Book Review

Book Review: The Universe is Expanding and So Am I

Long time, no see! Let’s not do that again. After some time off from writing, I am back at it again –

(at the worst possible time, admittedly. I’ll be hanging out at BookExpo all week. Whoops.)

– With some exciting books to review, thanks to NetGalley (and my overwhelming stack of books that I’ve never gotten to, ANYWAY.)

Let’s start with the much awaited sequel to a classic.

imagesThe Universe is Expanding
and So Am I

By Carolyn Mackler
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Bloomsbury YA
ISBN 9781681195995
Price: $17.99 (USD)

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Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury YA for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

*Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse, rape.

 

I first discovered this series as a a young high school student. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things, released in 2003,  was legendary for me and my friends. I can only assume, though, that it meant a little more to me. I understood the character of Virginia Shreves. I knew what it was like to walk the halls and feel heavier than everyone else. To me, she was an idol and I found myself returning to the book more times than I can count. Virginia gave me strength. If she could ignore the world and be her best self, so could I.

Imagine my utter joy when I found out that there would be a sequel. Fifteen years later! A sequel!

The Synopsis:

High school sophomore Virginia Shreves is heading into a turbulent time. She’s fallen out of like with boyfriend Froggy, her best friend is on the opposite coast and often without cell service, her favorite kickboxing class has been taken over by her arch nemesis, and worst of all, her brother Byron has been accused of sexually harassing a fellow student at Columbia. Her one saving grace is Sebastian, an adorable, clumsy artist she meets while on a conquest for bagels. But Virginia soon discovers that even her relationship with Sebastian is complicated. Can love overcome all?

Good Things:

I haven’t picked up the first book in this series in ages. But I didn’t have to. The story came flooding back and I remembered why I loved Carolyn Mackler’s writing. She’s funny. Her characters are filled with empathy and you find yourself glued to every page. I picked this book up on a Saturday. I abandoned a different book to finish it within the day. I needed to find out what happened and as a result, I flew through the pages of this book.

As always in these books, there’s fat girl representation (much appreciated, Carolyn Mackler). There’s LGBTQ+ representation in this novel, which I was happy to see. And I enjoy Mackler’s ever-present message that people are more complex than they originally seem. Mackler’s writing is deep, important, and soulful. I remembered at once just how much I loved her storytelling and the chronicles of Virginia Shreves.

Not-So-Good Things:

As much as I loved how this book was written, I couldn’t forgive one very important aspect of it:

The victim of sexual abuse was not painted in a very fair way, nor did she receive a fair ending.

I get it. Byron is Virginia’s brother. We’re sympathetic to Virginia so we are naturally sympathetic to Byron. But what about the girl he assaulted? She’s often painted throughout the book as someone who is mentally unstable. She’s not “dealing with her abuse well” and so she takes Byron to court.

That, to me, makes it sound like she’s getting revenge. Not that she’s trying to heal.

And honestly [major spoiler alert], I find it very unfair and very irresponsible to allow Sebastian and Virginia to end up happily together at the close of the novel. Sebastian is the brother of Annie Mills, the young woman Virginia’s brother assaulted. To force these two families together and to force Annie to relieve her abuse at every encounter is simply cruel.

I appreciate that this is a different story. This is Virginia’s experience as someone innocent who is unfortunately tied to someone very much not innocent. And I appreciate that at the end of the novel, her family admits that their perfect son and brother did do something cruel. It’s a tricky topic to cover and I do think that Mackler was close to being successful with such a story.

Was this a happy ending? No, not to me. I felt uncomfortable at the ending, especially with all the news surrounding the #MeToo movement in recent months. We want victims of abuse to feel comfortable naming their assaulters and finding justice. Instead, in this book, Annie’s abuse was often swept under the rug in favor of a more appealing story. She was told to get over it for the sake of a summer fling.

Unfortunately, that was unforgivable to me.

In Summation:

I loved this book the entire way through. However, I couldn’t find peace with its ending. In this era of female triumph where women are finally being heard, we can’t tell girls that their assault is less important than a teenage romance.

(That isn’t to downplay the importance of teenage romance. I believe in it above all others. But when compared to something as severe and traumatizing as sexual abuse, sexual abuse takes precedence.)

I give this book 3 stars. It truly is written beautifully. The final message, though, is not as poignant and powerful as it should be. Instead, I can see it being harmful to the readers who have lived through abuse in the same way Annie Mills did. There was a neat way to wrap up this story and I wonder if it’ll come in the form of a sequel. In this volume, however, I didn’t get the peaceful and moral ending I was hoping for.

For any of you at BookExpo, I’ll see you there! It’s my first one so I’m trying not to have a panic attack over it. But I’ve been promised free books so…a girl’s gotta love that. Stay tuned! If I survive BookExpo, I’ll have a fun recipe from The Universe is Expanding and So Am I. As a native New Yorker, I can’t resist giving it a try.

Book Review

Book Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder

 

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A Quiet Kind of Thunder
Written by Sara Barnard
To be published by new brand.
Page Count: 402 (according to Adobe Digital Editions. GoodReads reports the page count as being 320).

High school student Steffi suffers from selective mutism, an affliction which often keeps her isolated from her peers. Her parents are overprotective of her and even consider keeping her from attending university. It isn’t until a new boy named Rhys attends her school that she finds out how courageous she can be. However, Rhys is deaf. Can they make a relationship work and depend on each other when they need each other most?

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Thank you to NetGalley for providing this arc in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a cute read. I found myself looking forward to it at the end of the day. The characters are diverse and intriguing and the plot is very original which is what drew me to this story in the first place. A girl with selective mutism and a boy who is deaf moving past friendship into a deeper relationship. I had never encountered a story like that and so, I was instantly interested.

However, I found the book to be a little too convenient for my taste. Instead of her selective mutism being an affliction, I found it to be nothing more than a plot device. There were times when I felt she should’ve been affected by her mutism and yet, she was comfortable and calm. And yet, at the climax of the story, that is one of the few times her mutism truly hindered her. I didn’t believe it and that became a problem for me.

I also wonder about the theme of writers using people with disabilities as inspiration for others. It was nice to *spoiler alert* see Steffi convincing her family that she can overcome her mutism and attend college as she aspired to do but was this a story of Steffi’s journey or was this yet again another comparison story? People with disabilities deserve their own stories instead of serving others in an, “If they can do it, so can I!” sort of way. And besides, the thing about mutism, as Steffi herself says, is that it isn’t so selective. She can’t control when it does and does not affect her. If there was any triumph in this story, I’m not sure how sincere it was.

Ultimately, as mentioned, this story was cute. It was a pleasant read. But I felt it lacked sincerity. This is a story that had potential, a story I had high hopes for. I’m just not sure it was executed as greatly as it could have been.

Keep reading! 2017 is coming to a close – how is everyone doing on their reading goals?

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: When the Moon Was Ours

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When the Moon Was Ours
Written by Anna-Marie McLemore
Published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
Page Count: 288 pages.
Tea Pairing: This Caramel Cream tea from Adagio perfectly matches Miel’s favorite cookie called alfajores, a Latin-American dulce de leche concoction. Want a recipe? Check it out here!

No one in town really knows a lot about Miel and Sam. Miel has the ability to grow roses from her wrists and some say she was born from a water tower. Sam paints moons and hangs them from trees to illuminate the neighborhood. No one knows where he and his mother originated from or why they left.

Despite all of this, they aren’t the most mysterious ones in town. The Bonner sisters hold a strange sort of magic – they’re able to enchant and lure any man they want. Except for Sam. When Miel is threatened and blackmailed, will she protect herself or the boy she loves?

4.5

Anna Marie McLemore’s book, When the Moon Was Ours, is such a beautiful and important text. Written poetically and with a lot of heart, this story gives us something I have shamefully never seen before in a novel, young adult or otherwise:

A character who is trans.

I don’t want to give too much away. I think there’s so much magic to this book that needs to be discovered by the reader. But there are teens that feel alone in their sexuality and I think it’s our closest form of magic that we have books like this available to help heal wounded readers.

(This book isn’t getting enough love, you guys. I will scream it from rooftops if I must.)

There are other lovely things in this book:

  • When the Moon Was Ours points out that those things that make us different, those strange metaphorical roses growing from our wrists, are the same things that make us beautiful.
  • It lets us know that even those people we revere as perfect are not so flawless. And it informs us that even they are struggling.
  • This book offers us a magical world that seems oddly real and familiar at the same time.
  • It features a cast of characters who are POC, something we don’t see nearly enough.

I found the end to be a little forced, hence the 4.5 star rating, but other than that? I was madly in love with this book. It was so clever and so profound and I’ll be returning to this book again, I guarantee.

What’s everyone reading? Leave it here! I’m going to be doing a throwback to Fangirl this week (complete with recipe!) and then I’ll be diving into a couple of ARCs that I’ve received.

(Including ARCs about vampires, teens with Asperger’s, and a meditation book for middle graders. And maybe John Green’s new book if I have the nerve.)

Keep reading!

Book Review

Book Review: Tash Hearts Tolstoy

 

DSC_0774Tash Hearts Tolstoy
Written by Kathryn Ormsbee
Published by Simon & Schuster
Page count: 367
Tea Pairing: Yerba Mate for those times when Tash needed a meditative moment. New to yerba mate? Try this sampler from Adagio to find your favorite. And don’t forget – there’s a honey sale going on as we speak!

Natasha Zelenka, nicknamed Tash, is an aspiring film creator. With the help of her best friends and some willing novice actors, Tash produces a webseries titled Unhappy Families based off of one of her favorite Tolstoy novels. It’s her dreamto go to Vanderbilt and study filmmaking. And when her webseries gets a shout-out from a popular YouTuber and a nomination for a Golden Tuba Award, her dream is likely to become a reality.

Even better, her nomination means she has a chance at meeting fellow YouTuber Thom Causer, a boy she’s been flirting with since they discovered each other’s channels. But can she keep her friends as her focus shifts to her successful webseries? And how will Thom react to her confession that she’s a romantic asexual?

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I’ll be honest, this book is a little slow in the beginning. It took a while for me to get into it.

(Which, after the fact, I found a little cute because you know what other books take a while to get into? Literally anything Tolstoy has ever written.)

But once you get into it, there are so many beautiful things about this book:

  • An asexual protagonist. Let me repeat for the people in the back. An asexual protagonist. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with an asexual protagonist and her story is so accurate. Her confession of her sexuality (confessionS, actually, as people who come out never really come out once) is often met with confusion and misunderstanding and sometimes even anger. But we have something wonderful here. Tash sticks to her guns and never once sacrifices her happiness or her comfort for a boy. She knows who she is, she spent a long time getting there, and her message is that you should never sacrifice yourself for someone else. Such a great message for teens.
  • The theme of friendship and family. Ormsbee has every reason to let Tash pursue her dreams and leave behind everyone she knows, especially when things in her family grow tense. But Ormsbee lets her readers know that it’s so much braver and better to stick with the ones you love.
  • The message that our idols aren’t perfect. Yeah, Tash hearts Tolstoy (it’s right there in the title). But one of my favorite scenes includes her admitting that in all actuality, Tolstoy was a pretty crappy guy. Perhaps that’s why I had trouble getting into this book. Tash would wax poetic about how amazing Tolstoy was and I knew better. That scene was such a moment of redemption for me and it doubles as a great message for readers.

Ormsbee’s book truly surprised me in the end. I’m going to miss this one. And I really wish there was a Tea Time with Tash vlog because I would totally watch it.

(Let’s face it, I’d watch Unhappy Families too.)

Give this one a try. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Read on, my friends!

Book Review

Book Review: Love and Gelato

Remember when I said I’d review Tash Hearts Tolstoy first?

I lied!

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Love & Gelato
Written by Jenna Evans Welch
Published by Simon Pulse
Page count: 400
(Image from Amazon. As it was an eBook, I was unable to take a picture of my own (darn black & white Kindle).
Tea Pairing: This chocolate chip tea from Adagio goes perfectly with Lina’s love of stracciatella gelato. Best of all, Adagio’s having a honey sale this month! Get it while it lasts!

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So I found myself dog-sitting on Saturday night for my cousins and their literally perfect wigglebutt. I brought probably seven books with me (yes, for one night of dog-sitting, don’t judge me) and yet, for whatever reason, I abandoned my previous books and picked this one up instead.

It was raining (my favorite), my cousins’ house is stocked full of tea (by the way, beloved cousins, I stole your tea), I had a sleeping and snorting beagle asleep in my lap, and I had a book about Italy, gelato, romance, and family. Needless to say, it was a pretty perfect evening.

My perfect evening extended into a perfect weekend because I did not put this book down. As you can see above, it’s 400 pages. I finished it in a day and a half.

Love & Gelato follows teenager Lina as her entire life is uprooted to Florence, Italy. After her mother’s death from pancreatic cancer, the idea of leaving behind everything she’s known is unthinkable.

Add to this the idea of moving into a cemetery with her previously unknown father and things go from unthinkable to unbearable. With her best friend back in America and her mother gone, Lina feels isolated. Only through reading her mother’s journal does Lina discover who she truly is and where she comes from.

What is it about this book that I like?

Awesome Stuff:

  • I like how Italy was portrayed. Fun fact, I was reading another book about Italy (and I am so embarrassed about it, I won’t even leave a title) (*cough*HarlequinRomance*cough*) and the descriptors in the other book were dreadful. Great. You can say Buon Giorno. Fantastic. But in Love & Gelato, I got a far better sense of Italian scenery and ambiance. Not perfect, mind you. The Duomo is a beautiful structure in Florence and I could’ve used more detail but I found it suitable. I love any book that fascinates me enough to instigate a Google search.
  • There’s a moment where girls help girls. One girl had no reason to help the other and yet she did. I love that in literature, especially in YA literature. Girls compete; women help each other.
  • I like the theme of identity. By learning about her mother, she understood herself.
  • It’s a cozy read and when you’re sitting on a couch listening to rain and snuggling a snorting beagle, you need a cozy read.

What Could Be Better:

  • There’s still that theme of ‘girl vs. girl.’ In this generation (and every generation, actually), we need better. We need girls defending other girls instead of tearing each other down.
  • It’s a bit predictable. Not sure if it’s intentional but the reader figures out the twist after about 3 pages. The protagonist figures it out about 70% into the book (ah, Kindle percentages). So by the time she gets there, you’re practically screaming, “FINALLY.”
  • There were some inconsistencies. Why would [insert character name here] have a picture of [insert other character name here] hanging up if he/she felt that way? It doesn’t really make any sense. If he/she (can you tell I’m trying to avoid spoilers here?) was really that awful, so be it, but then that picture wouldn’t exist.

But all in all, this book truly was one of the best parts of my weekend. It’s very sweet, very cute, and very helpful to those coming to terms with loss. I recommend it highly.

I can 100% promise that my next review will be for Tash Hearts Tolstoy. I’ve got some feelings about that one, my friends.

What are you reading this weekend? The weather’s getting cooler, the leaves are changing color, and it’s the perfect weather for reading.

(For those of you in the path of the hurricanes, please be safe and know we’re thinking of you. I’ve got a few donations coming your way. As someone who fought with Hurricane Sandy back in 2012, I understand a bit of what it’s like. My thoughts are with you.)

Read on, my friends!