Today I’ve got reviews of Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales and First & Then by Emma Mills, the two YA contemporary (duh, it’s me) books on the tour. I also got the opportunity to ask all four of the Fierce Reads tour authors an interview question.
And because the tour is coming to Canada, I’ve got an amazing opportunity to win one of the Fierce Reads books, signed to you! Read on for more!
What do you prefer to have with you while writing/reading: a cat, a mug of tea, or something else?
Josephine Angelini (Firewalker): I’m a beverage person. I require at least two different beverages by my side while I write—be it water, coffee, red wine, tea, or an Arnold Palmer. Having more than one beverage by my computer, and being a raging klutz, has caused much suffering and woe.
Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows): Other writers. I love being in a room with a bunch of friends, all of us tapping away on our keyboards. It keeps me honest, and it just helps me stay focused. A coffee shop or my living room will do, but I drafted the sequel to Six of Crows at a writing retreat right on the beach and it was ridiculously productive. We would write all morning, break for lunch, write for a few more hours, and then go jump in the sea. I think about that house all the time.
Leila Sales (Tonight the Streets Are Ours): I love my cats, but they are not welcome while I write because they like to get on my desk and knock my water glass onto my keyboard. I like to keep a slinky next to my computer—I play with it when I can’t think of what to write next. And chocolate chips. I eat so many chocolate chips when I write, it is disgusting.
Tonight the Streets Are Ours Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible
Recklessly loyal. That's how seventeen-year-old Arden Huntley has always thought of herself. Taking care of her loved ones is what gives Arden purpose in her life and makes her feel like she matters. But lately she's grown resentful of everyone--including her needy best friend and her absent mom--taking her loyalty for granted.
Then Arden stumbles upon a website called Tonight the Streets Are Ours, the musings of a young New York City writer named Peter, who gives voice to feelings that Arden has never known how to express. He seems to get her in a way that no one else does, and he hasn't even met her.Until Arden sets out on a road trip to find him.
During one crazy night out in New York City filled with parties, dancing, and music--the type of night when anything can happen, and nearly everything does--Arden discovers that Peter isn't exactly who she thought he was. And maybe she isn't exactly who she thought she was, either.
Tonight the Streets Are Ours was an unusual read for me – and I think for YA. The main character, Arden Huntley, is a girl who has spent her life helping other people – often at the sacrifice of her own happiness. Whether Arden is taking the heat for her best friend’s baggie of marijuana (left in Arden’s locker), or she’s helping her actor-boyfriend Chris find costumes for the drama club even though she would rather not, Arden is a giver.
And no wonder, given the fact that Arden’s mom has always taught her that kindness and self-sacrifice will make her happier than anything else. The problem is, Arden’s mom just left her, her brother, and her dad, which is pretty much the most selfish thing Arden can think of.
Her world view rocked, and fed up with being the person who always takes care of others, Arden stumbles upon a blog called Tonight the Streets Are Ours. She quickly becomes obsessed with writer Peter and his seemingly beautiful and exciting life in New York (coincidentally where her mom is). After a particularly bad disappointment from Chris, she and Lindsey impulsively take off for New York to find Peter, and yes, make the streets theirs.
The first half of this novel, developing Arden, Lindsey and her other friends, was very slow. I was frustrated by Arden’s lack of self-understanding, even though I recognized it to be very true to her age. I was basically throwing things at her throughout the novel – I just couldn’t understand why she would stay with Chris or do SO MUCH for Lindsey.
But the idea of being the giver/caretaker really spoke to me, even if I never experienced or perpetuated that idea with quite as much effort as Arden did. The question that Arden asks: “why don’t other people don’t love me as much as I love them?” – that question was one that haunted me in my own teen life. Learning to balance sacrifice and self-love is a major part of Arden’s journey through this novel, and I definitely think it’s something that teens will relate to.
That said, I wish I had connected more to Arden – I think I was so frustrated with the obviousness of her situation that it stopped me from liking her. And while I don’t have to like a character, I do have to care enough to want to continue reading. I didn’t feel that way about Arden at times.
I’m grateful that the book picked up hugely in the second half with the road trip, with Arden and Lindsey’s meeting with Peter, and with the subsequent discoveries Arden makes about Peter and his blog. I think a lot of us can all relate to becoming obsessed with something – whether it’s with a celebrity, or author, or just a person, and wanting to know EVERYTHING about it. For Arden, that’s Peter, and it’s both weird and awkward and wonderful when they meet.
That back half of the novel made me think a lot about online personas and what we share with the world. What’s private in this day and age? How much of what we write and share is curated? And how is that a form of giving and taking? Spoilers for the end of the book: [I think Peter, in deciding to write his “memoir” was definitely doing too much taking – but I also think that his ruthlessness is maybe something that Arden had to learn was out there. In a lot of ways, Arden and Peter are opposites – she’s a giver, and he’s a taker, and it’s only at the end that Arden realizes that she needs to be a bit of both in order to move forward.]
The Final Word
What I liked about Tonight the Streets Are Ours is that it explores two ideas that I haven’t seen much in YA: the idea of giving so much of yourself, and being the person who sacrifices; and the idea of getting obsessed with a blog or writer. It’s an unusual set up to talk about love, family, and balance, and I think it’s a sophisticated way to think about it. I do wish that I had connected more with the main character, but overall, a worthwhile read.
*****First and Then
Author: Emma Mills
Find the author: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Tumblr
Also by this author: This Adventure Ends, Foolish Hearts
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company (BYR)
Publication date: October 13th 2015
Source: Raincoast Books
Recommended in John Green's Book Giving Guide for the Holidays 2015
Devon Tennyson wouldn't change a thing. She's happy silently crushing on best friend Cas, and blissfully ignoring the future after high school. But the universe has other plans. It delivers Devon's cousin Foster, an unrepentant social outlier with a surprising talent, and the obnoxiously superior and maddeningly attractive jock, Ezra, right where she doesn't want them--first into her P.E. class and then into every other aspect of her life.
With wit, heart, and humor to spare, First & Then is a contemporary novel about falling in love--with the unexpected boy, with a new brother, and with yourself.
First & Then was a totally swoony read that meshes Jane Austen with football – that “Pride & Prejudice meets Friday Night Lights” comparison is very apt. For some reason, I walked into it thinking it would be less about football than it was – but I promise you, the football stuff is not disappointing if you’re not into it. There’s a real sense of the tradition and love of the game that the whole town has – not in a way that feels off-putting, but definitely in an FNL way.
As for the Pride & Prejudice part, Austen fans will notice that not only does the plot echo bits of P&P and Sense & Sensibility, but Mills also throws in adorable references to other Austen fan favourites (if you liked the 1995 BBC adaptation of P&P, think SWIMMING SCENE).
For me, a large part of the success of First & Then was how much thought Mills put into the characters and the family pressures they were dealing with. At the beginning of the novel, our MC Devon is not only trying to figure out what she’s going to do about college (she sees herself as stunningly average and not very interested in a lot of things), but she’s also dealing with a new family member, her cousin Foster.
Foster came to live with Devon’s family because his mother is in rehab, and Devon and Foster are dealing with this revelation in different ways. For Devon, it’s a huge adjustment to suddenly have a “little brother” type hanging around, especially one so nerdy. For Foster, he needs to figure out how to reconcile his feelings for his mother with his new family.
On top of all that, there’s a new football star at school, Ezra Lynley, who Devon dislikes on sight because her best friend and crush Cas dislikes all the attention placed on Ezra. But when Ezra sees potential in Foster for the football team, and becomes a friend to Devon…well, all bets are off.
Those of you who are Austen fans can probably see where this plot is going, but despite that, First & Then is more of an homage to Austen and football than it is a retelling. Mills carefully and brilliantly plots her novel so that we get those Austen feels, but the book never feels like it relies on Austen for anything. The characters and situations feel real and fresh. The dialogue is authentic and honest. Even Devon’s initial prejudices (which extend from Ezra to calling her female gym classmates the “prostitots” or “PTs”) feel real, and get torn apart in a way that never feels contrived.
I really enjoyed First & Then and raced through it – in part because of this blog tour, but also because it was an effortless read that explores high school friendships and relationships to their fullest. I appreciated the fact that Devon wasn’t really much of a joiner, and she’s so at loose ends with herself that she doesn’t recognize the difference between not caring and not putting in any effort. It’s a feeling that I think a lot of teens will relate to. Throw in the swoons and you’ve got a solid contemporary for fall.
The Final Word
Read this while the autumn leaves are changing colour, with a mug of tea and blanket thrown over you. It’ll warm you up with its swoons and honesty.
Leila Sales, Emma Mills, Josephine Angelini, and Leigh Bardugo will be doing the Fierce Reads tour across the US and Canada starting October 11th. Check out the tour dates!
The ladies will be making their one and only Canadian stop in my hometown of Toronto on October 17. I really wanted to share the love, so I’m doing a super-short giveaway for any of the Fierce Reads books, signed to you (US/Can only). Check it out below, and be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour stops for #FierceReadsTakesTO!