Book Review: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Book: You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

Published March 2017 by Knopf|297 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

I liked You’re Welcome, Universe!  I didn’t love it, but I did like Julia’s story.  She’s artsy and fun, and she’s pretty into art, especially graffiti art.

There’s very little romance, and even then, it’s two background characters, so it was nice to see a YA contemporary where the main character isn’t actually dating someone.  I’m trying to think of one with no romance, and I can’t think of any off the top of my head, so if it’s not your thing, this would be a good book to check out.  There’s nothing wrong with romance, of course, but it was a nice change from what we usually see.

And I did want to talk about Julia adjusting to a mainstream school.  She was kicked out of the Kingston School For The Deaf, and Julia had a lot of challenges adjusting to school.  It seemed very realistic, but as I’m not deaf, I can’t speak to how accurate or realistic the portrayal is.  Still, I felt like I understood where Julia was coming from, and there were so many things I didn’t think about- like waking up on time for school, or trying to find visual cues for a lot of things, like the bell ringing.  It really is a community of itself, and I think this book provides a much needed representation in the YA community.

I also like the world of graffiti art, and how territorial it is.  I wouldn’t have thought that, but it does make sense.  I did like the artwork throughout the book, and it really brought things to life.  It was nice to actually see the artwork mentioned throughout the book.  Even though it’s described (and some might not like the visuals of something already mentioned), I thought it added a nice touch.

It is a pretty straightforward book, and it’s right to the point.  Which was fine, but I also thought it could have used something a little different.  I get Julia’s anger and frustration at what was going on, but it did seem a little over the top at times.

3 stars.  I liked the story and Julia as a character, but I had a hard time truly connecting with the story.

Advertisements

Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Book: Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles

Published March 2018 by Little Brown Books For Young Readers|304 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.

The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.

I liked Tyler Johnson was here.  I’ve picked up a few books about teens dealing with police brutality, and I think this one is one to read.

I loved Marvin, and you really felt what he was going through.  I’m an only child, so I can’t imagine losing a sibling, much less a sibling who’s my twin.  I liked seeing how much he grow over the course of the book, and how important it was for him to speak up about what was going and what had happened.

I didn’t care for the romance we see in the book- it was unexpected, and while it didn’t take away from everything we see in the book, I also would have been fine without it.  Maybe it’s there to show that love can be found in unexpected places, or for some other reason.  Whatever that reason is, it didn’t work for me.  Still, I’m glad he seemed to find some sort of happiness after everything that happened.

The one thing that stood out to me was how there didn’t seem to be a big search party for Tyler when he went missing.  Something that did come up was race and how it plays into missing kids and media attention, and it’s sad that no one seemed to care about Tyler until he was found dead.

I felt devastated for Marvin and his friends, and the everyday racism they face.  I will never know what it’s like to almost be shot for potential shoplifting, and the assumptions made because of his race makes me horrified that people have to deal with this on an everyday basis.

There is a lot of hope in Tyler Johnson Was Here, and I like that there’s hope.  Hope that they’ll find Tyler, hope that Tyler gets Justice, and that hope that things will get better for Marvin.  I hate that he lost his brother, but I love that Marvin finally realized what he wanted to, and why he did some of the things he did.

4 stars.  I know there are a lot of books out there about police brutality, but this is one to pick up.

Book Review: Saints And Misfits by S.K. Ali

Book: Saints And Misfits by S.K. Ali

Published June 2017 by Salaam Reads/Simon Schuster Books For Young Readers|325 pages

Where I Got It: I own the hardcover

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:

1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.

2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.

Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.

But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?

3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.

Like the monster at my mosque.

People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

Except me.

I wanted to like Saints And Misfits more than I actually did.

I was never completely invested, and while Janna seems to like photography and books, it wasn’t as explored as it could have been.  For the most part, I was bored reading it but I was determined to finish the book.

As for the monster that we see referenced in the book, I knew where it was headed, and I waited quite a bit for the reveal.  Unfortunately, I found that I could care less, since I I was pretty sure of what was coming.  And it didn’t have the effect that it should have.  It was built and then it just sort of…went nowhere.  Well, that’s not completely right.  I thought it was built up for nothing, and it didn’t go in the direction I thought it would.  Which is unfortunate, because I thought it could have been interesting.

Still, I thought Janna was a pretty normal teen.  She has a crush, who is a non-Muslim boy.  She hangs out with her friends and takes a neighbor to game night at the local senior center.  She has to deal with people sharing pictures of her without her hijab.

I’m not Muslim, but it seemed like it was a really big thing.  It’s not something I completely understand, of course, but I can understand her being upset that those photos were posted on Facebook.  I was bothered by how easily her classmate posted that photo, without a single thought about how Janna might feel about it.  I’m not sure if it didn’t occur to her classmate that it was inappropriate and disrespectful (particularly because said pictures were taken during gym), or if her classmate knew and just didn’t care.

I did like how important her faith and identity was to Janna, and it was nice to see how, no matter what your beliefs are, we all have to with school and not-so-cool people and dating.  I also liked the interfaith conversations and that there wasn’t any Islamophobia.  At least that I saw, but it’s possible I missed it so…

I didn’t care for Janna, and she did keep people at a distance.  She was judgemental and mean and hard to like.  I’m fine with unlikable characters, but in this case, Janna was just…sort of…there.  Which is a weird thing to say, since the book is about her, but this book clearly isn’t my cup of tea.  I’d still recommend it, because it does seem like a good representation of a Muslim teen dealing with things a lot of teenagers deal with.

2 stars.  I was bored reading this book, and it’s clearly not for me, but I still think it’s worth checking out.

Book Review: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Book: The Way I Used To Be by Amber Smith

Published March 2016 by Margaret K Elderberry Books|367 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

In the tradition of Speak, this extraordinary debut novel shares the unforgettable story of a young woman as she struggles to find strength in the aftermath of an assault.

Eden was always good at being good. Starting high school didn’t change who she was. But the night her brother’s best friend rapes her, Eden’s world capsizes.

What was once simple, is now complex. What Eden once loved—who she once loved—she now hates. What she thought she knew to be true, is now lies. Nothing makes sense anymore, and she knows she’s supposed to tell someone what happened but she can’t. So she buries it instead. And she buries the way she used to be.

Told in four parts—freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior year—this provocative debut reveals the deep cuts of trauma. But it also demonstrates one young woman’s strength as she navigates the disappointment and unbearable pains of adolescence, of first love and first heartbreak, of friendships broken and rebuilt, and while learning to embrace a power of survival she never knew she had hidden within her heart.

Before I start reviewing, rape, drugs and drinking are things that we see in the book, and therefore, are mentioned in this review.

When I saw that this book was in the tradition of Speak, I knew I had to read it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like it, and if the reviews and ratings are any indication, I am clearly in the minority.  It definitely didn’t live up to Speak, though I do see some comparisons between the two- both books follow a teen as she deals with the aftermath of rape, and not saying anything, I do think speak did it a lot better

I felt for Eden, I really did.  No one should have to go through what she went through, and unfortunately, her story in one that happens frequently.

Even with everything she’s going through, I found that Eden was a hard character to like.  She had some self-destructive tendencies, and it was hard to watch her downward spiral of sex, drugs and alcohol.  There are some great books about teens dealing with rape, like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Some Boys by Patty Blount, and I think those add a lot more to both YA in general, but particularly when discussing rape, its aftermath, and how we treat rape victims.  I thought this book didn’t really add anything to that.

The span of time could have been interesting, but the structure of the book didn’t work at all, and I thought it was, well, a mess.  I felt like huge gaps of time were missing.  I know things for Eden weren’t easy, and she was dealing with something traumatic on her own, and she didn’t know who she was anymore.  She didn’t seem interested in things she really liked, and clearly the drugs, sex, and alcohol were her way of numbing the pain and trauma of what happened.  I get everyone deals with things differently, and by no means am I judging her for that.  I hope she gets the help she needs.

The structure, though…one minute, she’s hanging out in the library during her lunch and has glasses, and the next thing you know, she’s wearing contacts, has dropped out of things like band, and is the complete opposite of who she was just months earlier.  Her parents are another good example of missing time- one minute, they’re mom and dad, and they are seen talking, but the next thing you know, she’s calling them by their first name, and they communicate solely by notes in the kitchen.  When did that happen?  I feel like things needed to be filled in a little more, because it felt like parts of her downward spiral were being skipped in favor of nothing that I actually care about.

I don’t know what to think of her relationships with her family and friends.  And by friends, I really mean Mara, who seemed to be her only friend.  She’s fighting with her parents, her brother doesn’t seem to care about her, and Mara tries, but eventually can’t take Eden’s behaviour anymore.  I mean, she seemed to change pretty drastically, and yet, we never see her parents question it.  So either she was really good at hiding things and sneaking around, or they didn’t seem to care, at least from what we see in the book.

But when you consider the fact that it seemed like Smith skipped over some things, maybe her parents did try to do or say something but we never saw it.  And why did it seem to take so long for Cameron and Mara to say something to her?  I don’t get it, but sure, let’s take a while to say something about how our friend is acting.

Let’s talk about the ending before I wrap this up.  I am glad that she finally said something, but I was a little sad by what it took for her to say something.  I know everyone is different, and like I said earlier, I hope she gets some help and deals with what happened in a healthy way.  Was the ending emotional?  Of course it was.  I’m not completely heartless, and I was crying.  I hate saying this, I really do, but I’m going to say it anyway: by the ending, I just didn’t care what happened to Eden, and it was too late.  While I didn’t like Amanda (from the glimpses we saw), Amanda saying something led to Eden finally saying something, and hopefully that is a good start for her.

What happened to her shouldn’t happen to anyone, and the sad reality is that it does happen.  While this book clearly isn’t for me, it could be for someone else.

1 star.  The structure of the story didn’t work for me, and it felt like parts of Eden’s story were left out.  This book didn’t work for me but don’t let that keep you from picking up this book if it’s up your alley.

Book Review: All In And Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Book: All In by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Published November 2015 by Disney-Hyperion|378 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: The Naturals #3

Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller

Three casinos. Three bodies. Three days.

After a string of brutal murders in Las Vegas, Cassie Hobbes and the Naturals are called in to investigate. But even with the team’s unique profiling talents, these murders seem baffling: unlike many serial killers, this one uses different methods every time. All of the victims were killed in public, yet the killer does not show up on any tape. And each victim has a string of numbers tattooed on their wrist. Hidden in the numbers is a code—and the closer the Naturals come to unraveling the mystery, the more perilous the case becomes.

Meanwhile, Cassie is dealing with an equally dangerous and much more painful mystery. For the first time in years, there’s been a break in her mother’s case. As personal issues and tensions between the team mount, Cassie and the Naturals will be faced with impossible odds—and impossible choices.

This has been a pretty cool series so far.  In this book, we see Cassie and the rest of the Naturals head over to Vegas to help out with a case.  This case was really different, and I loved seeing them figure it out.

This group…they really grew together.  They’re teens, and yet, they’ve all experienced something that no one their age should go through.  We learn so much about the characters, and they make so much more sense now then they did at the beginning of the series.  We learn a lot about everyone, and not just a lot about one particular character, which I liked.  In particular, though, I loved learning about Sloane.  They’re a team, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses.  But they are a team, and they’re better together than they are on their own.

Barnes doesn’t shy away from anything, and I really appreciated that, especially with everything the characters experience in this book.  It makes me want to pick up the next book- which I’ve had from the library for weeks, because I didn’t want to read it until I reviewed this one, and I’ve just never gotten to until now, because I should probably read it so I can actually return it.  I’m not in the mood to return it without reading it.

There’s definitely a lot going on, and the further in we get, the more questions I have.  This case…there’s a definite system, but it makes me wonder if there are connections that are going to be revealed in the last one that I never saw in the previous books.  Some very new things are revealed, and it makes me wonder if there’s more to what’s been going on.  Does anyone else want to know more about Cassie’s mom?  Because I feel like that’s been a question that’s been hanging over our heads since the beginning.

If that question isn’t answered, I am not going to be happy.  I don’t see how it’s not going to be answered, considering that it seems to be a really important plot point.  I know this series is primarily about Cassie, and her mom’s death was a really big event in her life, but things aren’t what they seem, as we’ve learned in previous books.  That is the case with this book as well, and hopefully, we finally learn what really happened.  Because just when you think you know, you realize you don’t know.

I’ve really liked this series so far, but I think this one is my favorite.  Now that the team is actually working on actual cases, and not just cold cases, things are really moving forward.  It’s changed things, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

My Rating: 4 stars.  I didn’t quite love it, but I still really liked it, and this series is definitely one to read!

Book: Bad Blood by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Published November 2016 by Disney-Hyperion|384 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: The Naturals #4

Genre: YA Mystery/Thriller

New victims. New betrayals. New secrets.

When Cassie Hobbes joined the FBI’s Naturals program, she had one goal: uncover the truth about her mother’s murder. But now, everything Cassie thought she knew about what happened that night has been called into question. Her mother is alive, and the people holding her captive are more powerful—and dangerous—than anything the Naturals have faced so far. As Cassie and the team work to uncover the secrets of a group that has been killing in secret for generations, they find themselves racing a ticking clock.

The bodies begin piling up, the deaths hit closer and closer to home, and it soon becomes apparent that this time, the Naturals aren’t just hunting serial killers.

They’re being hunted themselves.

As glad as I am that I finally know how it all ends, I think this is my least favorite book in this series.  I still liked it, and we definitely learn a lot about Cassie, but a lot of the book seemed convoluted and confusing.

There are just so many people and connections between them and I really felt like I needed pen and paper to figure all of it out.  It was more about the Fibonacci murders than resolving the mystery behind the death of Cassie’s mom.  It does come around in the end, I suppose, but I wasn’t really happy with how it was all resolved.  I feel like we learned a lot about Michael, Sloane, and Dean in the previous books, and I thought we’d learn more about Lia, but we never got that.  I found that disappointing, and I wanted more resolution with Cassie as well.  I don’t know that we saw a lot of growth or change for her, and I feel like there should have been more of that, particularly in this book.

I did like the relationships between everyone, and I liked how they were there for each other, particularly towards the end of the book.  That’s been one of my favorite things about this series, particularly over the last couple of books.

Overall, though, I thought it could have been better.  Some things about this series have been implausible, but I was willing to go with it, because the idea of the Naturals is pretty intriguing.  But this book…I didn’t realize there was a limit until this book.  I had a hard time actually believing some of the revelations, and the terrible parents thing went a bit too far in this book.  It seemed a bit much, and I kind of wish that Barnes had toned it down just a little bit.

It was still entertaining to read, and I did finish (and like) the book, so it wasn’t as bad as could have been.  It just wasn’t as good as it could have been either.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, particularly the relationship between all of the Naturals.  But parts of it were confusing, and it went in a different direction than I thought it would be.

Book Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Book: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Published October 2017 by Crown Books For Young Readers|210 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

I really wanted to like Dear Martin.  I really did, and while I can see why this book is popular, it wasn’t for me.

One thing I didn’t like was the format- the book went between scripts, letters, news reports, and the typical narrative you usually see in books.  It was really jarring, and the book would randomly switch formats.  It was disorienting, especially because you’d have a few paragraphs, then it would switch to a script format for three sentences, and back to paragraphs.  It took me out of the story, and it made me feel like I was being told what was happening, instead of seeing or experiencing it myself.

It also felt really heavy-handed and preachy at times.  I think what the book is about is really important, and I was intrigued by the connection to Dr Martin Luther King, but it didn’t really work for me.  I think I was expecting that to be more important than it really was- it turned out to be just a few letters, and those letters really felt like they could have been addressed to anybody.

Because Dear Martin is so short, it felt like an introduction to some of the issues we see in the book, like race, equality and justice.  There are a lot of points that come up but they felt glossed over, and they weren’t explored in depth.

There is a pretty big moment in the book as well, but I felt nothing when it happened.  I should have felt something, and I hate that I didn’t feel anything.  Considering the story reminds me of countless news stories and that there are books with similar subject matter, I wanted to be more upset.  I think it just felt like something was missing- in the acknowledgments, she does thank her editor for helping her cut the book in half, and I wonder if maybe I just wanted that other half.

I…I was just bored.  It didn’t do anything for me, and I do think there are better books that deal with similar themes and stories out there.  Like The Hate U Give and any of Jason Reynolds’ books, though in this case, All-American Boys is the one I’d probably mention.  It falls short, especially in comparison to some of the other books out there, and in particular, with the ones I already mentioned.

I do think this is an important story, and what it’s about is an important one to read.  The formatting and writing didn’t work for me, and while I can see why so many people love this book.  I do think the message is great, and even though this book didn’t work for me, I think it’s worth checking out.

2 stars.  I hate giving this book 2 stars, and I was really close to giving it 1 star, because it didn’t work for me at all.  But there are some really interesting (and uncomfortable) discussions that are worth reading.  I would still recommend it for the story it tells because I think what he goes through is important to read.

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Narrated by Robin Miles

Book: American Street by Ibi Zoboi, Narrated by Robin Miles

Published February 2017 by HaperAudio|Length: 8 hours, 35 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

I really liked American Street, and I’m especially glad that I went with the audio book!

I liked Fabiola- she’s a great character and I really felt for her.  I loved following her as she navigated life in Detroit without her mother.  From living with her cousins, to the people in their lives, to trying to be reunited with her mother…there were times where I felt so heartbroken over everything these girls had to deal with.  Things weren’t easy for any of them, but they really did the best they could.

I thought the romance was interesting, and there was one moment in particular that was absolutely heartbreaking, especially on audio.  Robin Miles is amazing as the narrator, and I felt like she was Fabiola.  You could hear the emotion Fabiola felt, not just at that moment, but during many different moments.  I really felt like I was experiencing things alongside Fabiola.  Still, while I liked Kasim, I would have been fine with less romance, considering everything else going on with both Fabiola and her cousins.  Still, their romance was cute, and it felt…natural, and not insta-love.

I could have sworn I had listened to more books by Robin Miles, but apparently not.  Maybe I just have a bunch of books narrated by her that I haven’t listened to?  At any rate, she can certainly narrate a story, and now I want to listen to some of the other books she’s narrated.

There were times where I thought Fabiola was in over her head, and I was muttering about how she probably shouldn’t be doing what she was planning on doing.  I had the feeling it wouldn’t end well, and even then, I had no idea where things would go.  She did mean well, and she really did have the best of intentions.  To a certain degree, I don’t think she realized how badly things would go, and I think she is a bit naive at times as well.  There is a lot she didn’t know, but she is pretty observant, and when it comes down to it, it was interesting to see things through her eyes.

While the book doesn’t focus on immigration as much as I thought, and while we don’t see a lot of Fabiola trying to get reunited with her mother, I still really liked seeing her adjust to life in Detroit.  We don’t see a lot of her aunt, but I really liked her cousins and the relationship she had with them.  They really looked out for her, and they did seem really protective but it was obvious they cared about her.

Another thing I really liked was her faith.  She practices Voudou, and it didn’t seem stereotypical at all, which was nice.  It was important to her, and other than one moment where her boyfriend thought she put a spell on him, it was seen/treated like any other religion.

Along with Fabiola coming to the US, we see drug dealing/drug abuse and relationship abuse, amongst other things.  I can’t say this enough, but Fabiola is amazing- she is determined to do the right thing, and she is such a strong, kind-hearted person.  I felt her loss at being separated from her mother, and happy at the thought that she might be reunited with her in the end.  Both she and her cousins are doing the best they can, and while things aren’t completely wrapped up, I feel confident that things will work for Fabiola and her family.

4 stars.  I didn’t love American Street, but it’s a great read.  If audio books are your thing, I’d definitely go with the audio, because Robin Miles did an excellent job at narrating.

Book Review: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Narrated by Arielle DiLisle And The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Book: The Upside Of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Narrated by Arielle DiLisle

Published April 2017 by HarperAudio|Length: 7 hours, 58 minutes

Where I Got It: I borrowed the audio book from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love–she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often but always in secret, because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness–except for the part where she is.Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss, and she’ll get her twin back.There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him–right?

I really liked The Upside Of Unrequited!  It’s a really cute romance, and I really liked Molly.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of her sister, Cassie, who I thought was rude and irritating and she totally treated Molly like dirt.  And Molly let her.  But Molly was really cool otherwise, and so I’m glad the book was narrated by her.  Better her than Cassie, because I don’t think I could take it if the book were about Cassie instead.

Molly was really easy to relate to, and she was so easy to relate to.  I can’t relate to how many crushes she’s had, and while I will fangirl over certain pairings in the books I read, I’m not the hopeless romantic she is.  But the fact that she felt like everyone around her was growing up and that she wasn’t?  That was very easy to relate to.  She’s just at a different point in her life, and she’s not less of a person just because she wasn’t experiencing things at the same time that her sister and her friends were experiencing them.

Molly did seem shy and anxious but it wasn’t seen as a bad thing.  And while her sister seemed to believe that Molly needed to put herself out there, her shyness never seemed to be shamed.  Putting yourself out there can be hard, especially if your shy and anxious, but again, everyone does that at different points in their life.  Just because Cassie does it, doesn’t mean Molly has to do it at the exact same time.

Still, she seemed really uncomfortable with the idea of kissing or actually talking a guy or basically anything relating to relationships.  And yet, there seems to be this determination for her to be kissed and to have a boyfriend.  If that’s what she wants, that’s totally cool, but she just seemed really uncomfortable with it all.  I kind of got the sense that it was to say she had done it, and so that she felt like she was experiencing what everyone else was.

It wasn’t quite as funny or nerdy as Simon, of course, and I didn’t like it quite as much, though I still liked it.  Apparently not as much as other people seemed to like The Upside Of Unrequited.

I did like it as an audio book, and Arielle DeLisle was a good choice as narrator.  I could definitely picture Molly sounding like her.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, but not a lot.

Book: The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West

Published May 2015 by HarperTeen|346 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

When Gia Montgomery’s boyfriend, Bradley, dumps her in the parking lot of her high school prom, she has to think fast. After all, she’d been telling her friends about him for months now. This was supposed to be the night she proved he existed. So when she sees a cute guy waiting to pick up his sister, she enlists his help. The task is simple: be her fill-in boyfriend—two hours, zero commitment, a few white lies. After that, she can win back the real Bradley.

The problem is that days after prom, it’s not the real Bradley she’s thinking about, but the stand-in. The one whose name she doesn’t even know. But tracking him down doesn’t mean they’re done faking a relationship. Gia owes him a favor and his sister intends to see that he collects: his ex-girlfriend’s graduation party—three hours, zero commitment, a few white lies.

Just when Gia begins to wonder if she could turn her fake boyfriend into a real one, Bradley comes waltzing back into her life, exposing her lie, and threatening to destroy her friendships and her new-found relationship. 

I like that her books are, for the most part, cute, light, fluffy romances.  They’re good reads for spring and summer, but I think I might have overdone it with them recently, because this was not one of favorites.  I mean, I liked it, but it’s one of my least favorites.  At least, as far as her contemporary novels go.

There’s the mean girl drama, of course, and it’s your typical rom-com in book form.  I knew how the story would end, especially with both the drama and the romance.  It was entertaining, though, and I didn’t hate it.  I also didn’t love it, so we’re settling for like.  I knew what to expect going into this book, and if I’m ever in the mood for some predictable but also cute and light, her books are the way to go.

Honestly, though, I don’t have much else to say, so onto my rating, I suppose.  It’s your typical Kasie West book, and it’s good if you want something light and fluffy.

My Rating: 3 stars.  I liked it, and it’s a cute book, though it is predictable.

Book Review: The Hollow by Jessica Verday and Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Book: The Hollow by Jessica Verday

Published September 2011 by Simon Pulse|509 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: The Hollow #1

Genre: YA Paranormal/Re-telling

When Abbey’s best friend, Kristen, vanishes at the bridge near Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, everyone else is all too quick to accept that Kristen is dead…rumors fly that her death was no accident. Abbey goes through the motions of mourning her best friend, but privately, she refuses to believe that Kristen is really gone. Then she meets Caspian, the gorgeous and mysterious boy who shows up out of nowhere at Kristen’s funeral, and keeps reappearing in Abbey’s life. Caspian clearly has secrets of his own, but he’s the only person who makes Abbey feel normal again…but also special. 

Just when Abbey starts to feel that she might survive all this, she learns a secret that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her best friend. How could Kristen have kept silent about so much? And could this secret have led to her death? As Abbey struggles to understand Kristen’s betrayal, she uncovers a frightening truth that nearly unravels her—one that will challenge her emerging love for Caspian, as well as her own sanity.

I didn’t like The Hollow as much as I thought I would.

I mean, it is a re-telling of Sleepy Hollow, so that part is cool. And I like that Abbey knows what she wants to do- make and sell perfume for a living.  It’s really different, and it is odd to see a character who will probably take some college classes, but doesn’t have a plan to go to college.  College isn’t for everyone, and yet, she still knows what she wants to do, and has things planned out.

There is a little bit of a mystery, but I was bored by it.  It’s the typical best friend goes missing and turns up dead mystery, and of course, the missing best friend is basically Abbey’s only friend.  I know this book came out years ago, but what is with that sort of story?  It’s frustrating to read, and I’m not sure why.

I just wasn’t invested in Abbey’s story, to the point where I don’t think I’ll keep going with the series.  While there are some things I’m wondering, like everything with Caspian and the secrets Kristen was keeping, I have no burning desire to move forward with this series.

It seems like Abbey, especially at the end of the book, needs a lot of help, and I did like that she recognized she needed help.  But again, I just wasn’t invested in her story, and while I want to feel some sort of sympathy for her, I found I didn’t.

My Rating: 2 stars.  There were some things that I liked, but The Hollow ended up being okay.

Book: Aristotle And Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Published April 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers|360 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: Aristotle & Dante #1

Genre: YA Contemporary

Dante can swim. Ari can’t. Dante is articulate and self-assured. Ari has a hard time with words and suffers from self-doubt. Dante gets lost in poetry and art. Ari gets lost in thoughts of his older brother who is in prison. Dante is fair skinned. Ari’s features are much darker. It seems that a boy like Dante, with his open and unique perspective on life, would be the last person to break down the walls that Ari has built around himself.

But against all odds, when Ari and Dante meet, they develop a special bond that will teach them the most important truths of their lives, and help define the people they want to be. But there are big hurdles in their way, and only by believing in each other―and the power of their friendship―can Ari and Dante emerge stronger on the other side.

I know everyone LOVES this book, but unfortunately, I didn’t.  I liked The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life a lot better than this one.

It felt like I was reading snapshots of their lives, as opposed to a story about them.  I mean, there is a story there, and we see them hang out and become friends and discover things about themselves.  But I really felt like I was reading a lot of smaller stories that formed one big story.  It felt like there were a lot of scenes that were missing, and the pacing and timeline felt off.  It’s hard to believe this book took place over the course of the year, because it felt a lot shorter.  Again, I don’t think we saw everything that happened over the course of that year.

I did like the strength of their friendship.  That stood out, and there is strength in friendship.  I also liked the focus on family, and if there’s something Saenz does well it’s having parents be involved while also showing how much characters can grow and do things on their own.  He does fully-formed friendships really well too, but what really stands out is how much their parents are around and involved in their lives.  They’re actually there, and have really important roles, which is nice to see in YA.  It’s not very common to have parents actually around and involved.  Especially when the parents are still together.  I’m glad their parents were around, alive and still together.

I can see why people love the characters and story so much, but unfortunately, I’m not one of them.  As much as I want to believe that I just didn’t read this book at the right time, that just wasn’t the case.  I found myself bored and eventually, there were times where I skimmed the book because I just wanted to get through it.  It seemed a little slow, and while not a lot happens, I just wasn’t feeling it.

There was a moment where I wanted one of the characters to come to the realization that his parents did.  Unfortunately, we never see him come to terms with it in his way, or even talk about it on his terms.  Instead, he’s told by his parents, and I thought that took away from it, because we never see him actually think about.  I felt like he’s being coaxed into it, and that didn’t work for me.  However, I do understand that people may feel differently, and that maybe he did feel that way, but just didn’t want to admit it.

My Rating: 2 stars.  I didn’t actively dislike it, and while a few things things were done really well, it wasn’t enough to change the rating either way.  It wasn’t for me, obviously, but if it sounds like it’s up your alley, I’d say go for it.

Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Book: Allegedly by Tiffany D Jackson

Published January 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books|400 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: YA Contemporary

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?

I’m not sure what to think about Allegedly.  Part of me is angry, for how Mary was treated, and everything she had to go through.  But part of me is also wondering what really happened.

I felt angry that people would actually threaten a 9 year-old.  I felt so angry (and now that I think about it, sad) that people actually wanted the such strong punishment for a 9 year-old.  She was 9.  And I do wonder, what if it had been a white 9 year-old who was accused of murdering an infant.  Would it have been a completely different outcome?  Probably, and that makes me even more angry.

Not only that, but the people running the group home she lived in were horrible.  She wasn’t in a good situation, even after she left prison.  She was stuck, and as much as she wanted to try to get herself out, she had to jump through so many different hoops.  She was surrounded by people who told her that employers and colleges wouldn’t want her because she’s a murderer.  It makes you wonder how people are supposed to better themselves if that’s what our society really thinks of them, and won’t give them a chance to move on.  Now that I’m thinking about it, it doesn’t seem like there’s an easy answer, and one that I probably can’t answer.  Partly because I don’t know enough about it, but also, this is a book review, not a post on answering life’s questions.

This book definitely has its twists and turns, but by the end of the book, I was wondering if Mary really did it or not. She is a pretty sympathetic character, but I also felt like, by the end of the book, I wasn’t sure what to believe.  She did seem like an unreliable narrator by the end of the book, and while I was convinced that she didn’t do it, I wasn’t too sure by the end of the book.  You’re questioning everything, though I’m not sure about the ending.

I’m not sure if Mary’s a better liar than everyone thought or if she really didn’t do it, but deciding to be honest about what really happened, and then changing her mind….I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Maybe you’re supposed to be so angry, and then question everything.  Maybe things aren’t what they seem, and that in some cases, we’ll never know for sure what happened.  That not everyone is reliable.

It didn’t take away from the dark grittiness we see in the book.  It didn’t take away what the justice system is like, and there’s a lot I don’t know, like what happens to the children who are born to a mother in prison.  We see other issues, like mental health, how our environment affects us, and how the media sees certain cases.

Speaking of the media, throughout the book, we see excerpts from interview transcripts and from books about both Mary and her trial.  They really showed how people see Mary, and they are an insight into what people think of her trial.

While Jackson tackles a lot of different topics, she also did it well.  Everything felt equally important, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by everything we see.  It came together to paint a picture of a girl who needs a lot of help, but isn’t necessarily getting it.

4 stars.  I don’t know that you can necessarily like a book like Allegedly, and I wasn’t sure about the ending, which is why it gets a rating of 4 stars.  But Jackson has set a very high standard for her future books, and I hope they’re as good as this one.