Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

Title: Falling into Place
Author: Amy Zhang
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release date: September 9th 2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Why? Why did Liz Emerson decide that the world would be better off without her? Why did she give up? Vividly told by an unexpected and surprising narrator, this heartbreaking and nonlinear novel pieces together the short and devastating life of Meridian High’s most popular junior girl. Mass, acceleration, momentum, force—Liz didn’t understand it in physics, and even as her Mercedes hurtles toward the tree, she doesn’t understand it now. How do we impact one another? How do our actions reverberate? What does it mean to be a friend? To love someone? To be a daughter? Or a mother? Is life truly more than cause and effect?
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Falling Into Place combines so many factors that I usually hate - an omniscient narrator, non-linear storytelling with lots of flashbacks rather than a focus on a current plot - but somehow, it works. I don't even know how to explain why Falling Into Place is so good; not all that much happens, since it's set in the stand-still after Liz's car crash, but the writing is so amazing that it doesn't even matter.

I really, really dislike omniscient narrators. I've read very few books that make it work, and while I was interning this summer, I read a ridiculous amount of queries with omniscient narrators that are used as an excuse for tons of head-jumping and a lack of focus in the story. So to say I was wary when I saw Falling Into Place has an omniscient narrator would be an understatement. But somehow, it totally works. Once you understand who the narrator is, it makes sense for them to have access to every characters' thoughts and story. I figured out who the narrator is about halfway through the book, but that doesn't make this way of telling the story any less powerful. It's pretty much genius the way this balances objectivity with a personal investment in the characters' lives, and I loved getting this perspective.

When you add non-linear, snapshot-like storytelling to this omniscient narration, Falling Into Place should be confusing as hell. As a reader who is used to linear, first-person narration, I am easily confused by anything that jumps from one character or one time period to another, let alone both. But somehow, it all comes together and makes sense even to a simplistic reader like me; the different points in time and the different characters' stories intertwine in intricate but subtle ways that tie the story together seamlessly; the story flows nicely, and I pretty much couldn't stop reading, despite (or because of) the non-linear storytelling.

Telling the stories of so many characters, it is easy to let them embody cliches and simplify their relationships, but that is definitely not the case in Falling Into Place. All of these characters' issues resonated with me, even if I didn't particularly like them or agree with them most of the time. They are self-destructive and vulnerable, and complex in the best way. The relationships, too, are toxic and complex, making for a fascinating read. The characters' vulnerability and pain is honest and heartwrenching, which is what makes this such an emotional read.

I can't talk about this much without spoiling things, but I wasn't a huge fan of the ending; I thought it was too abrupt and didn't fit the theme of the rest of the story. I get that ending it another way might have been problematic, and I might be in the minority in this opinion. But I think that, no matter how the story ends, it would be important to explore the emotions related to the outcome, and I found that aspect to be lacking.

Also, one more little complaint: I know the whole physics-thing is supposed to be meaningful and relevant, but... I just didn't care. A someone who doesn't really care about physics (sorry not sorry), I just found those passages kind of boring, to be honest.

Amy Zhang, I love you for writing this beautiful story, but I also hate you a little bit for making me feel like a total underachiever by writing something so good while still being in high school. But I still mainly just love this book. With effortlessly beautiful writing and vulnerable, complex characters, Falling Into Place is a quiet but powerful, heartwrenching, exceptionally-crafted novel that I can't recommend enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday #29: Books I Really Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish with a different topic for a top-ten list each week. You can find out more about it here.

This week's topic is: Top Ten Books I Really Want to Read But Don't Own Yet

1. The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler

I loved most of Sarah Ockler's books, and I really want to read The Book of Broken Hearts. (To be honest, the only reason I haven't bought it is the embarrassing cover. But I'll just have to get over that.)

2. Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Let's just get this one out of the way. Obviously I need to buy Isla as soon as possible.

3. Fault Line by Christa Desir

I love Christa Desir's Bleed Like Me, and Christa is awesome on Twitter, so I really need to read her debut.

4. Raw Blue by Kirsty Eagar

I feel like everyone who has read Raw Blue has loved it like no other; I don't think I've read a single bad review for this one. I really really need to get over my only-reading-recent-releases thing and buy Raw Blue.

5. The Disenchantments & Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

I'm just going to count these two as one because I couldn't decide which of them to put on the list. I absolutely loved Nina LaCour's debut, Hold Still, but for some reason still haven't read her newer releases. Her writing in Hold Still is amazing, so I really need to get to these.

6. Golden by Jessi Kirby

I loved both Moonglass and In Honor by Jessi Kirby - Jessi Kirby's writing style is just amazing. So of course I need to read her newest release!

7. Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Trish Doller's debut, Something Like Normal, is one of my all-time favorites, and I have no idea why I still haven't bought Where the Stars Still Shine.

8. The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

I loved Wendy Wunder's writing in The Probability of Miracles, so I can't wait to read her sophomore novel!

9. White Lines by Jennifer Banash

I love gritty, dark contemporary YAs like this, and I've heard amazing things about White Lines. I'm also kind of obsessed with the cover, and I don't even know why, since it's a very standard YA girl's face cover.

10. Like No Other by Una LaMarche

I recently read Una LaMarche's Five Summers and loved it, so I really need to get my hands on a copy of Like No Other!

Have you read any of these? Which books do I absolutely need to get right away?

Monday, August 25, 2014

Review: No One Needs to Know by Amanda Grace

Title: No One Needs to Know
Author: Amanda Grace
Publisher: Flux
Release date: September 8th 2014
Pages: 240
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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Sometimes, the cost of love is too steep.
Olivia's twin brother, Liam, has been her best friend her whole life. But when he starts dating, Olivia is left feeling alone, so she tries to drive away Liam's girlfriends in an effort to get her best friend back.
But she meets her match in Zoey, Liam's latest fling. A call-it-like-she-sees-it kind of girl, Zoey sees right through Olivia's tricks. What starts as verbal sparring between the two changes into something different, however, as they share their deepest insecurities and learn they have a lot in common. Olivia falls for Zoey, believing her brother could never get serious with her. But when Liam confesses that he's in love with Zoey, Olivia has to decide who deserves happiness more: her brother or herself?
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

No One Needs to Know turned out to be quite different than I'd expected. The description makes it sounds like this is just Olivia' story, but we really have alternating chapters from Olivia's and Zoey's POVs. This made me really happy, because, the synopsis makes it out to be like it's Olivia's decision whether Zoey stays with her brother or goes out with her, when that's obviously not for Olivia but for Zoey to decide. And the synopsis also doesn't do Zoey and Olivia's relationship justice: they're not just rivals for Liam's attention: they go to the same school, and they have some history that makes them, well, not quite BFFs. That means we had a really intriguing set-up, to add to love triangle with boy/girl twins that I loved; making for a fascinating premise.

But even though I loved the set-up, the story just isn't developed enough for me to actually love this book. The characters are pretty stereotypical: Olivia is the rich popular girl, and Zoey is the outcast from the wrong side of town. And there really isn't all that much else to them. Their issues could have been interesting to read about, but they're not really explored in any depth. I never got to know them enough to actually care about what happens to them. Even more underdeveloped than Olivia and Zoey is Liam: we find out pretty much nothing about him, and since he's very much part of the central conflict, I think he definitely would have deserved more screen (page?) time and more character development.

Just as underwhelming as the character development is the plot. I did like how Zoey and Olivia's relationship developed, especially in the beginning, but because the characters are underdeveloped, they don't have enough chemistry to make it work. We find out almost nothing about Zoey's relationship with Liam, which also would have been important for the plot. I just couldn't get myself to care, and there are parts when, despite the book being so short, the plot drags. And then there's the ending, which is just ridiculously overwhelming. It is much too happy and the central conflict is resolved way too easily, making that whole storyline feel kind of pointless. 

I did enjoy this story. Like I said, I love the set-up, and the story is entertaining at least. But because of the lack of character development and dragging plot, No One Needs to Know failed to be anything more than that. Sadly, the whole story was just very underwhelming.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

Title: To All the Boys I've Loved Before
Author: Jenny Han
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BYR
Release date: April 15th 2014
Pages: 368
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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What if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them... all at once?
Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren't love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she's written. One for every boy she's ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean's love life goes from imaginary to out of control.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I loved Jenny Han's Summer series, but it's been a while since I read those books, so I tried to keep my expectations low for To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Luckily, though, there was no need, because I was most definitely not disappointed! Just as I remember it being in the Summer series, Jenny Han's writing in To All the Boys I've Loved Before is engaging and addictive, and it reminded me of why I love reading. I absolutely loved this book!

The description of this one is super-vague, and I loved going in without knowing much. Some people might complain that the book doesn't have enough drive and no real central conflict (I know lit-agent-me would probably have to turn this down for that exact reason), but I didn't mind. You have no idea where the story is going because it develops in such a natural way, rather than following any standard formulaic pacing. This might bother some people who prefer plot-driven novels, but as someone who loves character-driven writing, I really appreciated this set-up.

Asides from Jenny Han's addictive writing, the characters are what make this book work. I loved Lara Jean so much! Her voice is so relatable, and she's the perfect balance of vulnerable and strong. (I especially loved reading about her driving anxiety because that made her even more relatable to me.) The secondary characters are great, too: my favorites would have to be Lara Jean's sisters, Margo and Kitty. The relationships between these three are complex and fascinating to read about. Their dad is super-sweet, too - I just loved all of the family dynamics in this one. Chris is Lara Jean's only female friend, really, and she's also tons of fun to read about - she's very unconventional, and I loved it. And then, of course, there's the boys. I don't want to really talk about them because, like I said, I loved going into this without knowing anything, but I'll just say that I really liked reading about all the boys Lara Jean has loved before (and still does?).

I had mixed feelings about the ending. My initial reaction was anger because it's very open-ended in regards to the romance, and I need to know what happens! But in a way, I really appreciated that the ending focuses on the sister relationship rather than the romance. And it's not like it matters anyways, since there's going to be a sequel...

I absolutely loved To All the Boys I've Loved Before. I can see how it's not for everyone, because the plot doesn't really have a clear track or central conflict. But I think that Jenny Han's addictive writing and engaging characters more than made up for it. I can't wait to read PS. I Still Love You!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Review: yolo (Internet Girls #4) by Lauren Myracle

Title: yolo (Internet Girls #4)
Author: Lauren Myracle
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release date: August 26th 2014
Pages: 208
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: BEA 2014
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Through texts and messages, the mega-bestselling, beloved Internet Girls series followed the ups and downs of school for three very different, very close friends. Now it’s freshman year of college for the winsome threesome, and *everything* is different. For one, the best friends are facing their first semester apart. Way, way apart. Maddie’s in California, Zoe’s in Ohio, and Angela’s back in Georgia. And it’s not just the girls who are separated. Zoe’s worried that Doug wants to break up now that they’re at different schools, and Maddie’s boyfriend, Ian, is on the other side of the country.In the face of change and diverging paths, Maddie’s got a plan to keep the friends close, and it involves embracing the present, making memories, and . . . roller derby! Using of-the-moment technology, Lauren Myracle brings her groundbreaking series into the brave new virtual world of texting and tweets.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I absolutely loved the Internet Girls series (my review) when I was younger, so I was super excited to see there was a new book coming out! Combine that with the fact that the protagonists are in college, and I knew I had to read this one. (Even if the title makes me cringe so hard. Had to read this one locked in my room so no one would judge me for reading a book called yolo.) And yolo (urgh) turned out to be just what I expected - no, it won't be the most meaningful book you'll read this year, but it is definitely entertaining.

I loved being reunited with these characters, whom I loved in the original series. Lauren Myracle always impressed me with her ability to create such dynamic characters with just the use of their IMs/texts, and she did it again in yolo. In a way, that was easier in yolo than in the previous books - in the first three books, the main characters see each other in real life and have lots of interactions that we don't get to see, but since they're all at different colleges in yolo, it seemed a lot more natural to get to see most of their conversations.

It was great to see how their friendship developed once they all left for college. Even though I liked the individual characters, my favorite part of the series was always the strong friendship between the three of them. And luckily, they manage to continue such a strong friendship, despite the distance. I loved reading about the three of them in the new college setting, and getting to see how these new circumstances affected them. I just wish we had gotten some more exploration of Maddie's story towards the ending - I wanted to know more about what had really been going on.

The last sentence of the jacket copy description goes "Using of-the-moment technology, Lauren Myracle brings her groundbreaking series into the brave new virtual world of texting and tweets," and I found that aspect to be a little overdone. I was excited to see them text instead of just IMing (because really, who still IMs nowadays?), but the other references kind of bothered me. There are a couple of references to Snapchat and Twitter that just seem kind of forced: I didn't think they were necessary for the story, and these kinds of references just mean that the book will be outdated again relatively soon. Then again, I guess that's inevitable with this type of format.

There is one scene in the novel that my feminist heart can't help but comment on. This happens sort of late in the novel, but I wouldn't really consider this a spoiler because it doesn't tell you anything about the main story. Anyways, at a frat party, Angela and her friend Reid see these three guys taking advantage of a girl who has passed out (just from drinking, or because someone slipped her something, we don't know). Angela and Reid tell the guys to eff off, and they take the girl to her sorority house, leaving her a note explaining what happened. For the most part, this event is handled pretty well - I applaud Angela and Reid for stepping in, and for not going public with this without the girl's permission, and for lamenting the fact that so often, the perpetrators in these kinds of situations aren't punished. But I still had some issues with their discussion of rape and sexual assault. Angela wanted to tell the girl not to get that drunk again, which is victim-blaming bullshit, and Maddie told Angela not to get herself into a situation like that, which is, you guessed it, more victim-blaming bullshit. Rape is not caused by getting too drunk or not being careful. Rape is caused by rapists. Also, they talk about rape as if it were such an unusual, rare event - Zoe, for example, believes that something like that wouldn't happen at her school. Sorry, I don't believe that there is a single coed campus in the US where no one has ever been raped, and thinking that the people at your school wouldn't do something like that is simply naive - rape culture is everywhere. Yeah, so... mixed feelings about that scene, but it was a good try, at least.

Really, the only thing that matters is that yolo was a really fun read. You don't necessarily have to have read the previous books to understand this one, but my favorite part was reuniting with these characters I loved, so I do think reading the books in order adds a lot. If you liked the original Internet Girls series and are looking for a quick, fun read, you should definitely give yolo a try!
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