Book Review: I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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DNF at 55%

I haven’t abandoned a book in so long… I felt bad about breaking such a long streak of powering through shitty books. But I really didn’t want to suffer through this one any longer. I’m an adult, damnit. I have the right to stop reading something that’s boring my face off.

I was trying to find a picture or gif to describe I’ll Give You the Sun, and this is the best I could come up with:

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Like Prince, this book is so purple. And also like Prince, this book thinks it’s a lot more important than it actually is. (Sorry, Prince fans.)

I think my dislike for poetic prose is a personal taste thing. I still can’t understand why anyone would be moved by a sentence like: “The world is a wrong-sized shoe.” But whatever, to each their own. The writing style isn’t why I stopped reading this book. I stopped reading because the plot is thin and the characters are unbelievable and annoying.

The thin plot: 13-year-old fraternal twins, a guy and a girl, are both trying to get into a pretigious, fine arts high school. They’re also both crushing on boys. And then something goes down and the twins stop speaking to each other. Then there’s a tragedy. Jump forward 3 years and they’re still not really speaking to each other. Even though they live in the same house, which is totally how it would go down IRL. Neither one of them would try to make things right, nuh-uh… And yah, after about 100 pages you know exactly where the story’s going and you don’t care.

The unbelievable and annoying characters: I kind of liked Noah, even though I’m not sure if I buy that real artists think like he does. He was a little whiny, but so are all 13-year-olds. He interested me at least. I found Jude to be obnoxious. Yah, she’s been through a lot, but she’s so “I’m not like other girls” I just feel like I’ve come across her character in so many other books and I’m tired of it. No, I don’t believe that she has no friends. And no, I don’t believe that she became an entirely different person after the tragedy. Yah, that shit’s gonna change you, but not that much. And her crush on Oscar? Give me a fucking break. Borderline-statutory-rape vibes aside, the guy is so stereotypical British it’s almost offensive, and he’s a stock character damaged bad boy that is evidence of (again) lazy writing. These two are really just Edward and Bella with better vocabulary. And from what I understand [spoiler here: they get together in the end.] Which is total bullshit and should not be encouraged. I thought YA was past this crap but I guess not.

I feel bad, because a co-worker recommended this book to me as part of a “readers advisory” exercise that was supposed to help us librarians make better recommendations to our patrons. I told her that I don’t like purple writing or unrealistic romances, but I guess I didn’t explain myself well enough… I hope I enjoy her other recommendations.

2016, you better step it up. No more pretentious novels with characters named “Jude.” Please. (My angry review of A Little Life: coming soon!)

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Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

 

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This book is as cute as everyone says it is. It’s also funny, clever, and not the least bit sappy or emotionally manipulative. The love story between Simon and his anonymous internet friend is believable from beginning to end. Simon’s other friends and family members are also round characters, and are all likable despite their flaws.

Simon does a good job showing that coming out is scary, even for people with accepting families. Simon explains that he’s been coming out his whole life—like every time he has to remind his parents that he likes coffee, for example. And he’s tired of coming out. He’s tired of being vulnerable. I think all of us, LGBT or not, can sympathize with this feeling. But what I probably loved the most about this book were all the clever pop culture references. Simon’s sister has a dog named Bieber, who’s so named because he’s a golden retriever who always looks doped out. And Simon goes into a bit of detail about how and why his first male crush was on Daniel Radcliffe, which I easily relate to… But yah, if you’re over 40, you might not be able to appreciate the book/music/TV jokes and might not enjoy this as much as I did.

Congrats on a great first book, Ms. Albertalli. I’m looking forward to your next one.

All the Bright Places: Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee Review

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5star

About 40 pages into this I started to feel as if I was riding into a deep, dark tunnel with no chance of escape.

See, if I’d known what this book was about…what it’s really about, I mean… I wouldn’t have read it. Not in a million years. I knew that two kids with depression fall in love, and I knew that the guy’s more messed up than the girl. But I’ve read books like this before and they didn’t turn me into an emotional wreck. Actually, I read a book like this a few weeks ago, My Heart and Other Black Holes, which is well-written and brutal in it’s own right, but nothing like this. Not to me. Because the guy in All the Bright Places, Theodore Finch, has bipolar disorder and is serious about committing suicide. And that hit me really close to home.

This book is very highly rated on Goodreads and elsewhere, but I’ve seen my fair share of reviews that I can only describe as: “Oh myy gawwd! This book is so unrealistic! People with mental illnesses aren’t all quirky and poetic, and if you like effing John Green, you can read this trash, but this is actual crap. And it’s so disrespectful to people who really have a mental illness!” Sooo… you can dislike this book for whatever reason, it’s a free country. But I’m going to be real freaking honest with all of you: 1) I don’t think the dialogue in this book was nearly as complex and unbelievable as in TFIOS (which I liked btw), and 2) if you read this entire book and come away with the impression that Finch is nothing like someone who has a “real mental illness,” then you have obviously never known someone with Bipolar I Disorder.

Yes, everyone is different, but trust me when I say that Finch is sooo much like the bipolar friend I had in college. Finch describes his manic days (what he refers to as “awake” days) as both exciting and terrifying. He barely sleeps. He talks a mile a minute. He can run for hours without getting tired. He has a thousand different thoughts going in and out his brain at one time. He knows a ridiculous amount about random stuff, because when he’s “awake” he has time to learn and do so much. He doesn’t have many friends because the kids at school know he’s weird, but can’t put a finger on exactly what’s wrong with him. My old friend is all of these things. But of course, Finch and my old friend are much more different than they are similar. Because like Finch says, he’s more than just a label. The symptoms of his illness can’t capture the person he really is—someone who loves music, and fake accents, and the great outdoors. The problem is, Finch isn’t sure what kind of person he really wants to be.

Finch thinks he wants to be with Violet, but he tells her she should run away from him if she knows what’s good for herself. (And man, have I heard this line before…) Violet basically tells him, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m broken too.” Her sister passed away almost a year ago, and Violet’s fallen into a depression because of it. So these kids can relate to each other, but what happens when you’re the less mentally ill one in a relationship where both of you are mentally ill?

Seriously, this book is so important . Everyone should read it. Especially if you’re a parent, or you know someone with a severe mental illness, or you’re about to enter the phase in your life when many people are diagnosed with mental illnesses…that-no-so-magic 16-20 age range. Read it even if you’re like me and you know that it’ll mess you up for a bit. I’m going to compare All the Bright Places to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me of all things. I said in my review of that book, I said that Coates doesn’t give us the key to ending racism, but he can help us understand why racism exists in this country and what it feels like to be a victim of this institutional racism. I believe that empathy can go a long way. So read All the Bright Places and walk a mile in the shoes of a kid with bipolar disorder. Then come back and dare to tell me that we don’t need to fix the way we talk about and treat mental illness.

Last thing: I’m glad that this is going to be a movie, because I know Finch and Violet’s story will reach more people that way. But I don’t know if I’ll have the strength to watch it. Definitely approve of casting Elle Fanning. She’ll do a great job.

My Heart and Other Black Holes: Goodreads Chioce Awards 2015 Nominee Review

(Man that’s a long title.)

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4-out-of-5-stars

My Heart and Other Black Holes, written by first-time YA author Jasmine Warga, is about a suicide pact. I know. It could be beautiful and profound, or it could be full of disastrous cheese and cliches. And honestly, I was getting ready to shit all over this book. But surprisingly, I actually liked it.

A lot of young adult authors turn mental illness into something way too interesting and dramatic… their female characters cry about the losses they’ve experienced every night, longing for an adventure to take them out of their slump, and crap like that. In reality, depression is usually pretty boring. Jasmine Warga does a good job conveying this. The protagonist, Aysel, is a very regular girl. She has serious issues, but she’s a regular girl nonetheless. She doesn’t have many friends, or interests, or talents, and she has no hopes for her future because she wants to kill herself. In the meantime, she spends her freetime doing a lot of nothing. Sadly, this is what depression looks like in the real world. Her voice is also very authentic. She doesn’t use any flowery language to describe her day to day activities. Because not everyone who’s depressed or terminally ill is a poet, guys.

But don’t get me wrong, the book is far from boring, and Ayself herself isn’t boring. Underneath her depression, you can see clear hints of a personality, and the kind of life she’d want to live if she didn’t have this “worm” inside of her killing all of her passion. Early on, Aysel meets her suicide partner, and the impact they have on each other unfolds nicely. I think Aysel’s backstory also unfolds nicely. There aren’t any major twists. Everything appropriately reveals itself gradually.

I’ve read that some people take issue with the ending. I can see where they’re coming from. It was a bit rushed for me too. But it didn’t offend me. When I closed the book I was satisfied. I don’t know if it would be a good read for someone newly struggling with depression, because it doesn’t offer up too many solutions. But for someone who’s “been there, done that” with mental illnesses a few times, it was pretty uplifting.

Let me know what you thought about this book if you’ve read it! You can also see the full list of Goodreads Choice Award Nominees that I want to read here, and check out my Goodreads account here.

Book Review: The Diviners by Libba Bray

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Ways in which The Diviners is so much like A Great and Terrible Beauty:

-Historical fiction + fantasy
-The young female protagonist has a special gift
-The young female protagonist has two female friends- one who’s a loser and one who’s beautiful and popular but very troubled
-The young female protagonist is mourning the loss of a family member
-The authority figures are constantly telling the young female protagonist that she needs to behave
-There’s some sort of weird cult involved
-There’s an interracial romance
-It’s a time of women’s sexual liberation and that’s part of the problem for the bad guys
-There’s an lgbt character
-The book is huge for YA and there are a lot of characters and plot lines to keep track of
I love love loved it!!

When I was in about 9th grade, the Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy were my favorite books, other than Harry Potter. They were so unique—a blending of all of my favorite genres (historical fiction, horror, fantasy, and girl power). They were also well written, and they made me feel a little dirty and grown-up because were a bit sexy at times. (With hot guys, of course.) After the series ended, I longed for more stuff like that from Libba Bray, and was then devastated to find out she was taking her writing in an entirely different direction. I get it now. I can’t even imagine how difficult it much be to construct a series as complicated GTB. But I’m sooo glad she returned to the yummy trail-mix of a genre that made her popular. Yah, The Diviners came out way back in 2012, and I’ve owned it since about then. I’m actually glad that I waited 3 years to read it, because now I don’t have to wait another 3 years for the sequel, which came out just a few weeks ago. Yaaaaaay!

While A Great and Terrible Beauty takes place in late 19th-century England, The Diviners is set in mid-1920s US. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read of this book is that Bray never lets you forget that it’s the 1920s. It’s true. The book is packed with ’20s slang, and references to the clothes people wore, and pop culture, and the biggest news stories. It didn’t bother me that much. I bought into the idea that the main character, a bratty 17-year-old troublemaker named Evie, would be obsessed with everything trendy—just like how most 17-year-old girls today say “bae” every other word and often talk about what One Direction is like post-Zane. I also learned a lot about the 1920s that I didn’t know (even after watching hours of Downton Abbey), and I’m sure younger readers would learn even more.

And these characters are so great. Evie might seem like a Mary Sue at first, but early on you realize that she’s hiding under a lot of pain. She’s also very funny, and smarter than people give her credit for, and I think her spunk and confidence is admirable. I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with my younger sister reading books featuring main characters like Evie. Her friends are great too. I loved Theta especially, and I want to learn more about her. But hell, I want to learn more about everyone. I’d forgotten how good Libba Bray is at constructing back stories for minor characters without making them too obvious, cliche, or taking anything away from the main plot. I’m also giving the romance a big thumbs up. It was appropriately subtle for the first book, and I believed the chemistry between *spoilers* and *spoilers.* I even managed to start crushing on one of the guys… like I did in the freaking 9th grade… I am now 8 years older… and these boys are barely 18. #old. #ug. In my defense, the guy looks a lot like my boyfriend.

So grab some gin and tonic and pick up this book if you haven’t yet! Actually, please don’t drink gin if you are a child. Also, don’t drink gin if you hate gin. I personally don’t actually care for gin… But if I lived in the 1920s I guess I would have had to drink gin instead of vodka. In a secret place with the blinds drawn. What a dark time.

Book Review: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

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5star-2

If you loved Coraline, you will love The Nest. In many ways they’re very similar, but I think they’re just different enough that I wouldn’t call The Nest a ripoff. I’d say it’s emotionally deeper and sadder than Coraline, cuz minor spoiler: [because instead of a kid who agrees to let a creepy female creature replace her parents, this book is about a boy agrees to replace his baby brother.]

Steven’s baby brother was born with a rare cogenital birth defect. The doctors aren’t sure how long he will live, but they know he’ll need heart surgery, and will probably develop with disabilities. The first part of the book is heartbreaking. Steven (who like Coraline, is around 12-years-old), explains how he’s overheard his parents crying, and that he’s somewhat envious of his younger sister who really doesn’t know what’s going on. Then we gradually get to know more about Steven’s personal struggles, and about the wasp nest that’s growing on the side of their house.

There’s a lot of scary magical stuff in The Nest, and I love that you can make a good argument for it all being a figment Steven’s imagination, as well as a good argument for it being real.

Honestly, this is middle grade horror at it’s best. I’m so happy to give it 5 stars.

Book Review: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

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2-stars

(minor spoilers ahead) (also if this was your favorite book as a kid, this review might make you a little angry)

I had some fun with this book. But in the same way I had fun with say, Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin.

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It’s kind of hilariously awful.

Stargirl (aka Susan, she gives herself a new name whenever she feels like it, as you do) is pretty much this:

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Yes, I know Stargirl isn’t a film, and I know it was written a few years before film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term… but come on—Stargirl is the quintessential weird girl who fascinates a boy and then helps him believe in himself. *tear*

And just because the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl didn’t exist before 2004, doesn’t mean the concept wasn’t around (Audrey Hepburn was the original), or that MPDGs exist only in movies (we’ve got Lux in The Virgin Suicides, Sam in Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Alaska in Looking for Alaska just to name a few). I’m not against the trope entirely. The problem isn’t that the trope exists, the problem is that it’s overused. When it’s done well I can let it slide, but Stargirl is missing one important half of the Manic Pixie equation. The guy she’s supposed to be changing for the better has no personality. He’s an empty shell, along with all the other characters. They are so mind-numbingly normal. So all we’ve got is Stargirl acting weird in a vacuum, and that’s how a book that attempts to be inspiring turns out hilariously bad.

Here’s some of the crap Stargirl gets up to:
-She plays the ukulele (guitar is too mainstream)
-As a cheerleader, she cheers for both her school’s team and the other school’s team
-She brings her pet rat to school (wish I was making this up)
-She performs random acts of kindness, which would be sweet if she didn’t go as far as stalking people to find out what they need in life. She even went to a funeral of a guy she didn’t know, only to get thrown out by one of his family members.
-At prom, she shows up in an amazing dress, wows everyone, and get people to do The Bunny Hop. I can’t even…

[Bigger spoiler in the next paragraph]:

And then at the end she just disappears. Moves out of town for whatever reason. And like a decade later the main guy is still obsessed with her. He recalls a time in college when he and the retired teacher he and Stargirl used to visit a lot go to Stargirl’s favorite spot and pay respect to her as if she was a god.

That’s creepy. It’s weird enough that the guy is still hung up on his 11th grade crush, but it’s even weirder that the old man was so enamored by this young girl. It was even implied that going back to Stargirl’s favorite spot was the old man’s dying wish. Wtf?

In Conclusion: If I read this when I was 10 I probably would have liked it. I can see why a lot of 10, 11, 12-year-olds would really like it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving this to a 10-year-old to read, as long as you explain to them that while it’s good to admire people who are unique, at the end of the day no one is super-extraordinary. We’re all people. Other than that, it’ll just give kids unrealistic expectations about high school, which they get on The Disney Channel all the time anyway. I wouldn’t say Stargirl is worthwhile to read as an adult. Unless you read it outloud to a buddy while you’re both drunk. That sounds like fun.