Monday, April 27, 2015

"Unpack Your Heart" Review: Things We Know By Heart by Jessi Kirby



Things We Know by Heart

Author: Jessi Kirby (website | twitter)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Source/Format: ARC provided by Harper Collins Canada (thank you!)
Publication date: April 21, 2015
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | IndieBound | iTunes | Google Books | The Book Depository | Audible


After Quinn loses her boyfriend, Trent, in an accident their junior year, she reaches out to the recipients of his donated organs in hopes of picking up the pieces of her now-unrecognizable life. She hears back from some of them, but the person who received Trent’s heart has remained silent. The essence of a person, she has always believed, is in the heart. If she finds Trent’s, then maybe she can have peace once and for all.

Risking everything in order to finally lay her memories to rest, Quinn goes outside the system to track down nineteen-year-old Colton Thomas—a guy whose life has been forever changed by this priceless gift. But what starts as an accidental run-in quickly develops into more, sparking an undeniable attraction. She doesn't want to give in to it—especially since he has no idea how they're connected—but their time together has made Quinn feel alive again. No matter how hard she’s falling for Colton, each beat of his heart reminds her of all she’s lost…and all that remains at stake.


Review:


Things We Know By Heart is a beautiful unfolding of two characters who find and need each other at the right moment. It’s a lovely character study.

The thing that works with this novel is that even though Quinn and Colton reveal bits of themselves to each other, the full story is never given right away - and yet, Quinn and Colton each realize that they can offer the other something that no one else can. Quinn needs to get out of her sadness over losing Trent, but she also needs to take some risks that only Colton could give her. And Colton needs to figure out how far he could go in being himself - without the heart transplant hanging over him - before he needs to rein it in.

Jessi Kirby writes some of the most gorgeous dates I've ever read in YA - every moment with Quinn and Colton just felt like another really great day I wished I could have. As a romance reader, I live for those dates where the sun is shining, the water is perfect, and you have moments fraught with desire and understanding and connection. This book had SO MANY. The connection between Colton and Quinn felt incredibly real, and their days together felt natural and perfect without feeling like they were trying too hard.

I do have a few quibbles, mainly that the conflict in this book seemed a bit too easy to resolve. For most of the book, I just wanted to get Quinn to admit that she knew who Colton was, and it was frustrating to me that it was a single miscommunication that made for the entire conflict in the book. While I realize that communication (or lack thereof) tends to be a big factor in whether a relationship is successful, this one felt like it dragged on way too long to be realistic.

My other quibble is that the book ended too quickly. I needed a darn epilogue to see what would happen next to Colton and Quinn, and even Shelby and Quinn's parents. And I wanted Quinn to find friends again and stop living life in a vacuum.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this novel and I will definitely be picking up Kirby’s past novels for her gorgeous writing and perfect moments.

Bonuses:


Quotes for the Heart: The novel is punctuated with informational, literary, and pop culture quotes about the heart at the beginning of each chapter. The ones that really got me were written by surgeons and medical professionals about how much more the heart could do than just be a blood vessel - everyone sees the heart as the epicenter of the body, mind and soul. Similarly, the quotes act as a grounding point for each chapter; each quote is like an artery of the heart, acting to create a holistic reading experience.

Swoonworthy Writing: Honestly, this book got an extra half star from me because the writing was so stunning. Check out a few of my favourite parts:

"And so what I remember most about that morning is standing on the side of the road, alone, darkness closing in around me as the day was unfolding. Morning sunlight on the vibrant gold petals, scattered where he lay dying."

"Erosion," he answers. "I kinda picture it like one of those time-lapse sequences--with waves crashing against cliffs, and storms rolling over them, and water and air finding the cracks and widening them into tunnels and caves until the weak parts crumble and all that's left are these little rock islands."
The way he says it, I can see it perfectly, like it's happening right in front of us. And it is, really. Just so slowly you can't see it--the same way grief can do to a person over time, wear you down until you disappear."


"The heart is beautiful, and fragile, and safe inside its bottle, like the old notes that supposedly traveled over distance and time, through storms and lulls, to finally find a shore. And then to be found."

Heart-Squeezing Romance:The yearning I felt for Colton and Quinn to get together and JUST KISS ALREADY was pretty overwhelming. Jessi Kirby is GOOD.

Book Theme Song:


Unpack Your Heart by Phillip Phillips


This is actually quoted in the book, and it's perfect!

Bring your secrets, bring your scars
Bring your glory, all you are
Bring your daylight, bring your dark
Share your silence
And unpack your heart

The Final Word: 


This is my first Jessi Kirby book, and I'm glad to say that I enjoyed it a lot. While I didn't love LOVE it, the author's gorgeous writing, commitment to the structure and characters, and all-around beautiful moments and romance definitely made me a fan. I will be picking up Kirby's first two books as soon as I can!

THINGS WE KNOW BY HEART is available in bookstores now. Are you interested in reading it? Have you read Jessi Kirby's other books, In Honor and Golden? How much do you value perfectly written romance? Does the ending of a book matter as much to you as it does to me? Hit the comments and let me know!

Friday, April 17, 2015

"Just A Girl" Review: None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio

None of the Above
Author: I.W. Gregorio (website | twitter)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source/Format: ARC provided by Harper Collins Canada (thank you!)
Publication date: April 7, 2015
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

A groundbreaking story about a teenage girl who discovers she was born intersex . . . and what happens when her secret is revealed to the entire school. Incredibly compelling and sensitively told, None of the Above is a thought-provoking novel that explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between.

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She's a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she's madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she's decided that she's ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin's first time isn't the perfect moment she's planned--something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy "parts."

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin's entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?


Review:


Very rarely in YA do you come across something that you have never even heard of, much less experienced. None of the Above is one of those books that you will not only sink into and rip through the pages to know more, but also one where you will learn everything with the protagonist.

And that is where the genius of this book lies. Because the term intersex is probably not something that the average teen (or adult) has encountered (or perhaps they have and don't know it), so when Kristin finds out she’s intersex - specifically she has androgen insensitivity syndrome, meaning that she looks and feels like a girl, but she has male chromosomes and male “parts” - she is just as shell-shocked, frightened and confused as we are. It is impossible not to sympathize and empathize with Kristin in this book because you go through her diagnosis with her.
“…And like your father said, no one needs to be the wiser. You know we’ll love you no matter what. Remember when you were little and your dad always said that he’d love you forever and ever, until the sun fades?”
I nodded again. In the part of me that wasn’t numb, I did know.
Though I wished she hadn’t felt the need to tell me.
Within five pages of opening this book, I was completely hooked. And not just because of the unusual subject matter, but because I.W. Gregorio’s writing is effortlessly fluid and precise, and I immediately felt like I could connect to Kristin – even before her diagnosis.

This is the other thing that really works in this book: Kristin is never treated like a victim. In fact, in high school I probably would have envied or looked up to her. You’ve probably met girls like Kristin – girls who are athletic and popular, but also kind and focused. She’s not perfect. But she is a good person trying to do her best. The fact that she gets everything – from the hot jock boyfriend to becoming Homecoming Queen – you almost think she deserves those things.

And so when she finds out she’s intersex, the blow is huge. Of course it’s life-changing, of course it’s going to change the way she does things (sex is this whole new game, estrogen pills need to be taken), but more than that, it changes the way she looks at herself. And it really challenges her idea of what a woman and a man are. More than that, it challenged my own ideas of gender.
That’s what Dr. Cheng had said, and it’d driven me crazy trying to parse out what it meant. “But what does that mean, to ‘identify’ as a girl? Just because you feel like you’re a girl doesn’t mean that you really are.”
Gretchen cocked her head. “Some people would seriously disagree with you about that. Gender is so totally a social construct.”
“That’s right, you told me, “ I said. “Women’s Studies minor.”
She laughed. “Guilty as charged. It’s all true though. The biggest difference between boys and girls is how people treat them – what color parents think their children should wear, what kind of activities they sign their kids up for in kindergarten.”
I thought about the pink estrogen pills as Gretchen went on. “Screw that gender essentialism bullshit. Men have as much of a right to care about clothes as women. Girls can like sports and cars and guns too. So what does it even matter if you identify as a girl, a boy, or as neither?”
“It matters because we live in the real world,” I said with a heat that surprised me. “I don’t want to be some poster child for a gender-neutral society. I just want to get through high school in one piece, graduate from college, and have a family.”
As a former masters student, I have definitely heard about gender being a social construct (Judith Butler fans, won’t you please stand up?). And in some of the literature I read at that time, I definitely agreed with that argument. But this is the first time I’ve seen gender performativity played out in a person, a character, and a book that is targeted to teens. And I’m so grateful for Gregorio’s concise and brilliant argument for gender as a spectrum. This whole book is something to learn from.

But that’s not the only reason to read it. None of the Above is – above all, a book about a girl who is trying to understand herself in a difficult situation. I would never call this an “intersex book” or a “book about gender.” The book is about Kristin. It’s about her schoolmates and how they treat her after they find out about her diagnosis, and the subsequent bullying. It’s about her depression after her diagnosis. It’s about her relationship with her father and how much that impacts her choices. It’s about discovering other people out there like her, figuring out her friendships, and wanting to reach her dreams of running in college  despite the argument that she might not be a “girl” in an athletic department's eyes.

Even though it’s a quick read, there’s a lot going on in this book, and Gregorio pulls it together with a smoothness that isn’t often seen in debut novels. This book made me feel so many things – I was angry at Kristin’s classmates, I was frustrated that Kristin wouldn’t take bigger steps, I identified with her depression, and I felt hope that she kept on trucking. And I spent a lot of time after reading Googling all of the new terms, trying to learn and grow and allow my ideas of gender to expand.

Bonuses:


Complex Friendships: Let’s just say that Kristin’s friends, especially Vee and Faith, are far more than just archetypes. There’s a lot of confusion about “what” Kristin is at the beginning, and Vee and Faith help and hurt in a lot of ways that feel realistic to me.





Book Theme Song: 


Take this pink ribbon off my eyes 
I'm exposed 
And it's no big surprise 

'Cause I'm just a girl...
Oh...I've had it up to here! 
The moment that I step outside 
So many reasons 
For me to run and hide 

I'm just a girl, 
Guess I'm some kind of freak 
'Cause they all sit and stare
With their eyes 

The Final Word:


There’s a great Sidney Lumet idea that my husband likes to invoke (Lumet was a hugely prolific filmmaker from the 1950s to early aughties), and it’s that you know a picture is working when it feels like everyone involved in the movie is making the same movie. In the wrong hands, I feel like None of the Above could have been melodramatic or worse, inauthentic. But in I.W. Gregorio’s hands, the writing, the plot, the character, the tone – everything works together to elevate Kristin’s story and make this one of the most important and thought-provoking novels I’ve read this year.

Recommended for: teachers/classroom discussions of gender, identity, and differences; teens and adults looking for a quick read that will stay them; people looking for a diverse read, people who need their minds expanded =p

NONE OF THE ABOVE is in stores now. Are you interested in reading it? How much do you know about intersex or other gender syndromes? How important is diversity to you in books? What would you do if you were told you were intersex? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Maybe in Another Life
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid (website | twitter)
Publisher: Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster)
Genre: Adult Fiction
Expected publication: July 7th 2015

From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him. 

This is unexpectedly a New Adult kind of week for me, with my review of The Royal We up yesterday, but that's clearly where my brain is at right now.

I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's After I Do so much - it really made me reflect on my relationship with my husband and who I should be in love and life. Maybe in Another Life sounds a bit like Sliding Doors, a bit like If/Then with the parallel realities - and I am a total sucker for that.


I'm lucky that I got an eARC of this book - I might need to dig into it sooner than I expected, because reading the synopsis again made me really, really want to read it now.

Are you into wise, contemporary new adult? What about parallel realities? What are you waiting for this week? Hit the comments and let me know. 

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"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

The Royal We
Authors: Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan (website | twitter)
Source/Format: eARC provided by HBG Canada via Netgalley (thank you!)
Publication date: April 7, 2015
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.ca | Amazon.com | B&N | IndieBound | iTunesThe Book Depository | Audible

In their first adult novel, authors Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan take on a story of romance and rivalries inspired by today's most talked-about royal couple: Will and Kate.

"If I'm Cinderella today, I dread who they'll think I am tomorrow. I guess it depends on what I do next."

American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy-tales. Her twin sister Lacey was always the romantic, the one who daydreamed of being a princess. But it's adventure-seeking Bex who goes to Oxford and meets dreamy Nick across the hall - and thus Bex who accidentally finds herself in love with the eventual heir to the British throne. Nick is everything she could have imagined, but Prince Nicholas has unimaginable baggage: grasping friends, a thorny family, hysterical tabloids tracking his every move, and a public that expected its future king to marry a native. On the eve of the most talked-about wedding of the century, Bex reflects on what she's sacrificed for love -- and exactly whose heart she may yet have to break.


Review:


Real talk: This book is basically thinly disguised Wills and Kate fanfiction - and I AM OKAY WITH THAT. 

But seriously, though, The Royal We is written by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, better known as the "Fug Girls" of the celebrity fashion website Go Fug Yourself. If you've read their site at all, you know their penchant for snark, wit and hilarity, and they've infused their book and their protagonist, Rebecca "Bex" Porter with those characteristics. 

The novel starts with a framing device - Bex about to get married to Nick, and questioning her choices. Then we rewind back to when they first met and fell in love at Oxford, followed by the years afterwards where Bex and Nick are, like many young adults, figuring out their lives. The novel loosely follows the William and Kate trajectory (no spoilers for those of you who don't know), and what we miss as the public and in real life, we get first hand in this book. And that is a gift. 
I fell in love with Bex and Nick and their wonderful circle of family and friends - from her outrageous college roommates Cilla, Joss, Gaz, Clive, and Bea, to her complex, fame-adoring twin sister Lacey, to Nick's charming rake of a brother Freddie, to Bex's inventive father and excitable mother, to Nick's crazy royal family. The secondary characters took this book from good to great, because they had so much personality, and Cocks and Morgan had so much invested in them, too. I totally cheered when characters got together, when you found out that others had succeeded in jobs, and frowned when others had failed. It's a testament to Cocks and Morgan's skill at writing that I savoured every romantic part with Nick, but even when he wasn't around, I was totally focused on seeing Bex's journey through.

Because that's what this book is about, ultimately. It's about a girl trying to find herself in the midst of a very complicated, and mostly secretive relationship that makes her question her worth and efforts at every turn. It's about the sacrifices we make to be with the ones we love, and how much Bex has to commit, and commit again to be with someone who has duties and obligations that may be more important than her. And it's about making those mature decisions and living with them.

But while love can overcome a lot, it can't always overcome something as big as the intense media scrutiny that Nick and Bex are under. The discussion in The Royal We of the paparazzi - who are brutal to Bex even after she and Nick had broken up - is probably the part that rings truest to me - because I remember when it happened to Will and Kate. Every time Bex goes out with friends, she is scrutinized, for drinking too much, too little, wearing too much, too little...and she wasn't even with the guy anymore! Nick asks the press to leave her alone and they don't. They don't even leave her sister alone. And while this book isn't the "real" story of Will and Kate, it does show, in alarming detail, just how much that kind of media pressure can hurt and destroy people. 


Source: BBC.co.uk
I also remember around the time that William and Kate were broken up, people were calling her Waity Katie. And how hurtful and mean that was, but how I secretly (and shamefully) thought that might have been true - that she was just waiting around with a silly job working as a fashion buyer, until William was ready. And how I had the total inverse feminist feeling that she should just move on with her life. But the thing I didn't think about was that it was her decision to live that life. And in The Royal We, Bex says again and again that no matter what happens, Nick is worth it to her. That is her decision to make, and it's every bit as strong a decision as walking away from a guy who comes with as much baggage as Nick does. 

The really interesting thing to me, however, is how the Fug Girls almost insert themselves into the book, letting royal fashion blogs and celebrity watch blogs become the biggest, most destructive part of Bex's life. I know they are fans of Kate's wardrobe, but I do think it's interesting that they, as part of the media hype, are essentially the villains in the novel. It made me think about how much the media toes the line with celebrities, and how much being a blogger - even a lowly book blogger like me - changes that landscape for anyone in the public eye.

The Royal We isn't a short book - clocking in at 460 pages - but I lived and loved every moment of it. I struggled with Bex as she tried to find better jobs, tried to live with Nick, tried to live without him. I worried about her when she fell into a depression, and I had major heart eyes whenever she had perfect moments with Nick. In fact, if I have one criticism of this book, it's that I wanted more at the end. Even though the ending was excellent (that's all I'm going to say about it), I believed in the characters so much that I seriously needed an epilogue where I found out where everyone was going.

SEQUEL, PLEASE?

Bonuses (I basically gushed about everything already, so I'm just going to list them out here): 



Royalty: SO WELL DONE. All of it. 


All Things England: Cocks and Morgan got it. By George, I think they got it. 


Kick-Arse Secondary Characters: I mean, ALMOST EVERYONE. 

Source: Telegraph.co.uk
Princess Fashion: Bex isn't a girly-girl, but you can't go into a book by the Fug Girls without knowing that there's going to be some serious fashion talk.

Heart-Squeezing Romance: I swooned with Bex over Nick. You will, too. 

Book Theme Song: 


(It's British, it's from 2007, when Nick and Bex first met, it's the kind of song you might hear in a club...)

But something happened for the very first time with you
My heart melts into the ground, found something true
And everyone's looking round thinking I'm going crazy

But I don't care what they say, I'm in love with you
They try to pull me away, but they don't know the truth

The Final Word: 


If you're an Anglophile or royalty obsessed, or into new adult, or just like the idea of the commoner with the celebrity, you will love THE ROYAL WE. Cocks and Morgan deliver what they imagine to be the inside scoop - and while it's not anywhere near as glamorous as what you see on the outside, it's a very funny, very truthful, and very heartfelt novel that just takes hold of you and doesn't let go. It's one of those books where, after you finish, you just want to start all over again to relive the magic.

THE ROYAL WE is out in bookstores now. Are you interested in reading it? Are you royals obsessed like me, or in need of a fairytale read sometimes? Who is your favourite royal couple? What do you think of the paparazzi and of the fame and attention that royals get? Would you be able to deal with it? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Open Letter to My YA Self [+ A Contemporary Giveaway!]

Hi all, today I'm participating in GReads! Open Letter to My YA Self feature. When I saw that Ginger was doing something special with contemporary lovers, I knew I had to get in on it. Not only do I love her blog, but one of the reasons I read YA is because I feel like those high school years were so formative in my life, and every time I read something that taps into who I was then, it feels monumental. 

To write this letter, I went back to my old diaries to see what I was thinking about writing about then. I already had an idea of when in my YA life I wanted to go back to, but actually reading those thoughts and feelings again...I'm already getting a little emotional. Get ready, guys. This is me, open and raw for you (it's really, really long. Sorry). 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick


The Boy Most Likely To
Author: Huntley Fitzpatrick 
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Expected publication: August 18, 2015

Surprises abound and sparks ignite in the highly anticipated, utterly romantic companion to My Life Next Door

Tim Mason was The Boy Most Likely To:
- find the liquor cabinet blindfolded
- need a liver transplant
- drive his car into a house

Alice Garrett was The Girl Most Likely To:
- well, not date her little brother’s baggage-burdened best friend, for starters.

For Tim, it wouldn’t be smart to fall for Alice. For Alice, nothing could be scarier than falling for Tim. But Tim has never been known for making the smart choice, and Alice is starting to wonder if the “smart” choice is always the right one. When these two crash into each other, they crash hard.

Then the unexpected consequences of Tim’s wild days come back to shock him. He finds himself in a situation that isn’t all it appears to be, that he never could have predicted . . . but maybe should have.

And Alice is caught in the middle.

Told in Tim’s and Alice’s distinctive, disarming, entirely compelling voices, this return to the world of My Life Next Door is a story about failing first, trying again, and having to decide whether to risk it all once more. 

A thousand years ago (or, more accurately, 2.5 years ago), I reviewed a little book called My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. It wasn't the greatest review. I was just starting this blog, and I was really only blogging what I loved to read and what I felt in a very guarded way. But reading back over that review, I'm reminded of how perfect a summer story that book was, how much I fell for and swooned over Jase and Samantha's first love (seriously, guys, how hot was that romance?!), and how much I liked Tim.

This is the book I've been waiting for from Huntley Fitzpatrick. At the end of My Life Next Door, I wanted more about the Garretts, and I really wanted more about Tim.

Sometimes dreams do come true. I can't wait to read Tim and Alice's story.

Have you read My Life Next Door? Are you a fan of sexy summer romances? What are you waiting for this week? 

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"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Review: Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Author: Becky Albertalli (website | twitter)
Publisher: Balzer + Bray (Harper Collins)
Source/Format: eARC provided by publisher on Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication: April 7th 2015 
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Review:


I know there has been mad love for this book all over the blogosphere, and I think it’s both wonderful and curious that a book that really focuses on the little moments in a teen’s life – whether it’s watching The Bachelor with your family, or playing video games with your best friends, or just lying around listening to music – is so lauded. While I’m not at my “perfect book” place with Simon, I do feel that it deserves all the praise it gets for portraying a pretty normal teen’s experience so authentically.
“And it’s funny, because I don’t really think of myself as lonely. But there was something so familiar about the way Blue described the feeling…Like the way you can memorize someone’s gestures but never know their thoughts. And the feeling that people are like houses with vast rooms and tiny windows.

The way you can feel so exposed anyway.”
Thoughts like this are the reason why I could connect to Simon. Gay or straight, Simon felt so real and so much like me as a teen that the bigger issues he dealt with during the book – I could connect to them, even though I was fortunate enough to never have to go through coming out or bullying because of my sexual orientation.
“But I’m tired of coming out. All I ever do is come out. I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.”
It's a book that really understands teen self-discovery, and how funny and quirky and painful it can be. And it’s the kind of book that refuses to let any character be a stock character, because the people in Simon’s life really matter to Simon, and his nature is to care about and listen to others. From Nick and Leah, Simon’s oldest and best friends, who are in a sort of love triangle with his new friend Abby, to Martin, the boy who finds out about Simon’s sexual orientation in the early stages of the book, to Simon’s wonderful, trying-to-be-hip parents, to his sibling relationships – as much as this book is about Simon, it’s also about the friends and family he surrounds himself with and how that shapes and changes him.
“It’s a dementor robe over my clothes. I think you’ll survive.”
“What’s a dementor?”
I mean, I can’t even. “Nora, you are no longer my sister.”
“So it’s some Harry Potter thing,” she says.
And a big part of the real-ness is that stomach-dropping feeling that Simon gets when he corresponds with Blue. It’s a feeling that I GUARANTEE that you will get – the heart-swelling, chest-pounding, OMG-he’s-so-perfect-and-I-need-to-be-with-him feeling of your first crush, then your first more-than-crush.

The great thing about this relationship is that you really get to see it all through the letters and through how important Blue and Simon make each other. It’s not just that they happen to be the only gay people that they know (although that might be true). It’s that they’re open to baring their souls through words, and you see, through their letters, how their relationship slowly develops into more, and how much they “get” each other.

I feel like this is the swooniest I’ve gotten over a fictional relationship in a long time. And I have to applaud Becky Albertalli for doing me a solid and writing what I think is an absolutely stellar back third of the book. The build-up is unbelievable, but for me, endings matter, and I think she knocked this one out of the park and into the stars.

Bonuses:


 Candy Land: Man, do Simon and Blue talk about candy and cookies a lot. Be warned: you will need Oreos and Reese’s Pieces for this reading.

Mix Tape Madness: SimonVS has some of the best music suggestions ever, including Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, etc. You should take all of Simon’s suggestions and listen to them!

The Play’s The Thing: Throughout the book, Simon is going to rehearsals for a school production of Oliver! – Albertalli’s portrayal of the crazy antics of theatre kids is totally what my high school productions felt like.










Book Theme Song: 





Wish you gave me your number
Wish I could call you today
Just to hear a voice
I got a long way to go
I'm getting further away
If I didn't know the difference
Living alone'd probably be okay
It wouldn't be lonely
It was easy when I didn't know you yet

The Final Word:


The best word to describe Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is “cute.” You will want to hug this book at the end and smile and swoon because it is full of all the goodness in life. It’s a true contemporary YA in that I almost felt like nothing was happening because I was just living life with Simon, going through his issues with him, and feeling the swoons of a new relationship. It’s that slice-of-life-ness that really elevates SimonVs from just another contemporary to the kind of book that you’ll want to read again and again.

SIMON VS THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA comes out today. Will you be picking up a copy of this adorable contemporary? Are you an Oreos fan? How much do you feel that family and friends should be part of shaping and changing your life? If you were in Simon's situation, would you try to find out who Blue was right away? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone


Every Last Word
Author: Tamara Ireland Stone
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion (HBG Canada)
Expected publication date: June 16th 2015

If you could read my mind, you wouldn't be smiling.

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 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.

In Tamara Ireland Stone's Time Between Us, there's one moment where MC Anna needs to make a decision to take a leap of faith - or risk losing her love, Bennett, forever. A similar thing happens to Bennett in Time After Time. That dichotomy of a strong character who needs a push to make their dreams happen sounds like it will also be present in Every Last Word, which I really like.

There's something very lyrical and captivating in both Ireland Stone's characters and writing. Samantha looks to be a darker character than Anna and Bennett, but I'm grateful that Ireland Stone will be exploring some mental health issues as well as what's "popular" vs. what's right. I hope it will be filled with as much introspection and honesty as her previous books.

Are you interested in reading Every Last Word? Do you like books that deal with tough issues like mental health and peer pressure? What are you waiting for this week? Let me know in the comments. 

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"Waiting On Wednesday" is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that book bloggers are eagerly anticipating.

Monday, March 23, 2015

"The Last Day on Earth" Early Review: We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

We All Looked Up
Author: Tommy Wallach (website | twitter)
Source/Format: eARC from publisher on Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication: March 24th 2015 
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. 

Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.

They always say that high school is the best time of your life.

Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.

Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.


Review: 


We All Looked Up is about four teens who are dealing with the impending death of not just themselves, but their planet and their species, by way of the asteroid Ardor. Peter is a jock and student council leader who is already questioning himself before hearing about Ardor. Peter has a history with Eliza, a photographer who has been labelled the school slut, and who is dealing with her father’s imminent death from cancer. Meanwhile, school slacker and joker Andy has been in love with Eliza for years, and sees Ardor as a way to finally have sex with her. And Anita, who serves on the student council with Peter, is trying to break away from her Miss Perfect life to follow her dreams of becoming a jazz singer.

“They’d been learning about the phrase “Pyrrhic victory,” which came from Roman times and meant that you’d won something, like a battle, but in order to win, you had to lose so much that you really hadn’t won at all.”

One of the biggest themes in this book is the Pyrrhic victory. It’s a brilliant way to tie together the many philosophies of the book because the four teens - and the rest of the world, are all battling a Pyrrhic victory in these last few weeks of their lives. The question is, is it worth it to win small battles even if you know it’s a Pyrrhic victory? Do love, art, music matter in the face of imminent death?

It’s questions like these that characterize and make We All Looked Up a special read. It’s reflective, it’s alarming, but it’s also deeply rooted in philosophy - and not just one philosophy, but many. One of the brilliant things about Wallach’s book is that it embraces many ideas from religion, philosophy, from the minds of great writers to the minds of his characters, both despicable and flourishing. And Wallach never judges. Instead, he presents these ideas in a way that is equal parts weird, heartfelt, and insightful.

“Question: How could you look the end of the world in the face and not go crazy? Answer: You couldn’t. The only sane thing to do was to seek out enough distraction to numb the terror.”

For me, this book was both thought-provoking and comforting. I confess to a bit of an obsession over what happens to us when we die, and most days, I’m scared of that idea. But the characters’ thoughts are my thoughts, from Eliza’s counting down of the number of times she’ll hear a song, to Andy’s joy at arson because why not.

There were a few parts of this book that weren’t quite to my taste. While I mostly enjoyed the descriptive writing, there were a few moments that it veered into purple prose territory, and took me out of the book. Examples:

“The nearly full moon was shining down like the bright, pupilless eye of some phlegmatic god when the first stone was thrown.”

“They’d recently been pollarded, which made their upper halves look grotesque--the arboreal equivalent of the Venus de Milo, with dozens of severed limbs instead of just two.”


There were also several moments with Andy’s friends Bobo and Golden that seemed almost too surreal to be authentic (I don't want to give anything away so I'm not giving examples) - and again, those moments took me out of the novel.

Although I have some qualms about the book, I have to applaud Tommy Wallach for addressing extinction so head-on, and with such care, emotion, and yes, philosophy. I highlighted so many passages, and I’ll be reading those gems again and again.

The best books, they don't talk about the things you never thought about before. They talk about things you'd always thought about, but that you didn't think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you're a little bit less alone in the world. You're part of this cosmic community of people who've thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.

I feel a bit less alone and a bit more comforted because I read this book, and I’m grateful for that.

Bonuses:

Source: UIC.edu
Sex Positivity: I loved how much sex was on everyone’s minds because that just felt so authentic to how people would be with imminent extinction. In particular, I loved that Eliza owned her sexuality and that Andy made it such a big deal, and how thoughts about sex were not censored but honestly thought out by the characters.

Book Theme Song: 


The author has his own album that he's written for the book, and it's pretty awesome: 


That said, I think this might be the perfect non-author related song to characterize the book:

The Last Day on Earth by Kate Miller-Heidke


Look down
The ground below is crumbling
Look up
The stars are all exploding
Between the dust and the debris
There's a light surrounding you and me
It's the last day on earth
In my dreams 
It's the end of the world
And you've come back to me
In my dreams

The Final Word:


If I had to describe WE ALL LOOKED UP in one word, it would be “wise.” Because that’s what I got from this novel: a lot of wisdom, and a lot of reflection. While it’s not a perfect novel, I needed to read it to confront my own fears of death, and I think a lot of teens will find it comforting and illuminating as well.

Recommended for: teens dealing with depression or anxiety, people who need perspective on the world, philosophy junkies

WE ALL LOOKED UP comes out tomorrow. Are you interested in reading it? Are you a little bit afraid and thoughtful about death like I am? What would be the first thing you would do if you knew you were going to die? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Review: 6 Things You Need To Know About The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand

The Last Time We Say Goodbye
Author: Cynthia Hand (website | twitter)
Publisher: Harper Teen
Source/Format: ARC from Harper Collins Canada (thank you!)
Publication date: February 10, 2015
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

There's death all around us.
We just don't pay attention.
Until we do.


The last time Lex was happy, it was before. When she had a family that was whole. A boyfriend she loved. Friends who didn't look at her like she might break down at any moment.

Now she's just the girl whose brother killed himself. And it feels like that's all she'll ever be.

As Lex starts to put her life back together, she tries to block out what happened the night Tyler died. But there's a secret she hasn't told anyone-a text Tyler sent, that could have changed everything.

Lex's brother is gone. But Lex is about to discover that a ghost doesn't have to be real to keep you from moving on.

From New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Hand, The Last Time We Say Goodbye is a gorgeous and heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and letting go.


Review:


I finished this book several weeks ago, but I'm still processing it even now. So here is my attempt to distill it down to what you need to know (other than that you should definitely, DEFINITELY pick this one up):

6. It does not hold back or dumb down death, but it's also not as depressing as you think.  

If you've read Cynthia Hand's Unearthly series, you know that Hand really understands death. She knows how to write about grief and how to shepherd a character through it. With The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Hand gets an entire book to explore how a character comes to terms with not only grief, but also guilt and rationalization and knowing how to laugh again and wanting to save others and how to cope. It's not all sad, though - the book alternates between flashbacks through her journal writing and present day, where Lex assigns herself tasks to fulfill what she thinks her brother's ghost wants. That sounds morbid, but it's actually fascinating and uncovers new layers to the people she knows.

5. Cynthia Hand is brilliant at normal - or as normal as it can be when you see ghosts. 

For those of you who are paranormal junkies, you may shy away from this one. Don't. First of all, this is her subtle quiet writing at its best. You will feel all the feels of the Unearthly series, just in a different context.

Also, there are quite a few moments that feel very otherworldly as Lex is dealing with her grief.

4. It doesn't pretend parents don't exist.  

One of my favourite parts of the Unearthly series was how much interaction the parents had with the kids in the series - they helped move so much of the story along. Hand understands how much influence our parents exert on us and how they shape us, and she always builds them into the narrative. At the beginning of The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Lex and her mother are both so weighted down by their grief that they can barely move. I felt like they were stuck underwater, living in a slow-motion atmosphere. And Lexi's father is nowhere to be found. The complexities of Lexi's relationships with her mother and father are brilliantly maneuvered, and key to how she moves on and how she learns to live again.

3. There's math nerdery - but it's not written about in a nerdy way. 

I love, love, LOVED that Lex was such a geek about math and science, and how methodically she approached life. Cynthia Hand brilliantly constructed a character who wasn't at all cold or distant, but who definitely had a view of how life should be. I just loved how weird she was, how much we got to know her, and how much she recognized her own weirdness and never shied away from it.

2. It has one of the swooniest romances I've read in awhile.

You wouldn't - or at least I didn't - think that the romance in this book would be so charming and swoonworthy. But it is. The love between Steven and Lex doesn't take up a lot of time in a book that's definitively about grief - but the moments between them are so powerful in their normalcy, in the little moments of two people who are just right for each other, that I fell in love, too.

1. [semi-spoiler - highlight to read if you are one of those people who doesn't mind knowing my opinion of parts of the book] It has, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant endings I have ever read in a YA novel.

Look, you might not agree with me. And I sure hope that me telling you this doesn't bias your view of the ending. But the ending is so circular, so pitch-perfect in emotion and weight and resonance and what matters that I can't write this review without mentioning it. I put a lot of weight on endings and more often than not, I'm a little disappointed. This one elevated the book and had me at a complete loss for words or thoughts. I was just a ball of emotion.

Book Theme Song:

Dirty Projectors - While You're Here


His ghost is quiet, but we're crying again
Then I hear you saying while you are here
You are alive, but you are here, you are alive

The Final Word: 


It's hard to review a book that is so much about feeling, but I think Cynthia Hand has pulled off something extraordinary - a book where I didn't notice structure or writing or even feel like I was reading about a character, but where I was just going through the grieving process with Lex. It really, really hurts - but it's a hurt that changes you and helps you learn about yourself. Highly recommended for anyone who loves contemporaries or who needs help getting through a loss.

THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE is out now. Have you read it yet? Are you interested in reading it? Have you read Cynthia Hand's other books? Can you read books that are sad or about grief? Hit the comments and let me know.