Review: Bad Romance

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Review for "Bad Romance" by Heather Demetrios (2017)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me a while to read this book. Despite the content I jumped in head first, and perhaps that was the wrong way to read this. Regardless, I found this book dead on in its accuracy of how emotionally abusive relationships work.

Grace is a teenage girl from a troubled home. Her mother is an obsessive nitpicker and neat freak, her stepfather unrelenting in his own dominance and control over her mother and the rest of the family. She eventually meets Gavin, an emotionally unstable rocker who, through jealousy, threats of suicide, and his own insecurities, begins to control everything about her: what she wears, where she goes, who she can talk to. There is no physical abuse but there is a steady emotional violence here, an erosion of her dignity, a trampling of her personhood. It’s hard to watch. It’s even harder to read about.

The ghost of my 16-year-old self made this book so difficult to read. I was Grace in high school–insecure, eager to please, in a relationship for 3 years with a person who was very much like the Gavin of this book. I think the genius of this novel is the way the author shows how impossible it can seem for the victim to get out of these kind of relationships. Thankfully Grace has a support network in her friends, who act as an anchor for her.

I definitely recommend this book to teens, as well as adults.

Review: Aftercare Instructions

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Review for "Aftercare Instructions" by Bonnie Pipkin (to be published on 27 June 2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this book. A couple of online reviewers have called this book “brave,” and I will capitulate on that. This IS a brave book. There is friendship, heartbreak, an abortion, and a teenage girl in the middle of it all just being herself. What more can I say? I get it, and it’s great.

“Aftercare Instructions” is about Genesis Johnson (called ‘Gen’ throughout the book), a high school senior who is abandoned by her boyfriend immediately following an abortion at an NYC Planned Parenthood clinic (wtf?). Her father has died of a heroin overdose and the whole school has found out. Her mother is not handling his loss well (pill popping, locking herself away, etc). She can’t stand her grandparents, who take care of her sister and whose faux-religiousness she despises. Genesis’ life is pretty much her friend Rose and her boyfriend Peter. And Peter has just left her in the middle of Manhattan and won’t take her calls.

To top all of this off, another friend has been cozying up to Peter in Genesis’ absence. There’s drama. There’s a catfight. Genesis is suspended from school. In the meantime, she discovers herself and her true passion: theater. As the story flashes back to the past, it is completely in play dialogue. I liked it.

I loved the fact that Genesis was a strong character, yet unafraid to be vulnerable. She has issues, and yes, those issues hurt. I liked that. I can’t tell you how many YA books I’ve read in which the author seems so stuck on the idea of a strong female voice that he/she forgets to make the character believable. I also liked the fact that abortion was explored in the book, minus any yay or nay political message or proselytizing by the people in the character’s orbit.

Anywho, read this book when it comes out. You won’t regret it.

[Note: A free digital copy was provided to me from the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion and review.]

Review: Allegedly

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Review for "Allegedly" by Tiffany D. Jackson (2017)

Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

I seem to be stuck at 3.5 -3.75 stars with my reviews lately.

I must admit, “Allegedly” is a page turner from the start. We first meet pregnant teenager Mary Addison in a group home, having just got out of ‘baby jail’ for the killing of an infant in her care at nine years old. In a non-linear narrative throughout the novel, other details of the crime and her background come to us: her mother’s mental illness, Mary’s relationship with her boyfriend Ted, recollections of abuse by her mother and stepfather. It’s a tough read, and you can’t help but root for Mary as she tries to fight for her rights as a mother and a better future for her child.

What I didn’t like: the ending. I won’t give it away, other than to say that it didn’t go with the rest of the novel. I understand that Mary is an unreliable narrator, but what happens here is a total reversal: getting through nearly 98% of the book only to have the main character completely change her course of action. I also didn’t like the presence of one too many improbable events, no matter the fact that this is a fictional story. Like Mary’s recollections of ‘baby jail,’ for instance. In what state is it legal to house a nine-year-old in an maximum level adult correctional facility on permanent lock down because they “don’t know what to do with her”? Umm, I don’t think that’s likely.

Recommended? Yes. Ignore the YA label and let this one take you down the rabbit hole. You’ll be glad you did.

Review: The Hate U Give

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Review for "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I don’t know, ya’ll. 3.5 stars for me.

This is probably one of the most authentic books I’ve read this year. It deals with a very timely issue: the police killing of an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop. “The Hate U Give” is the story of 16-year-old Starr, a Black teenager who lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood who goes to a mostly White prep school. Starr has difficulty fitting in at school but she manages to maintain friends, a relationship with her boyfriend Chris, and hold down family life until she witnesses the death of her childhood best friend, Khalil, by a White cop during a traffic stop. Khalil, of course, was unarmed.

After the shooting, Starr’s life goes into a tailspin. She is torn between wanting to speak for Khalil and maintain a social status among her mostly White upper class friends, who believe the media accounts that Khalil was a drug dealer. She also deals with violent riots in her neighborhood, gang conflicts, and the problems that come from having dysfunctional family members.

Overall, this is a good book. I won’t entertain the arguments of some online reviewers who call this book racist (privileged readers who can’t understand the historical implications of institutionalized racism in America), a heavy handed promotion of the Black Lives Matter movement (who were never mentioned once), or “anti-cop” (failing to recognize that the main character had a positive relationship with an uncle who works in law enforcement). What makes this book 3.5 stars for me was its structure, which in my opinion wasn’t very good. At nearly 464 pages, this book waffles along and dabbles in far too many extraneous details. It could have been cut by about 200 pages and it would not have suffered at all for lack of information. It’s almost as if the author followed every single detail of an already overloaded plot to its own end, so much so that by the middle I found myself skipping pages. Yeah.

For those of you who follow my reviews, you know that there are some books I don’t like and don’t recommend, because I truly feel that they would be a waste of your time. This one is not the case. Regardless of how I felt about this book’s structural issues, I do recommend that you read it and form your own opinion about the issues that are explored. There is a movie deal in the works, so it would be beneficial to read it before seeing it on screen.

Review: Be Light Like a Bird

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Review for "Be Light Like a Bird" by Monika Schroder (2016)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I liked this novel. I repeat: I really, really liked this novel.

“Be Light Like a Bird” is the story of a 12 year old girl named Wren who loses her father in an airplane crash. Before she can grieve properly or come to terms with his loss, her mother burns all of her father’s things and moves them to Tennessee, and then several weeks later to Ohio. They finally settle in Michigan, where she makes friends with another outcast, a bird-watching boy named Theo. Their friendship has a healing effect on Wren, as well as the discovery of the potential destruction a pond where the birds they love to watch congregate.

This is a really great story for young readers. The chapters are short, and it deals frankly with grief and the loss of a loved one. I totally would recommend this to anybody though, it really was that good.

[Note: A free, digital copy of this book was provided by Capstone Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.]

Review: We Are Okay

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Review for "We Are Okay" by Nina LaCour (2017)

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Beautifully written book, but man oh man…this is so, so boring.

‘We Are Okay’ is the story of Marin, a girl from California with no immediate family, so she decides to spends her winter break alone in the dorm after everyone has gone home. Marin is visited over the break by a friend from her hometown, Mabel (all of this occurs before Chapter 3, btw). The rest of the book is flashbacks on her life back in California over the previous summer, uninteresting conversations with Mabel, and getting to the bottom of why she took off abruptly before the semester started and left Mabel hanging with a bunch of unanswered texts (yikes!).

Add to the mix tons of minutiae such as: two girls shopping for clay pots, eating chili, doing the dishes, wiping plates. So many details and not much of a story arc here. I would say screw that, this is a character study, but neither one was really all that interesting.

As I said before, the book is beautifully written. The only reason I didn’t nix it is because something in the writing compelled me to continue. Without giving too much of it away, it is clear that this is a YA book about grief and loss, though there’s not much stated here on the subject that we haven’t already heard before.

If you like ‘quiet’ reads, this is the book for you. I won’t be mad at you for liking it either.

Extra points for the cover, btw. So pretty

Review: City of Saints and Thieves

 

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Review of "City of Saints and Thieves" by Natalie C. Anderson (2017)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Tina is a Congolese refugee and a motherless child, as well as one of the few female members of the Goondas, a gang of street thieves in Kenya. She cares for her younger sister, Kiki, while she fantasizes about revenge on Mr. Greyhill, a wealthy business magnate and employer of Tina’s mother, whom she suspects had her murdered after learning of his shady business dealings. With the help of the Goondas, Tina breaks into the Greyhill’s estate and is discovered by their son, Michael. The two form a reluctant alliance and go deeper into the dark side of Kenyan society to discover who murdered Tina’s mother.

With all that said, this was supposed to be a good book. The writing is fine, the setting is well-researched, and the character is kick-ass, there’s no complaints there. I think where this book lost me is somewhere in the middle when it lost the feel of a true revenge thriller. There really is only one suspect, and we find out before the middle of the book is over that it isn’t him. Although we know Tina seeks revenge for her mother’s death, that plot turn is also settled fairly early on in the novel. That left this book kinda hanging by a thread and less about the mystery we were promised and more about a girls’ search for her past. Not bad, just not quite what I expected.

Three stars–no more, no less.