friends back with no questions asked about how they abandoned her and how horrible they had been to her. All those reunion scenes are cheesy and disappointing because it shows how no one actually learned anything from this experience.

The focus on the romance, rather than Grace overcoming this trauma on her own, didn't sit right with me. Maybe it's just because I didn't like Ian, but I didn't really care whether or not they ended up together; I only care whether or not Grace would be okay. I also wish that there had been more of a focus on Grace struggling to be intimate again after what happened to her; Ian and Grace kiss for the first time only a month and a half after Grace had been raped, and it's never even mentioned that that could have been another traumatizing experience for her. 

I'm still not sure what to make of Some Boys. In a way, it was an important read for me, and I loved being inside Grace's head. But on the grand scale, I don't think the novel does enough to work against rape culture and the gender roles that permit it. Ian - and the rest of the town - don't really learn enough from what happened to Grace to really change anything, and Ian's problematic views of gender roles are barely addressed. Grace herself displays some problematic views, too, when she slut-shames her stepmom and her ex-friends, and that's never addressed, either. It was a good attempt, but there was too much telling and not enough showing, and the novel ended up falling flat for me.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Tease by Amanda Maciel

Title: Tease
Author: Amanda Maciel
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release date: April 29th 2014
Pages: 328
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
Add to Goodreads | Purchase from Amazon
Emma Putnam is dead, and it's all Sara Wharton's fault.
At least, that's what everyone seems to think. Sara, along with her best friend and three other classmates, has been criminally charged for the bullying and harassment that led to Emma's shocking suicide. Now Sara is the one who's ostracized, already guilty according to her peers, the community, and the media.
During the summer before her senior year, in between meetings with lawyers and a court-recommended therapist, Sara is forced to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment—and ultimately consider her role in an undeniable tragedy. And she'll have to find a way to move forward, even when it feels like her own life is over.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I absolutely love the premise of Tease. I've read plenty of stories about bullying, but I've never read anything that explores the bully's character in such depth. The whole idea of facing criminal charges for the bullying that contributed to a classmate's suicide is intriguing and thought-provoking, and I loved getting to see how this affects everyone involved. It was fascinating to read a story like this from the bully's point of view, and I loved (almost) everything about it!

I'll admit that large parts of this novel had me in a feminist rage - the slut-shaming in this book is out of control. The reason that Brielle and Sara (and in turn, all the other girls at their school) tease Emma is because she's what they consider a slut, i.e. she's (allegedly) slept (or at least gone out with) a number of guys. Literally all of the harassment is based on this tiny thing that is absolutely none of anyone's business. Emma hangs out with (and maybe hooks up with) a lot of guys and doesn't have any girl friends (because they shun her for being a "slut"), so obviously she's a horrible person. Sara has a deep-seated hatred for Emma because she's "going after" her boyfriend, and it's the classic case of blaming the "Other Woman" rather than holding the guy accountable for his actions. I could go on about this, but I'll just leave it at telling you that this was really frustrating to read about. But despite all of this anger, it totally works: it's not like the novel condones Sara's behavior, and it's definitely portrayed as problematic. We get to see the very real, tragic effects of bullying and slut-shaming, and it makes for a powerful, important story.

The novel alternates between the past, when Sara and Brielle are making Emma's life miserable, and the present, when Sara is preparing for her trial and dealing with the aftermath of her actions. The two parts of the story are equally compelling: it's fascinating, in a disturbing kind of way, to see how teasing Emma escalates into so much more, and I really liked trying to understand Sara's reasoning. The aftermath is equally intriguing because you get to see how Sara's understanding of what happened evolves over time, and the juxtaposition of these two storylines really showcases Sara's growth over the course of the novel.

Sara is a character you go into the novel wanting to hate, and I definitely disagreed with her on pretty much everything. But Amanda Maciel also makes it really easy to understand where she is coming from. Her desire to fit in and to have Brielle like her is presented in a way that absolutely made me feel for her, especially knowing that, if it meant being one of the cool kids, it would have been pretty easy to get younger-me to go along with lots of things, too. I'd like to think I wouldn't have let it get this far, but really, it's not like Sara wanted Emma to kill herself, either. And while it's obviously bs that Sara blames Emma for everything and lets Dylan off scot-free, I could still understand that she is hurt and struggling. Of course the novel is biased, and Sara is probably not the most reliable narrator, and that definitely affects your view of these characters. We only see Emma through Sara's eyes, and only in this context, while we sympathize with Sara when we see her interacting with her brothers and struggling with her relationship with her father. I really don't know how I feel about any of these characters, and I think that means Amanda Maciel succeeded in writing a very thought-provoking novel.

Being the nitpicking, anti-slut-shaming feminist that I am, I do have a couple of things to criticize about Tease. Like I said, Sara grows a lot over the course of the novel, and the ultimate message is definitely a good one. But I still had some issues with it. For example, when Sara apologizes at the end, most of her regrets are focused on  making assumptions about Emma without knowing whether or not they're true. Even if she did sleep with all those guys, that does not make her a bad person or worthy of this kind of (or any kind of) harassment. I understand the impulse to hate the girl that your boyfriend cheated on you with, but it bothers me so, so much when people blame the "Other Woman" rather than the cheating boyfriend. It is not other girls' responsibility to not flirt with your boyfriend; it is your boyfriend's responsibility to not act on this attraction if he is in a monogamous relationship. I get that flirting with a guy who has a girlfriend is not the most morally sound thing to do, but it is most definitely worse for the guy to respond to this attention; the one who is in a relationship is at fault, not the "Other Woman." Dylan is the one who made a commitment to Sara, not Emma, yet Emma gets all of the blame.

Of course, this would be fine if it were only the case in the beginning, since the novel doesn't condone Sara's behavior in any way. I just wish this had been addressed more towards the end. At the very end, Sara talks about how Brielle wasn't a good friend because she never liked Dylan, but... wasn't she right? I mean, Sara, he used you and cheated on you and generally treated you like crap. (Even if he was better to Emma than Sara and Brielle were.) I'm sure that, if I asked Amanda Maciel about it, she would agree and not condone Dylan's behavior, I just wish it had been emphasized more towards the end that the cheating was his fault, not Emma's. (Although of course I understand that this is told form Sara's very subjective point-of-view, and even though she grows over the course of the novel, she's not perfect.) I also wish Sara's and Dylan's sexual relationship, as well as Brielle's history, had been addressed in more detail (but I can't really talk about that without spoiling things).

Sorry for writing a review that is probably twice as long as the ones I usually write. But Tease is such a thought-provoking read that I just had more to say than I usually do. It's not perfect, but I do think it sends a very important message, and it's definitely an original contribution to discussions of bullying and slut-shaming. With engaging writing and controversial but sympathetic characters, Tease is a thought-provoking, powerful story. I definitely recommend picking it up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Bookish Anticipation #42

Bookish Anticipation is a feature I do every once in a while to spotlight future releases I'm excited for. It was inspired by Breaking the Spine's Waiting on Wednesday. You can check out more of my Bookish Anticipation posts here.

The Law of Loving Others by Kate Axelrod
Release date: January 8th 2015
Terrified by the realization that she could lose her mother to schizophrenia, Emma spirals out of control over the course of one winter break.
The car glows with that careless feeling before the freedom of winter break as Emma drives home from boarding school with her boyfriend, Daniel. But when Emma calls to tell her mom she’ll be home before dinner, something is wrong. Just hours after Emma returns home, she realizes that her mom is suffering from a schizophrenic break. Emma’s entire childhood and identity is called into question. How could the woman who sent huge care packages of candy to sleep away camp be the same woman duct taping their windows to keep out the voices in her head? In her search for answers, Emma lands on a terrible possibility: schizophrenia is genetic. Emma could have only a few more years of sanity. Emma could end up just like her mom.
We Can Work It Out (The Lonely Hearts Club #2) by Elizabeth Eulberg

Release date: January 27th 2015
When Penny Lane started The Lonely Hearts Club, the goal was simple: to show that girls didn’t need to define themselves by how guys looked at them, and didn’t have to value boyfriends over everything else. Penny thought she’d be an outcast for life . . . but then the club became far more popular than she ever imagined it would be.
But what happens when the girl who never thought she’d date a good guy suddenly finds herself dating a great one? She doesn’t need a boyfriend . . . but she wants it to work out with this particular boyfriend. And he wants it to work out with her.
Only, things keep getting in the way. Feelings keep getting hurt. Words keep getting misunderstood.
Penny Lane worked hard to declare her independence. Now she needs to figure out what to do with it -- and how to balance what she wants with what everyone else wants.

No Parking at the End Times by Bryan Bliss
Release date: February 24th 2015
Abigail doesn't know how her dad found Brother John. Maybe it was the billboards. Or the radio. What she does know is that he never should have made that first donation. Or the next, or the next. Her parents shouldn't have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there with Brother John for the "end of the world." Because of course the end didn't come. And now they're living in their van. And Aaron’s disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But maybe it’s too big a task for one teenage girl. Bryan Bliss’s thoughtful, literary debut novel is about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love.

One of the Guys by Lisa Aldin
Release date: February 10th 2015
Tomboy to the core, Toni Valentine understands guys. She'll take horror movies, monster hunts and burping contests over manicures any day. So Toni is horrified when she's sent to the Winston Academy for Girls, where she has to wear a skirt and learn to be a "lady" while the guys move on without her.
Then Toni meets Emma Elizabeth, a girl at school with boy troubles, and she volunteers one of her friends as a pretend date to make Emma's ex jealous. Soon word spreads of Toni’s connections with boys, and she discovers that her new wealthy female classmates will pay big money for fake dates. Looking for a way to connect her old best friends with her new life at school, Toni and Emma start up Toni Valentine’s Rent-A-Gent Service.
But the business meets a scandal when Toni falls for one of her friends—the same guy who happens to be the most sought-after date. With everything she's built on the line, Toni has to decide if she wants to save the business and her old life, or let go of being one of the guys for a chance at love.

Twisted Fate by Norah Olson
Release date: January 20th 2015
When Alyson meets Graham Copeland, the new boy next door, she instantly feels like he’s a kindred spirit—shy and awkward like her, someone who has trouble making friends. It’s impossible to resist having a crush on him.
As usual, her sister, Sydney, sees things differently. In Sydney's mind, Graham's odd personality and secretive past scream psychopath, not sweetheart. Her gut is telling her to stay away from him, and to protect a love-struck Alyson from her own naïveté. But despite her instincts, Sydney is surprised to realize that a part of her is drawn to Graham, too.
And the more Sydney gets to know him, the more she realizes just how right—and wrong—she is about everything.

Little Peach by Peggy Kern
Release date: March 1st 2015
When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York City, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: she is alone and out of options.
Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels.
But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution where he becomes her “Daddy” and she his “Little Peach.” It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Review: Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

Title: Famous in Love
Author: Rebecca Serle
Publisher: Poppy
Release date: October 1st 2014
Pages: 336
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
When seventeen-year-old Paige Townsen gets plucked from obscurity to star in the movie adaptation of a blockbuster book series, her life changes practically overnight. Within a month, Paige has traded the quiet streets of her hometown for a bustling movie set on the shores of Maui, and she is spending quality time with her costar Rainer Devon, one of People's Sexiest Men Alive. But when troubled star Jordan Wilder lands the role of the other point in the movie's famous love triangle, Paige's crazy new life begins to resemble her character's.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Famous in Love didn't really sound like my kind of read, but since I loved Rebecca Serle's previous two books, When You Were Mine and The Edge of Falling, I thought I'd give this one a try. And although the whole fame-thing isn't my favorite thing to read about, it can work when it's well done (i.e. Open Road Summer), so I thought I might enjoy Famous in Love, too. Sadly, though, this one did not work for me. The story is cliched and underdeveloped, making this a very disappointing read for me.

The main problem I had with this story is the romance. In short, there's a love triangle with lots of insta-love - such a great combination. If it had been well-done, Paige living out the same love triangle as her character could have been kind of entertaining. But it's not. Rainer and Jordan have an interesting background, but that's about all they have going for themselves. When Paige arrives on set, she and Rainer are immediately together, just because. They have no chemistry, he has no personality, and we never learn what she sees in him (other than the fact that he's famous). Jordan is a slightly more interesting character, but things between him and Paige also happen instantaneously, with no build-up or chemistry. So no, I did not enjoy the romance. And considering it's the main storyline, that kind of ruined the book for me.

The fame-and-glamour aspect could have been interesting, but I found it to be kind of underwhelming. It's not horrible - but it's not really anything new. It didn't make me feel the glamour of this world, so it didn't work as any kind of guilty-pleasure entertainment, either.

What's going on at home is what had the most potential, in my opinion. I love the set-up with the big, working-class family, and I thought Paige's sister was a very intriguing character. The set up with Paige's two best friends and their drama is interesting, too. But since most of the book is set away from home, these storylines are never fully explored, unfortunately.

And then there's the ending. I can't really talk about this without spoiling anything, but... what? I was really confused as to what this decision was supposed to mean; it really didn't make sense to me. Is there supposed to be a sequel or something? I just didn't get what the point of that was, at all.

This book really just wasn't for me. With underdeveloped characters and lackluster romance, I really couldn't find anything to love about Famous in Love. It might be better suited for the younger set of YA readers, but I wouldn't particularly recommend it.
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