Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: The Summer I Wasn't Me by Jessica Verdi

Title: The Summer I Wasn't Me
Author: Jessica Verdi
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release date: April 1st 2014
Pages: 342
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Lexi has a secret.
She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good.
Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over.
But sometimes love has its own path…
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I loved Jessica Verdi's debut, My Life After Now, so I was super excited to read her sophomore novel. And while I didn't love The Summer I Wasn't Me quite as much as My Life After Now because some of the storylines didn't work for me, I still absolutely love Jessica Verdi's writing.

I love that Jessica Verdi decided to write about a camp like this. I wasn't as shocked and angry at the concept as most people whose reviews I've read because most of this wasn't really new information for me, but it was fascinating to get an account of what really happens at a camp like this, and especially how the mindset of someone undergoing these kinds of procedures works. The novel definitely sends a strong message, which I really liked, and it does it without condemning religion. The whole concept is fascinating and something more people should read about.

I also loved the characters. Lexi is a great main characters, and I really enjoyed being insider her head. Like I said, it was fascinating to read about her mindset, how she actually wants the "therapy" to work, which seems unfathomable to me but actually makes sense, considering her family situation. Her family background is explored really well, and I loved how that played into the story. The secondary characters are good, too, and present a wide variety of attitudes; I especially loved Matthew.

Carolyn is a great character, too; her reasons to coming to this camp and her background are really interesting to read about. But even though I like Lexi and Carolyn individually, I wasn't a huge fan of the romance. It's a bit instalove-y, but they have chemistry at first, so I didn't mind it that much. But later on, I just found Carolyn and their relationship to be a bit too perfect, and Carolyn's decisions didn't really make sense to me. It also bothered me how much of the novel revolved around the romance; I would have preferred for Lexi to find acceptance of herself independently, rather than basing so much of it off of her relationship with Carolyn. Especially the ending was a bit too optimistic for me, and I felt like it kind of oversimplified their issues.

And then there's one storyline that just did not work, in my opinion. This is kind of a big revelation, so I can't talk about it that much without spoiling anything, but there is one issue that is just completely oversimplified. Lexi and Matthew's decisions regarding this issue didn't really make much sense to me. My main problem with the storyline is that this is a really important issue, but it was mainly just used as a plot device to drive along the romance, which I think oversimplifies and kind of disrespects this issue. It's a really good idea, but the complexities of it would have had to be explored a lot more, especially at the end, in order to really do it justice.

Even though the novel oversimplifies some storylines and the ending is a bit too optimistic to be realistic, I really enjoyed The Summer I Wasn't Me. It's a great concept with lovable and complex characters. Just like My Life After Now, The Summer I Wasn't Me is an important story that needs to be heard, and I'm looking forward to reading more by Jessica Verdi.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Review: Rival by Sara Bennett Wealer

Title: Rival
Author: Sara Bennett Wealer
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: February 15th 2011
Pages: 336
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Meet Brooke: Popular, powerful and hating every minute of it, she’s the “It” girl at Douglas High in Lake Champion, Minnesota. Her real ambition? Using her operatic mezzo as a ticket back to NYC, where her family lived before her dad ran off with an up and coming male movie star.
Now meet Kathryn: An overachieving soprano with an underachieving savings account, she’s been a leper ever since Brooke punched her at a party junior year. For Kath, music is the key to a much-needed college scholarship.
The stage is set for a high-stakes duet between the two seniors as they prepare for the prestigious Blackmore competition. Brooke and Kathryn work toward the Blackmore with eyes not just on first prize but on one another, each still stinging from a past that started with friendship and ended in betrayal. With competition day nearing, Brooke dreams of escaping the in-crowd for life as a professional singer, but her scheming BFF Chloe has other plans. And when Kathryn gets an unlikely invitation to Homecoming, she suspects Brooke of trying to sabotage her with one last public humiliation.
As pressures mount, Brooke starts to sense that the person she hates most might just be the best friend she ever had. But Kathryn has a decision to make. Can she forgive? Or are some rivalries for life?

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Rival had been on my TBR list for years before I finally picked it up. I had always had a good feeling about it but never got around to it - but now I know that good feeling was justified! From the very first page on, I loved Sara Bennet Wealer's writing, which carries the novel throughout.

What makes this novel so great are the characters. At first I was a little confused about the switches in POV along with the switches between junior and senior year, but you get used to it relatively quickly: it works because Brooke and Kathryn have very distinct voices. I loved both of these characters, although I would have to say I liked Brooke more. Kathryn is the one I thought I would relate to more, but she frustrated me a bit towards the end. Brooke, on the other hand, really surprised me; her character is complex and layered, and her insecurities are very relatable. Both characters are very realistic, and I loved seeing their relationship develop over the course of the novel. I especially appreciated how the novel focuses on the two characters as individuals, rather than letting any romantic storylines take center stage.

I know nothing about opera singing, but I really loved reading about it in Rival - this is such an interesting world to be immersed in! I've read plenty of books about artistic main characters, but this world was new to me, and I loved seeing how this world works. Both characters' passion for music really shines through in this novel.

The only part I didn't like quite as much is the popularity element of the novel. That whole thing is kind of melodramatic: it's so overdone how ridiculously "popular" and "powerful" Brooke's older brothers are, so powerful that they could ruin Kathryn's college experience because they have connections everywhere, and so on - all of that kind of annoyed me, to be honest. I didn't even really understand why Brooke is so popular, when she doesn't really care about any of the things her friends care about or seem to put any effort into it. The stuff Brooke's friends do to Kathryn are kind of childish, and I just liked the music part of the rivalry a lot more than the melodramatic popularity element.

But even when I got annoyed by parts of the novel, I couldn't stop reading: Sara Bennett Wealer's writing really got me emotionally invested in these characters and their story. I absolutely loved these characters, and even though I don't think it's a novel that will stay with me for too long, it's one I'd definitely recommend reading.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bookish Anticipation #45

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 Devil You Know by Trish Doller
Release date: June 2nd 2015
Eighteen-year-old Arcadia wants adventure. Living in a tiny Florida town with her dad and four-year-old brother, Cadie spends most of her time working, going to school, and taking care of her family. So when she meets two handsome cousins at a campfire party, she finally has a chance for fun. They invite her and friend to join them on a road trip, and it's just the risk she's been craving-the opportunity to escape. But what starts out as a fun, sexy journey quickly becomes dangerous when she discovers that one of them is not at all who he claims to be. One of them has deadly intentions.

Get Dirty (Don't Get Mad #2) by Gretchen McNeil
Release date: June 16th 2015
The members of Don’t Get Mad aren’t just mad anymore . . . they’re afraid. And with Margot in a coma and Bree stuck in juvie, it’s up to Olivia and Kitty to try to catch their deadly tormentor. But just as the girls are about to go on the offensive, Ed the Head reveals a shocking secret that turns all their theories upside down. The killer could be anyone, and this time he—or she—is out for more than just revenge.
The girls desperately try to discover the killer’s identity as their personal lives are falling apart: Donté is pulling away from Kitty and seems to be hiding a secret of his own, Bree is under house arrest, and Olivia’s mother is on an emotional downward spiral. The killer is closing in, the threats are becoming more personal, and when the police refuse to listen, the girls have no choice but to confront their anonymous friend . . . or die trying.

Invincible by Amy Reed
Release date: April 28th 2015
Evie is living on borrowed time. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer several months ago and told that by now she'd be dead. Evie is grateful for every extra day she gets, but she knows that soon this disease will kill her. Until, miraculously, she may have a second chance to live.
All Evie had wanted was her life back, but now that she has it, she feels like there's no place for her in it--at least, not for the girl she is now. Her friends and her parents still see her as Cancer Girl, and her boyfriend's constant, doting attention is suddenly nothing short of suffocating.
Then Evie meets Marcus. She knows that he's trouble, but she can't help falling for him. Being near him makes her feel truly, fully alive. It's better than a drug. His kiss makes her feel invincible--but she may be at the beginning of the biggest free fall of her life.
The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler 
Release date: June 2nd 2015
The youngest of six talented sisters, Elyse D’Abreau was destined for stardom—until a boating accident took everything from her. Now, the most beautiful singer in Tobago can’t sing. She can’t even speak.
Seeking quiet solitude, Elyse accepts a friend’s invitation to Atargatis Cove. Named for the mythical first mermaid, the Oregon seaside town is everything Elyse’s home in the Caribbean isn’t: an ocean too cold for swimming, parties too tame for singing, and people too polite to pry—except for one.
Christian Kane is a notorious playboy—insolent, arrogant, and completely charming. He’s also the only person in Atargatis Cove who doesn’t treat Elyse like a glass statue. He challenges her to express herself, and he admires the way she treats his younger brother, Sebastian, who believes Elyse is the legendary mermaid come to life.
When Christian needs a first mate for the Cove’s high-stakes Pirate Regatta, Elyse reluctantly stows her fear of the sea and climbs aboard. The ocean isn’t the only thing making waves, though—swept up in Christian’s seductive tide and entranced by the Cove’s charms, Elyse begins to wonder if a life of solitude isn’t what she needs. But changing course again means facing her past. It means finding her inner voice. And scariest of all, it means opening her heart to a boy who’s best known for breaking them…

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Release date: June 16th 2015
Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can't turn off.
Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn't help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she'd be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam's weekly visits to her psychiatrist.
Caroline introduces Sam to the Poet's Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more "normal" than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
Release date: June 16th 2015
The Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto -- miracle cure-alls don't tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can't forget how he's grown up poor or how his friends aren't always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it's not enough.
Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn't mind Aaron's obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn't mind talking about Aaron's past. But Aaron's newfound happiness isn't welcome on his block. Since he's can't stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

What releases are you anticipating this week? 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Title: Playlist for the Dead
Author: Michelle Falkoff
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release date: January 27th 2015
Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Edelweiss - I received a free eGalley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend's suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.
Here's what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you'll understand.
As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it's only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Playlist for the Dead was a very "meh" kind of book. There's nothing I want to rant about, but nothing I really loved about it, either. The novel has potential, but it was a very underwhelming read for me that I don't really have an opinion about one way or the other.

Sam and Hayden, albeit a bit stereotypical, are fully-realized characters. They're trying a bit too hard to be alternative for my tastes - complaining about how bad top 40 music is does not make you a more interesting or sophisticated person - but I did feel for them. Sam and Hayden are sympathetic characters in their issues at school, and I felt for Sam throughout his struggle with losing Hayden. 

I also really like the message that the novel sends. While it seems a bit forced how every single storyline and character exemplifies this, I did appreciate the message of how people are complex and not always what they seem. The novel calls to consider that there are always multiple sides to a story, which works really well with what Sam learns over the course of the novel.

The actual, story, though, is lacking in parts. I found the whole thing kind of formulaic and repetitive, how Sam goes to one person to hear part of the story, and how conveniently it all ties together. In between hearing parts of the story from different people (without really having to figure anything out himself), there's a romance storyline that I liked at first but takes a really random path later on. I didn't have a real issue with any of these things, but nothing stood out as very original or surprising, either.

The whole mystery element is kind of strange. It started out interesting and if it was going somewhere, but then it just kind of... doesn't. I felt like the danger wasn't immediate enough to actually justify any sort of suspense. The possibly-supernatural elements don't really go anywhere either, and are just kind of explained away at the end, and the way the mystery resolve is very underwhelming and felt like a bit of a cop-out. That made some of the mysterious events seem kind of pointless, as if they were just added for suspense without really contributing anything to the story.

Judging from the title and description, I figured music would play an important role in figuring out what happened the night Hayden killed himself. The whole music aspect has a lot of potential, and it does take up a large part of the story; I like how every chapter is titled after a song on the playlist, and how its significance to Sam's and Hayden's relationship is always explained. But as for being part of the mystery or driving the storyline in any way, it was very underwhelming. We're led to believe these songs will reveal something about Hayden's decision, but then it just kind of doesn't. Even though I liked the musical aspect, that made the whole thing kind of pointless and disappointing, since the title makes it out to be so important.

I also had some issues in regards to portrayal of gender. Sam and Hayden have a very stereotypical nerd-view of women, in the sense that they are exotic creatures that they never really interact with; girls aren't really seen as people with real interests that you could have real conversations with. Astrid breaks that mold because she's a fully-realized character, but it still bothered me that Sam would only consider a romantic relationship with her as worthy and couldn't be just friends with her. Even worse are Hayden's romantic endeavors, in which romance is portrayed as the only meaningful relationship that could make life worth living. This was never really discussed, which bothered me throughout the novel.

I did like the characters and message that Playlist for the Dead sends, but the novel wastes a lot of potential on by introducing so many storylines that don't really go end up going anywhere. The solutions presented by the novel are very underwhelming, making the whole mystery element kind of pointless. While I did feel for the characters, the novel didn't evoke as many emotions in me as one with a topic this important could. Overall, this is an okay read, but I think there are better YA books about the same topic.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf BYR
Release date: August 27th 2013
Pages: 196
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.
While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Two Boys Kissing is only my second non-collaborative David Levithan book, but I'm quickly realizing that I need to read all of them. I thought nothing could be as great as Every Day, but now I can't decide which one I liked better; they're both impressively unique and thought-provoking. I'm finally beginning to understand why David Levithan is such a big name in YA.

To be honest, Two Boys Kissing took me a while to get into, and that's because of the unusual narration. I didn't know that this was going to be narrated by a Greek Chorus of gay men who have died of AIDS, but since it's in the description, I'm going to assume I'm not spoiling it for anyone. It took me the first couple of chapter-like units of the book to understand who was talking to us, and even after that, it was kind of strange, but I got into after a while. I don't usually like omniscient narrators, and this Greek Chorus can see into everyone's heads, but somehow, it works; the transitions make it flow really nicely, rather than seeming like random thoughts from random people. This form of narration makes the novel kind of preachy at times, but I didn't mind that much either; since the preachiness is coming from the Greek Chorus of people who obviously have strong opinions about homophobia, etc., rather than the author, it's justified, in a way (even though I'm sure David Levithan would agree with them). I know some people complained that this narration made them feel less close to the characters, and that's accurate, but I didn't mind that, because one individual character isn't the point; this is their collective story. After I got into it, I really enjoyed getting little glimpses into their lives, and I think this unusual form of narration is what really made the novel stand out. 

Even though this is more of a collective than an individual story, the characters are very well-developed. Some are more developed than others: I especially loved Harry and Craig and Cooper, while I didn't feel as much of a connection with the other two couples, Neil and Patrick and Ryan and Avery. Harry and Craig's parts were my favorite simply because I love this idea: it was fascinating to read about all the little things that go into making such a long kiss work, and I just love reading about random records like that. But Neil and Patrick do get bonus points for the adorable scene in the YA section of a bookstore references to other YA books and characters who read YA make me ridiculously happy.

But even more so than these individual stories, David Levithan's writing is what makes Two Boys Kissing such an exceptional novel. Just like in Every Day, there are so many quotes in Two Boys Kissing that I totally would have dog-eared if that wouldn't give me a book nerd heart attack. There are so many thoughtprovoking sentences and paragraphs you just have to read over and over because they are so powerful in their truthfulness. David Levithan's words carry so much emotion, and I cried multiple times over the course of this story, but this novel is really more hopeful and inspirational than it is sad.

If you haven't read a David Levithan book, you need to go change that right now. He has the best, most creative set-ups, and powerful, thoughtprovoking writing that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page. I can't recommend Two Boys Kissing enough.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #35: 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get to

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 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get to

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern
Inland by Kat Rosenberg
Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
Like No Other by Una LaMarche

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
In Deep by Terra Elan McVoy
Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

What 2014 releases did you miss out on reading this past year?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Author Interview with Natalie D. Richards (Gone Too Far Blog Tour)

I'm so excited to have Natalie D. Richards here for an author interview today! I really liked her debut Six Months Later, and this post is part of the blog tour for her new release, Gone Too Far.

1. I really enjoyed the mystery element of Six Months Later, and it sounds like Gone Too Far will be heavily driven by a mystery storyline as well. What made you want to write within the contemporary YA mystery genre?
Thank you so much for your kind words about Six Months Later! Yes, Gone Too Far definitely shares that creepy what-is-going-on vibe!! I think I write thrillers and mind-benders because I love to read them. Great books come in all shapes and sizes, but there is something that gets me about a good thriller, one that keeps me up way too late, turning pages to find out what the heck is going to happen.
2. Could you talk a little bit about how writing Gone Too Far was similar to or different from writing Six Months Later?
Oh, I could write a blog, a book, an epic ten-volume series on how these processes were different. But I’ll try to condense it here, so your poor readers don’t get bored. ;-) Writing Six Months Later had its challenges, but Gone Too Far just about killed me. My critique partner, Romily Bernard, and I talk about it like Voldemort—the-book-that-shall-not-be-named. In essence, this is because every single thread in Gone Too Far is braided into something else. It was a very tightly woven plot and pulling at any one thing in editing, snagged the whole book. It took tremendous time and effort, but I’m really happy with how it turned out. This book required very serious focus and work and it was worth it.
3. Without spoiling anything, could you tell us what was your favorite scene to write in Gone Too Far?
Oh, man. Um. The whole chapter at the basketball game – near the end. And that’s really all I can say, because it would spoil everything, but I wrote that chapter practically vibrating with energy and excitement. It had been SUCH a long ride to get there and it was such an intense scene to get out. Awesome and terrifying and thrilling all at once.
4. If you had to pair up your main character Piper with any other character from any other YA book (either romantically or as a friend), who would it be and why?
Fantastic question!! Piper would without a single question be incredibly good friends with Wick from Romily Bernard’s Find Me series. They both have a raw honesty to them, and a fierce commitment to the people they love. So, yeah. I’m thinking Wick.
5. What comes easier for you, description or dialogue?
Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. If you read my rough drafts, my characters are essentially floating around in outer space talking to each other and feeling things. I always get caught up in the suspense and relational stuff, so setting is something I always have to remember to edit back in.
6. How do you go about naming your characters?
Oh, wow, I wish I had the cool answer for this—you know, that every one of my characters has an important meaning to their name and some sort of reason that it had to be that. Really, I use like it’s my personal naming guru (and it is) and I go completely on feel. I’ll just keep saying names out loud until I’m like—yeah, that’s it.

I will say there’s usually one name per book that completely sticks for me. Piper was that name in Gone Too Far. She was Piper. Renaming her would have been brutally hard.
7. For any aspiring writers out there - what's the best writing advice you've ever received?
Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Never, ever, ever, EVER give up. I know that seems basic. I know it might feel like a cop-out answer, but to this day, this is what I go back to when I’m struggling or unsure. I always need to read more. I always need to write more. And I can’t give up. Not ever. ;-)
Lots of writers have said similar things, but in On Writing, Stephen King said something like “Talent is a dime a dozen, it’s hard work that will get you everywhere.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the thing I live by.

Thank you so much for having me!! It’s great to be here and I’m thrilled that you’re featuring Gone Too Far on your blog!

Thanks so much for stopping by Paperback Treasures on your blog tour!

Make sure to check out all the other stops of the blog tour, and keep your eye out for Gone Too Far! Here's what it's all about:

Gone Too Far by Natalie D. Richards
Piper Woods can't wait for the purgatory of senior year to end. She skirts the fringes of high school like a pro until the morning she finds a notebook with mutilated photographs and a list of student sins. She's sure the book is too gruesome to be true, until pretty, popular Stella dies after a sex-tape goes viral. Everyone's sure it's suicide, but Piper remembers Stella's name from the book and begins to suspect something much worse.
Drowning in secrets she doesn't want to keep, Piper's fears are confirmed when she receives an anonymous text message daring her to make things right. All she needs to do is choose a name, the name of someone who deserves to be punished...

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Title: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown for Young Readers
Release date: June 4th 2013
Pages: 272
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: Bought
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Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.
Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.
When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

This is a really hard one to rate. I absolutely loved most parts of this story and these characters, and it's definitely an emotional read. But at the same time there were some small things that really didn't work, and they bothered me so much that I focused more on those than on the actual story at times. It's the kind of book where I could write either a 2-star or a 5-star review and justify it without being untruthful.

So let's talk about the good first. Most of the characters in When You Were Here are really good. Danny is an authentic male narrator with a strong voice, and I really enjoyed reading from his perspective. The whole family dynamic is original and really well-done. I loved the relationship between Danny and his mother, which really drove the whole story. (Even though I found parts of it to be a bit melodramatic, which I'll talk about later.) I also really enjoyed the character of Liani, Danny's estranged sister - the dynamics and the history of that relationship were really interesting to read about. And my favorite character would have to be Kana, the eccentric Japanese girl showing Danny around. I was totally expecting her to be another manic pixie dream girl, which would have killed it for me, but she isn't. She definitely has MPDGesque qualities, but she also has her own motivations and backstory that make her a real person. What really made me love her is how Kana's and Danny's relationship is entirely platonic; I was expecting this to be yet another love triangle, but I'm so glad Daisy Whitney didn't go down that route because I think it's really important that a YA book, for once, explores a platonic friendship between a male and a female character. I really loved the characters and the directions this story went in, especially in how many emotions this story conveys.

But then there were these little things that kept preventing me from really loving this book. One thing that bothered me is how much money all of these characters seem to have. Danny's mom retired early to become a full-time cancer treatment patient, and she flies from LA to Tokyo once a month for her treatment. They have a mansion in LA and an apartment that comes with its own manager in Tokyo. Danny, and Holland too, have the money to hop on intercontinental flights at a moment's notice, and he even has his dog flown to Tokyo on a private jet. Both Danny's mom and Kate have ridiculous amounts of money from really random-sounding jobs. Of course the fact that the characters have money doesn't make this a bad book, but it bothered me how this privilege is never acknowledged - how Danny's mom's struggle with cancer could have been very different if they didn't have these sorts of money, and how everyone they interact with seems to have more than enough money. How this is never even addressed just kind of bugged me.

I also found some of Danny's experiences in Japan kind of unrealistic. Everyone there seems to speak perfect English - not a single mistake or even mentioning of an accent. If this were only true for Kana, I could see that because it fits her character (even though she would still be making some mistakes), but every single random person Danny talks to speaks this perfect English. The only person who doesn't speak perfect English is Kana's mom, who has Kana handle the communications part of her real estate business because she speaks better English. But really, Kana's mom's English is really good, and she would probably be considered to be among the people with above-average English skills, so the fact that she has her daughter speak to her clients for her seemed sort of constructed just to create Kana's character.

Even though I liked most of the characters, it bothered me how much some of them were idealized. I get that, to some extent, it makes sense for Danny and those around him to idealize the memory of his mother, but it seemed a bit overdone. Every  person whose store she shopped at or restaurant she ate at seems to remember her perfectly and talks about how much they loved her, which just seemed like too much to me. Holland, too, is described as way too perfect; again, it kind of makes sense because it's Danny's perspective, but I wish she had some kind of flaw to make her more realistic. (I don't count her secret as a flaw because that whole storyline seemed kind of contrived to me, too.) And to a lesser extent, this also applies to Sandy Koufax, Danny's dog - I know a lot of people thought he was the cutest (because he was described to be the perfect dog), but it felt kind of forced to me; I'm just not a huge fan of authors using pets for automatic cuteness points. And to go along with this idealization, I also didn't like the whole pain killer storyline: at the beginning of the novel, Danny is popping pain killers like nothing in order to cope with what's going on in his life. Once he's happy at the end of the novel, he simply throws them all away and is done with them, with no mention of addiction or any following complications. I just wasn't a fan of how this novel idealized some of the characters and storylines and brushes over the complexities of these storylines and relationships.

I feel like this review is going to sound a lot more negative than positive, but that's just because I'm better at complaining than I am at explaining what I liked. Yes, the little things bothered me, and I couldn't write this review without mentioning them, but I did still really enjoy this novel. Regardless of the little stuff, I really enjoyed the message and the emotions this novel conveys; I mean, I cried, and I don't think a crappy book can really make you cry. So I do recommend When You Were Here for its central storyline and emotions; just don't expect too much from the logic or from how well the complexities of some smaller storylines are explored.  

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday #34: Most Anticipated Debut Novels for 2015

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 Most Anticipated Debut Novels for 2015

The Night We Said Yes by Lauren Gibaldi
The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne
Little Peach by Peggy Kern

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott
Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

What 2015 debuts are you most excited about?
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