Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A Review of Leah on the Offbeat

Leah on the Offbeat is a book by Becky Albertalli, and is a companion novel of sorts to Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Leah Burke and her friends are entering senior year. With college applications and prom fast approaching, she's worried about her friendship group, which appears to be fracturing. However, she starts to realise she has more feeling for one in her group than she wanted to have.

Under a cut because I doubt I can talk about this book without spoiling it. It's hard to even write a summary without spoiling.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

A Review of Theatrical

Theatrical is a book by Maggie Harcourt. Hope Parker has loved the world of theatre ever since getting glimpses of her mother's glamorous career as a costume designer. Getting a student placement at the Earl's Theatre is a dream come true, for the girl who wants to work in stage management. The opening night of a huge production is coming up, but there's also a budding romance with a student actor for her to worry about. But, as always, the show must go on.

At the end of the book, I was just confused, because I couldn't quite work out what hadn't worked. On paper, it should have been good for me. I love theatre, and I love reading about passionate characters. But something in this one was just slightly off. I always do like to start with the good, and I have a few positive things to say about it. The theatre stuff was good!

I did a bit of amateur dramatics acting as a teen, and the descriptions of the excitement and tension of backstage were spot on! I felt like I was there with Hope, costuming, counting props and cuing lights. I also really did connect with her love of theatre, and they're right up there with some of the most magical places in the world, to me.

Theatrical does capture a feeling I've felt quite a lot in my adult life. When you're new at a job, and everyone else seems to know what they're doing, and you're expected to know even though it's your first day, and people just roll their eyes when you ask where something is. When you know that if you ask for help with something, you'll be treated like you're stupid, but if you go ahead and do it, you'll make a mistake. When you feel like you just can't do anything right.

We are told that Hope is experienced and is determined to prove herself, but she comes across as mostly irresponsible and unprofessional. She's late quite often and misses cues because she's too busy daydreaming about her love interest. A few mistakes would be understandable - she's a teenager, and she's still learning. But things like being late aren't something I expect from someone who is trying to prove she can make it without her mother's help.

The romance was bland as vanilla. I'm sorry, but it was. I would have preferred her with George, because we do need more Asian love interests in YA and her family background provided an interesting parallel with his passion. I also liked seeing a boy with more feminine interests who wasn't gay. I know we need more LGBT characters, but I also feel like we need more straight characters (especially men) with interests associated with other genders.

Also, why was a girl who wants to work in theatre doing chemistry and maths as an A-Level? Maths I can possibly see, since it may come in handy for calculating things, but there is no earthly reason to do chemistry if it doesn't directly relate to what you want to do at University. It is that hard, and I know from experience, since I did it. Even if we take out Drama (Hope's not into the acting side so much) and Textiles (too much like her mother's line of work) surely English, Art and Graphic Design would have made more sense? Or a foreign language or a humanities subject? The A-levels a character takes should be somewhat linked to their personality. For the confused, most places only let you take a maximum of five, and most people will only do three or four. Also, taking any time out of school during your A-levels so close to exams seems to be not only foolish but also something most schools wouldn't let you do.

I would recommend this one for theatre lovers, especially those who have does any sort of community theatre work.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

A Review of Puddin'

Puddin' is a novel by Julie Murphy, and is a sort of companion book/second novel to Dumplin'. Millie Michelchuk is sick of being held back because of her weight. This year, instead of going to fat camp, she's going to apply for broadcast journalism school. Cassie Reyes, on the school dance team, is upset when their sponsorship by a local small gym is dropped. After vandalising the gym, she winds up working their to pay back her damages, spending more time about Millie during her time there.

I loved it! I've been hit-or-miss with Julie Murphy so far. I loved Dumplin', wasn't overjoyed by Side Effects May Vary and am still not sure what to think about Ramona Blue. The only thing I was disappointed about is that there wasn't a romance between the two girls.

But I think their two personalities were what made the book. They're both very different people. Girls can be bitchy, they can be nice, they can be complex. I'll say it - I feel that the YA genre has been a goldmine of women as well-rounded characters with interesting personalities lately. Two very different girls can become friends. Add to this the supporting cast, again mostly female, and you've got a novel that's very character driven, so it's a good thing that it's a very strong cast of them.

I loved Millie! She's a sweetheart. You know how I often say that my favourite YA protagonists are those with some sort of dream or goal? She wants to be a news anchor, and my word is she working to make that happen. There's no reason why you should have to wait until you are an adult to start studying what you are interested in. The fact she's got an extra barrier with her size is not going to stop her.

Cassie may take someone longer to warm to. I had a sense of where the character was going, so I was waiting to see with her. She's a masterclass in how to write a mean girl without it turning into girl-hate. Her POV means we get her reasons, and her character development shows through in the end.

I admit I wasn't sold on the idea of a sleepover between the girls from Dumplin' at first, because I found it wasn't the strongest chapter, but the second one where Millie brings Cassie is rife with drama. These girls are very different, and adding one more member upset their fragile balance. Amanda has a discussion on asexuality with the others, which I loved, plus she's also disabled. I would like a third book in this series centring on her, actually. Hannah comes across as only being there because she has to be, but deep down I think she really does care. Willowdean and El are each others best friends, so if their group fell apart, they'd be okay if they had each other. Millie is the one who cares the most about their group.

Another thing I really like about this book is the Texas setting! I've been out to Texas several times to visit friends, and I love (most things about) the state! Especially the food, and the description of a Texas BBQ place made my mouth water.

Recommended for those who like their cute contemporaries with complex characters.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A Review of The Sky is Everywhere

The Sky is Everywhere is a book by Jandy Nelson, who also wrote I'll Give You The Sun. Lennie Walker is a seventeen year old clarinettist and classic literature reader who always felt in the shadow of her older sister, Bailey. With her sister's recent sudden death, Lennie is trying to sort her life back together. With the arrival of new kid Joe Fontaine, Lennie starts crushing but feels guilty for enjoying something so soon after her sister's death. But she is also starting to connect to Bailey's boyfriend, Toby Shaw, in a way she didn't expect.

It is rare that I finish a book and I don't know what to think. I felt the same way about I'll Give You The Sun, too. Later, I started to feel like it wasn't that I didn't know what to thing, just a distinct feeling of meh. I know they are well-liked books, but I couldn't get into them.

Lennie is a realistic teenager, perhaps more messed up than most of them with her sister's death, but she's not a pleasant one. I think that when you kiss your dead sister's boyfriend in front of the guy you were sort-of dating, you kind of forfeit your rights to feel jealous that he's with another girl? You aren't entitled to another chance in that case. I also didn't get her obsession with a Wuthering Heights style romance, because I thought the point of that book was that their relationship was unhealthy.

Plus points for her ambitions with clarinet, an unusual instrument to see in YA, and for seeing her develop her goals around it. Plus I did enjoy her poetry, even if the way she distributes it borders on littering and vandalism at times. They're more collections of thoughts and conversations, some one word a line style poems. But that's okay because poetry, like anything else, can adapt and change to the modern world. We don't have to write the same kind of poetry as those who came before, but we still can if we want to.

The grief was nicely done, as well. There's no one way to grieve. There's no set time limit on how soon you can go back to feeling happy, and there's no point where you have to stop feeling sad about it, either. Lennie doesn't quite get this, at her age and going through it once. Grief makes Lennie selfish - when she was going on about how Toby was the only one to understand, I wanted to point out to her that she still had her Gram. Others will react to it differently. Some of the quotes were exact descriptions of how I was feeling back in August/September.

Then there's Sarah, who as far as I can tell, is a feminist to get guys? She wasn't well explained, despite being Lennie's best friend. Lennie shuts her out from grief, and Sarah doesn't try to connect? I understand that sometimes you need to give them time, but most would understand that friendships if they are strong enough can always be picked up where they left off. Sarah didn't reach out to ask Lennie if she was okay, but seemed more interested in getting back a friend on her terms. She's mad at Lennie at one point because Lennie went quiet for a while, this being shortly after Lennie's older sister died. So what I'm saying is that I'm not buying that Sarah was giving Lennie space or trying to help her process things. Lennie's Gram was my favourite character, but I found it odd that everyone else calls her Gram, too. I really wish I could write more about Bailey here, but we only really see her through Lennie's eyes, as the idealised older sister.

The two boys annoyed me. A skater boy and a music genius. If that's not cliche enough, let's have him be from France, too. Toby is literally her dead sister's boyfriend, and Joe was a little lacking in personality. I honestly think the book would have been stronger without the love triangle, allowing more time for Joe to develop. Plus both seem to come round the house at all hours, coincidentally often running into each other.

One other character I'd like to discuss is Rachel. She's given quite a bit of girl-hate from Lennie, because... she got first chair clarinet after Lennie flunked the audition, she's pretty, made a few unkind comments and starts dating Joe after Lennie kissed Toby in front of him. She's not the nicest character, but not quite bad enough to make me empathise with Lennie's internal thoughts about her,

The teenspeak is cringe-worthy, too. Lennie uses the term WTF-asaurus (seriously, WTF?) and I would have stabbed my eyeballs out if I'd read the word Joelirious one more time.

One more minor quibble: only children don't tend to hate being only children. It's just a general fact of their existence. You don't miss what you never had. In the same way as people with siblings can't imagine life without them, it's hard for us to imagine how our life would be different without them. Sure, some of us might have wished for a sibling when we were younger, but I bet most of us grew out of that phase. We're not lesser people, nor do we automatically hate our existence, because we don't have siblings.

I might recommend this book to people who would like to learn more about grief.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

A Review of Open Road Summer

Open Road Summer was Emery Lord's first novel. Reagan O'Neill, recovering bad girl, is joining her friend Delilah Montgomery on tour. The world knows her as Lilah Montgomery, country music star, but to everyone who knows her, she's Dee. This tour could be the thing to fix both girls broken hearts. When Matt Finch is brought in to open her show and pose as Dee's fictional boyfriend, it's Reagan who ends up getting closer to him.

Lord is one of my favourite authors, but the thing I find interesting is that her growth as a writer is obvious over her books, with her most recent books being better to me than her first two.

Lord does three things incredibly well - friendship, passions and grief, and all three are at play here. I really felt Dee's passion for her music and her career and Reagan's passion for photography. This was an interesting mix, as it was photographers that caused much of Dee's problems over the book. It's also fascinating to read about a seventeen-year-old juggling a career and everything else in her life. Reagan and Dee have one of those friendships where even when they fight, they won't hold it against each other, and they'll both be instantly with each other in a crisis. And for grief, Matt's mother died recently, and she again hits the nail over the head with her descriptions. This sentence got me, as it was what I'd been feeling that exact week: "I think the worst part is reconciling all the things she'll miss."

So I'll just state this here - Reagan is not a nice person. She's not what I'd consider a role model, and I don't mean that because of her clothing choices, which have nothing to do with anything. She knows she's attractive, and dresses to show it off. But she smokes, which I really don't like. I understand it's a thing teens do and should get some recognition in YA, I wish it didn't have to. She's incredibly judgemental and she will act rashly or selfishly at times. She is full of girl-hate towards other girls, too. I did think it was hypocritical of her, but then I realised she might be judging them on traits she perceives in herself. I think that self-respect is a very messed-up term to start with, but Reagan was not in a good place when she started going out with Blake. And how people act on the one night a year where they get to let their hair down and have a bit of fun seeing a celebrity in the flesh is not normally how they are everyday. Funnily enough, it seems to be the fans of Matt who she is worse too...

I also felt like the ending dragged on a bit long. There was only so much of Matt apologising I could take before I wanted Reagan to just take him back, already. However, I do understand why Reagan would have been apprehensive, as she is used to people leaving and proving themselves untrustworthy.

Lord is also good at making people rethink their original views of a character. Reagan does eventually realise that she might be being too harsh on Brenda. I was disappointed that Corinne didn't quite get the same treatment, but I did enjoy the twist with her.

I'll recommend this to people who are already Emery Lord fans and therefore familiar with her style, and those looking for a summer contemporary with a bit of heart.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A Review of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a book by Jesse Andrews, which has been made into a movie. Greg Gaines lives his life as a high school chameleon, just trying to get through. He can hang out casually in any clique, but has no-one he would consider a friend. He does have Earl Jackson, but they mostly hang out to make movies and Greg considers them co-workers. This does change when Rachel Kushner, Greg's once sort-of girlfriend from middle school, is diagnosed with Leukaemia. Greg's Mom convinces him to hang out with her to cheer her up, and Greg find herself more involved in her life than he, quite frankly, ever wanted to be.

Maybe, possibly, just not quite my sort of book? Some of the jokes and humour fell flat to me, but I'd be lying if I said some didn't have me laughing, too. I was all set to make the John Green The Fault in our Stars comparison, but I think in overall tone, it's more like Paper Towns. Which is especially odd as Paper Towns is my favourite John Green book. In fact, it's possible that it the the anti-"Cancer Book" cancer book many people were searching for in The Fault in our Stars.

The best thing I can say about this book is that it is honest. Cancer does suck. People don't always respond to tragedy well, especially when it only tangentially effects them. Greg is very much a teenage boy, with what I think considering I have never been a teenage boy, a very typical teenage boy mindset. He's awkward as anything, too. However, I did love how obviously passionate he was about films and film-making. Sure, he doesn't think he's any good, but he's a kid messing about with his Dad's camera. He still manages to put something together with improvised props and sets, and not every teenager would be able to do that. I think with a little more guidance and some practice, he'd get good.

Also - you didn't learn anything from Rachel's death? Not to be nicer to people in general in case they have cancer, or that people with cancer are essentially people and should be treated as such or that people who "have nothing interesting to say" can often be interesting once you get to know them? I mean, sure, there's not always some deep revelation to be had about how fleeting life is and you should live it to the fullest, but I'm sure there is some takeaway to be had. I mean, I know that not everyone learns big life lessons after an event like this, but these aren't big life lessons, they're just... little things that can change an outlook.

There were some lines that made me side eye Greg's, and by extension Andrews', attitude towards women. "Most girls are annoying" "The girls proceeded to cover the box in glitter, talking about domesticity or pixies." I understand that views expressed by characters in a book are often not representative of the views of the author, but this book is also going to be read by many teenagers who are still shaping their worldview, and one of the ways they do that is through media. Earl also displays some problematic views, such as one entire conversation where he is incredibly biphobic. Really, I think this is more representative of the fact that teenagers can and do think like that, but that section may be an uncomfortable read for people who are bi. Teenagers are still developing and we can still change our views throughout adulthood. I think the reason this bothers me more is that Greg's problematic behaviour is called out somewhat, but Earl's is left unchallenged.

I have watched the movie before, and I have to say that I love it. The movie hit the exact right notes to be a comedy, and toned down the bad side of Greg's personality somewhat. The difference I often find is that movies cannot give us such a direct look into a characters head as a book can, so we never see their more unsavoury thoughts. Sometimes I feel this is at the expense of giving characters some depth, but here I feel it was the right decision.

So I do recommend this to people who are still looking for that cancer book which is not a Cancer Book.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Review of the Summer series

The Summer series is a trilogy by Jenny Han. The three books are The Summer I Turned Pretty, It's Not Summer Without You and We'll Always Have Summer. Isabel 'Belly' Conklin has spent every summer at her mother's best friends beach house in Cousins Beach. It's where everything fun happens, and where she hangs out with Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. She has been in love with Conrad since she was young and Jeremiah is her best friend. But now that both boys are displaying an attraction to her, will things ever be the same between them?

You know, I wanted to love this book, considering how much I adored the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series. I mean, it was obvious that this series does revolve around a love triangle, so maybe that was a warning sign? Not one of my favourites.

Under a cut because I couldn't discuss this one without spoiling events in the books.