Goodreads: So Yesterday
Official Summary: Ever wonder who was the first kid to keep a wallet on a big chunky chain, or wear way-too-big pants on purpose? What about the mythical first guy who wore his baseball cap backwards? These are the Innovators, the people on the very cusp of cool. Seventeen-year-old Hunter Braque’s job is finding them for the retail market.
But when a big-money client disappears, Hunter must use all his cool-hunting talents to find her. Along the way he’s drawn into a web of brand-name intrigue-a missing cargo of the coolest shoes he’s ever seen, ads for products that don’t exist, and a shadowy group dedicated to the downfall of consumerism as we know it.
Review: Hunter will draw in readers from the opening pages with his quirky narration and down-to-earth personality. He may be a “cool hunter,” absurdly talented at finding awesome fashion details that will be the country’s next biggest trend, but he is also a teenage boy who finds it awkward relating to his parents or interacting with girls. He is cool, but he is also approachable, and he will charm readers.
The setting of the book is equally alluring, and appropriately New York City. Hunter helpfully describes each neighborhood of the city he enters, painting a vibrant picture for readers who might never have visited. The descriptions are clever and apt enough, however, that even New York residents will not find them boring.
Hunter, and his new friend Jen, lead readers on a wild chase throughout the various districts of New York, introducing them to cramped apartments and luxurious celebrity parties in turn. The pace is fast, as Hunter and Jen have a limited time to test their amateur detective skills and discover who kidnapped Hunter’s boss and why. Readers will keep turning pages.
The book’s only potential flaw? Its premise. So Yesterday is about what makes something cool. The book’s heroes are seeking a way to make coolness more organic, something that arises naturally when people see things they like, instead of something so heavily defined by companies and advertisements.
This is interesting food for thought, and readers will have a lot to consider. Why do they think things are cool? Because they like it or because they see it everywhere? Do they fall for ads and fads? Who does get to decide what’s cool? Ultimately, however, the book’s cause falls a little flat. Changing the definition of cool is unlikely to be a priority for many readers when there are arguably more important problems in the world. So Yesterday is fleetingly captivating, but its message is not urgent.
So Yesterday is both entertaining and very real. The protagonists are charmingly unique, intelligent, and flawed. Their struggles will help readers think about how they define who they are, as they follow Hunter’s and Jen’s journey through the exciting world of fashion.
Published: 2004 (Razorbill)
Goodreads: OCD, the Dude, and Me
Official Summary: With frizzy orange hair, a plus-sized body, sarcastic demeanor, and “unique learning profile,” Danielle Levine doesn’t fit in even at her alternative high school. While navigating her doomed social life, she writes scathing, self-aware, and sometimes downright raunchy essays for English class. As a result of her unfiltered writing style, she is forced to see the school psychologist and enroll in a “social skills” class. But when she meets Daniel, another social misfit who is obsessed with the cult classic film The Big Lebowski, Danielle’s resolve to keep everyone at arm’s length starts to crumble.
Review: OCD, the Dude, and Me has a fantastically fresh and unique voice. The novel is a compilation of Danielle’s writing—school essays (in a conversational style that drives her English teacher insane), emails, personal reflections, post cards, and more—and the look inside her mind is staggering. Danielle is vulnerable, quirky, and real. She relates what makes her uncomfortable, and the lengths she must go to refind her peace (hiding quietly under a pile of messy clothes!) as readily as she relates what makes her strong. If you were captivated by the distinctive voice of Graceling, you will find a comparable, contemporary voice in in OCD, the Dude, and Me.
Danielle faces a plethora of problems in her senior year of high school, including social awkwardness and boy troubles. Her issues do not read like “book issues,” however, but like ones that readers might actually have. Her dilemma is not that she must choose between two amazing guys fighting valiantly for her attention, but that the guy she likes has a girlfriend and seems unaware that she exists—except when he’s making fun of her. Love hurts at Danielle’s high school. But her correspondence with aunt helps her, and readers, learn how to deal with that.
The moments of raw reality in the book are nicely offset by crazier, beautiful ones. Danielle, for instance, is obsessed both with Romantic literature (I can like her just for that!) and the movie The Big Lebowski. She goes to great lengths to have fun her way, dressing up with her aunt and mother to have a nineteenth century tea date in the garden and commissioning costumes to celebrate Lebowski Fest. She meets a variety of characters as unique as she is, ranging from the other members of her social support group, to a tour guide she meets on a class trip to England. Danielle’s life is invariably interesting.
OCD, the Dude, and Me is an exceptional book, a great choice for those who appreciate fresh voices, authentic takes on the high school experience, or quirky characters. Highly recommended.
Published: March 31, 2013 (Dial—Penguin)
Goodreads: Dangerous Boy
Official Summary: A modern-day retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with a chilling twist.
Harper has never been worried about falling in love, something she is skeptical even exists. But everything changes when Logan moves to town, and to Harper’s shock, the two tumble into an intense romance. It’s everything she never thought she wanted.
Then she meets Logan’s twin brother, Caleb, who was expelled from his last school. True, he’s a bad boy, but Harper can’t shake the feeling that there’s something deeply sinister about him–something dangerous. When Logan starts pulling away, Harper is convinced that Caleb’s shadowy past is the wedge being driven between them. But by the time she uncovers the truth, it may be too late.
Review: Dangerous Boy presents itself as a dark, suspenseful read that will send chills down readers’ spines. However, the closest it gets to its goal is giving the distinct impression that the author is striving to create a scary atmosphere. Spooky locations and creepy pranks pop up one after another, but in the end they feel contrived. I, a person scared by everything, was not particularly moved.
The novel overall felt like something the author had crafted. It opens with a somewhat standard cliffhanger prologue, then backpedals to the main story. Characters are introduced, necessary background information thrown in, and words used “creatively” (i.e. in contexts that almost make sense, but actually do not). Hubbard clearly has experience writing, notably Prada & Prejudice, but Dangerous Boy reads as if she has a concrete idea of how a book is supposed to work and then forces it to do so; neither the writing nor the story seem effortless and natural.
The plot, instead of transitioning smoothly, jumps around from location to location. Occasionally there is the impression the author means to achieve some type of dramatic effect by revealing some new information and then cutting to another scene, but the reading experience mostly feels stilted instead of exciting. The overarching plot does not compensate for these flaws. From the beginning a reader will see there are two possible outcomes to the book: the one the book heavily foreshadows, or a plot “twist” that is easy to guess.
The characters of Dangerous Boy are not particularly interesting. Harper is an “almost genius” with a high IQ who cannot think of a smart solution to a problem to save her life. Literally. Her attempts to figure out the mystery are absurd; she does not try the obvious and most effective courses of action. (This is also a book where the entire plot would have been avoided if anyone had done the smart thing and called the police—but of course that never happens in books.) Her boyfriend will not be overly attractive to readers, especially since there is no build-up to their romance and their relationship appears to be founded primarily on PDA. My ARC jacket suggests Logan is a bad boy, not just his twin brother, but the official summary seems to have correctly deleted that assertion; I was not impressed with any badass attitude from him.
Dangerous Boy simply is not the book for me. The writing style seems off, the plot is predictable, and the characters are difficult to connect with. Even though Harper does find herself in terribly dangerous situations, I was not very scared. The best takeaway from the book is the hidden sound relationship advice: “Guys screw up. A lot. You just have to figure out whether their heart is in the right place.” Apply this to girls, too, and a lot of relationship problems will be solved.
Published: September 4, 2012
Goodreads: One + One = Blue
Source: ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Official Summary: Twelve year-old Basil knows he’s special—he’s been associating numbers with colors since he was a kid. His gift (or curse) has turned him into somewhat of a loner, but his world begins to change when he meets Tenzie, the new girl in school who has similar freakisms. She, too, has synesthesia (a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another). At first, Basil is somewhat annoyed with Tenzie’s pushiness, but after Basil’s estranged mother returns, his life is turned upside down . . . and Tenzie may be the only person to help him put it back together again.
Once again, MJ Auch has written a thoughtful coming-of-age novel that explores friendship, family, and fitting in.
Review: One + One = Blue is an exceptional book with a unique tone and story. It dives right into Basil’s story and right into his differences. It does not focus on Basil’s synesthesia however. Instead, synesthesia is in the background, a part of Basil’s life that makes him special, that gives him both trouble and advantages, but which is never his defining feature. The true story here is that of Basil’s’s relationships, particularly with Tenzie and with his mother.
This approach is perfect, as it demonstrates to young readers that a character and a life are made of many parts. Bullies may pick out one thing to mock, but bullies are short-sighted. Putting synesthesia towards the background takes something away from the book only once. Tenzie casually mentions that she is able to use her number/color associations to help her with math, but her explanation of a rainbow grid is a little vague. Readers interested in mathematics or synesthesia would love to learn more about Tenzie’s process and Auch misses a great opportunity to explain possible benefits or creative uses by glossing over the moment.
One + One = Blue is a little gritty and a little glamorous and a little weird. It is action-packed and it is funny. It addresses a lot of tough issues, including Basil’s differences and his dealing with an unstable absent mother, but all these issues are treated with care and humor. Kids who are different themselves, or who are artsy, or who are daring will fall in love with Auch’s work and with her characters.
This is a special book, chronicling the life of a normal kid who faces crazy circumstances, sometimes reluctantly, sometimes foolishly, and sometimes bravely. It ultimately demonstrates the beauty of differences, of passion, of love, and of friendship. The world of One + One = Blue is a little insane, but entirely wonderful.
Publication Date: April 30, 2013
Summary: Lola Nolan is happy. She has a fun job at the local movie theatre, a hot rocker boyfriend, and a blooming talent for creating clothes (or, in her words, costumes). Her peace is shattered, however, when the Bells move back in next door. Lola would love to keep hating Cricket Bell for leaving her two years ago, but with his growth spurt, his sense of style, and his determination to charm her, she might find that difficult.
Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door is funny, creative, and inspiring. Lola, a colorful personality, narrates the events of her seventeenth year, when next-door cutie/jerk Cricket Bell moves back into the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he is not as big of a jerk as Lola remembers, and despite her older, rock star boyfriend, she begins to find herself interested.
Like Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door is the perfect blend of beautiful romance and tough life issues. Less than ideal parents loom large in both books. Here, Lola is raised by her uncle Nathan and his partner Andy because her mother cannot seem to stop drinking long enough to get her life back together. Her boyfriend, and her friend Etienne (guest starring along with Anna in a return from Anna and the French Kiss!), also have parental problems. Perkins addresses these issues delicately, suggesting that parents are only human, while refraining from writing unrealistic life changes for them. The message continues to be clear, however: you are not your parents, or your ancestors, and you have the freedom and power to build your own better life.
Lola, like Anna, also faces some tough relationship dilemmas. She must navigate the issues of dating a much-older boyfriend, balancing time and loyalty between boyfriend and friends, and having feelings for two guys at the same time. Again, liking two people is a gray area that Perkins addresses with skill and grace. Young readers—any readers—can benefit from Perkins’s explorations of what makes a healthy relationship. Here, the trust of one’s parents, the boy’s kindness to one’s friends and interest in one’s life, and the boy’s ability to inspire one to be the best version of oneself are all labeled important.
Lola and the Boy Next Door is incredibly cute and fun and has a lot of truth to share about life. Perkins once again combines daydream fantasy (the boy next door, who has a window facing yours so you can talk at night!) with reality to write a perfectly balanced story.
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Goodreads: Anna and the French Kiss
Series: Companion book to Lola and the Boy Next Door
Summary: Anna is irate that her father has sent her to boarding school in France for her senior year of high school. He is forcing her to leave behind prom, her best friend, and a potential boyfriend to live alone in a country where she does not speak the language. Things begin looking up when Anna befriends the cute and charismatic Etienne St. Clair. The only problem is: he already has a girlfriend.
Review: Anna and the French Kiss is a really fun and romantic read, combining all the right elements to build an atmosphere that will make readers swoon. It has a romantic setting (Paris), an attractive and caring love interest (Etienne), and a relateable narrator (Anna). It also takes place in a boarding school—where the characters have the freedom to build relationships that are closer than at a normal public high school.
Behind the romantic daydream setting, however, there is a strong story populated by realistic characters who learn real life lessons. Anna’s voice is a great combination of kindness, humor, and teen bitterness (created when she is sent away from home). She sounds alternately mature and young depending on her circumstances, as all teenagers do; Perkins nails the adolescent voice and experience of being caught between childhood and adulthood. Anna experiences real homesickness and awkwardness in a foreign country, and the book is as much about her personal growth into culture and confidence as it is about her budding romantic relationships. Beside her is a great cast of friends—artsy, athletic, funny, and angry in turn. Together they figure out that friendship might not be always easy, but that they can make it work.
The romance, while certainly swoon-worthy, can also teach young readers how to build good relationships. Things are tough in Anna and the French Kiss. Etienne is not attractive because he has a girlfriend and is off-limits; he is just a guy who is handsome and good and kind and happens to be off-limits. All the characters do their best to respect that, but, as in real life, things get tricky when someone is still in a relationship but beginning to be interested in someone else. Important questions arise, such as When should you break up? And how much interest in another person counts as cheating? As teens—as humans—the characters struggle with these issues, but Perkins allows the characters to address them seriously and she herself treats them with thought and care.
Anna and the French Kiss is a delicious, yet thought-provoking read. It is the perfect combination of fantastical romantic situations (a boarding school in Paris!) and teenage reality. This is not a romance with issues tossed in to make it “serious.” It is a romance where issues occur naturally because the characters are human, but where the characters learn to deal with them as best they can and still find their happily-ever-after.
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Goodreads: Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters
Summary: Kelsey Finkelstein has a plan for her freshman year of high school: to be fabulous and make her mark. Things seem to be going her way when she learns her biggest competitor on the soccer field has moved away, leaving her free to pursue her dream of a spot on the JV team. After that, however, everything gets complicated, and Kelsey finds herself in a seemingly endless string of awkward situations including upperclassmen, boys, and her best friends. Can she manage to save her freshman year?
Review: Freshman Year and Other Unnatural Disasters is obviously striving to be a cute and quirky book, and it might be—for the right audience. Zeitlin attempts to give Kelsey an authentic teenage voice by giving her sassy dialogue, but I personally found her narration a little shallow and annoying instead of fun and witty. Also, the crazy situations she gets into are at times bizarre instead of funny.
The book presents itself as a cross between a realistic representation of the freshman experience and the worst case scenario. Kelsey’s worries and struggles are meant to be common to her readers while the things that go wrong in her life are exaggerated both for comic effect and to put readers’ lives in perspective. However, Kelsey’s “common experiences” will not speak to everyone—and much of my issues with the story are because they did not speak to me.
Kelsey’s major concerns are clothes, boys, and being cool. Most teenagers do think about these things at least occasionally, but it would have been nice to see Kelsey take an interest in something more serious. Although it is her freshman year of high school, she barely mentions academics unless to complain learning is boring or say she ran out of time to do her homework because she was having a life crisis. She seems passionate about soccer but often focuses more on showing up other players or showing off to boys than on her love of the sport.
In their free time, Kelsey and her friends frequently drink, party, and hook up (which seems here to mean making out and not sex). If they were older, perhaps juniors or seniors in high school, this would seem a little less crazy. It would even make sense if they had just gotten caught up in culture of certain high school cliques. However, they appear to be continuing behavior begun in middle school, and I found it even more difficult to relate to this. I certainly was not thinking of getting to “second base” while in seventh or eighth grade.
The story does have several cute things going for it, including the long-distance relationship Kelsey’s friend Em is in and a mysterious school newspaper boy who may or may not be flirting with Kelsey. A lot of things also are fun, including an insane school production of Fiddler on the Roof. However, my failure to relate to or even like Kelsey was a huge drawback, as this is clearly a book where a relationship with the protagonist matters. My issues with it are mostly personal. Yet readers who do relate to Kelsey will probably think this a fun read with a sassy, confident lead girl.
Published: March 1, 2012
Goodreads: The Borrower
Summary: Children’s librarian Lucy Hull is concerned about the welfare of one of her most loyal patrons, ten-year-old Ian Drake, whom she suspects has a bad home life but knows has been enrolled in classes to encourage him to become heterosexual. She was never planning, however, to find herself his kidnapper. The two embark on a cross-country road trip after Lucy finds Ian camped in the library overnight, both parties running away from home and pasts they know will ultimately draw them back.
Review: The Borrower, featuring a children’s librarian protagonist and alluding to a number of children’s classics, seems like the perfect read for book lovers. The story, however, is not particularly about books. In fact, it is to a large degree about Lucy’s issues with the anti-gay class in which Ian has been enrolled and her issues with the types of people who run such classes. She is occasionally rather preachy about it, and it does not make for a particularly fascinating plot. It also does not do the author favors in gaining an audience. Most readers will either be on the side Lucy insults, and they will be offended by the book, or they will agree with Lucy, and therefore have no need to read a couple hundred pages of her lectures.
The topic is just not overly engaging from any angle, and Lucy is not particularly tactful. She is very clear about the point that she is not a moral relativist by any means. She is closer to a moral absolutist who thinks Christianity is absolutely wrong. Fair enough. She is allowed to hold such an opinion, but one could hope she would a little more polite about it. She has a lot of insults for Ian’s family’s religion (again, fair enough, since most people, even those who oppose gay marriage, are willing to admit anti-gay classes are not helpful or effective), and she also has a lot of contempt for Catholicism. The problem here is that her disgust is somewhat uninformed. She laments that, at one point, she and Ian have ended up visiting a Catholic church. She first panics that the priest and all Catholics are violently anti-gay and will harm Ian on the spot, and then worries that the priest will force Ian into a confessional to spill his soul, and once he admits that Lucy has “kidnapped” him, the police will arrive. Classifying all Catholics as hateful is unfair. Believing priests force people—particularly non-Catholic people—into the sacrament of Reconciliation, is ridiculous. Basically, Lucy is an ignorant, somewhat prejudiced character herself, which is certainly allowed (Who expects literature to feature only likeable, intelligent characters?), but her personality will not be a draw for many readers, and could actually be offensive.
Otherwise, the text is creative, but Makkai’s writing gives the distinct impression of one who is trying very hard to sound literary and clever. The story might have benefited from a more straightforward style. The book also has a rather modern philosophy, in some conclusions about how life is not very happy and no one can really have adventures or be a hero or do much of anything worth doing. It is a hard sell to those readers who are idealists or who read books for some form of escapism. Yet The Borrower does have one big, positive belief about books, for which some of its other pessimism might be forgiven:
But books, on the other hand: I do still believe that books can save you.
I believed that Ian Drake would get his books, as surely as any addict will get his drug. He would bribe his babysitter, he’d sneak out of the house at night and smash the library window. He’d sell his own guinea pig for book money. He would read under his tented comforter with a penlight. He’d hollow out his mattress and fill it with paperbacks. They could lock him in the house, but they could never convince him that the world wasn’t a bigger place than that. They’d wonder why they couldn’t break him. They’d wonder why he smiled when they sent him to his room.
The Borrower, I am sure, does have an audience, but the audience simply does not include me. The plot was a little slow, the message a little forced, and the conclusions a little depressing. I wanted a book that was more about books and got one about the evils of certain Christian groups and Lucy Hull’s personal problems. Perhaps readers who have different expectations will appreciate the book more.
Goodreads: Lock and Key
Goodreads Summary: Ruby knows that the game is up. For the past few months, she’s been on her own in the yellow house, managing somehow, knowing that her mother will probably never return.
That’s how she comes to live with Cora, the sister she hasn’t seen in ten years, and Cora’s husband Jamie, whose down-to-earth demeanor makes it hard for Ruby to believe he founded the most popular networking Web site around. A luxurious house, fancy private school, a new wardrobe, the promise of college and a future; it’s a dream come true. So why is Ruby such a reluctant Cinderella, wary and defensive? And why is Nate, the genial boy next door with some secrets of his own, unable to accept the help that Ruby is just learning to give?
Review: This is the first book by Sarah Dessen I have read, and I was definitely expecting something a little lighter. Lock and Key is, by all means, a romance, but it is interesting that protagonist Ruby is not looking for a romance at all. In fact, she is in favor of eschewing all relationships—whether with friends, her family, or boys—because she is turning eighteen in a few months and fully expects to set out on her own, relying on only herself so she will never be disappointed by others.
However, Dessen does not fully explore all the implications of the troubled past she has created for Ruby. Ruby’s problems make the book a sort-of-deep romance, but definitely do not manage to make it a deep book. There are reflections on what the true definition of family is and on how to start accepting help from others, but the hand of the author is very evident in this. When Ruby’s teacher starts handing out words for which the students are to explore the meanings of for a class project, the readers just know Ruby will end up with “family.” So many of the circumstances that cause Ruby to reflect on her life seem forced.
And, at the end of everything, there simply is not a lot of closure. Of course it makes sense that Ruby might need more time to figure everything out and to completely come to terms with her new life, but the book feels incomplete, as if Dessen has only told us half the story. Kudos to Dessen for attempting to combine fluffy romance and tough issues, but the two do not mix here, and Lock and Key is just not satisfying as either type of read.
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Goodreads: My Life Next Door
Goodreads Summary: A gorgeous debut about family, friendship, first romance, and how to be true to one person you love without betraying another
“One thing my mother never knew, and would disapprove of most of all, was that I watched the Garretts. All the time.”
The Garretts are everything the Reeds are not. Loud, numerous, messy, affectionate. And every day from her balcony perch, seventeen-year-old Samantha Reed wishes she was one of them . . . until one summer evening, Jase Garrett climbs her terrace and changes everything. As the two fall fiercely in love, Jase’s family makes Samantha one of their own. Then in an instant, the bottom drops out of her world and she is suddenly faced with an impossible decision. Which perfect family will save her? Or is it time she saved herself?
A dreamy summer read, full of characters who stay with you long after the story is over.
Review: I read this on a recommendation, and although I do not claim to be a judge of romance books (having read relatively few), this is a really sweet romance. Jase and Samantha hit it off very quickly—once they actually introduce themselves after having lived next door to each other for years—but their relationship progresses very naturally afterwards. It is clear why the two are attracted to each other. Sam is wonderful immersing herself into the chaos that is Jase’s family, and Jase is an aspiring football star who likes to fix things and take care of animals—to do things that take time because he believes it makes them more worthwhile. In short, Jase is rather swoon-worthy without being the type of boyfriend that could not possibly exist.
I found the other plot, the accident to which the summary alludes, to be more problematic. It does put forth a lot of questions about loyalty to family, yourself, and your morals, but I am slightly uncomfortable with the resolution to all the problems. [Minor spoiler] Somehow, despite the efforts of several characters to do the right thing, I was left with the sense that the right thing did not quite happen.
Also, this accident results in some standard relationship drama between Sam and Jase that is resolved fairly easily. Often books go over the top, making couples absurdly angry about rather minor things just to add some “suspense,” but this is one instance where I think a little more anger would have justified.
My Life Next Door is essentially a light romantic read with a few tougher themes thrown in to make it more meaningful. Sam is trying to find herself during her teenage years, the Garretts face prejudice from those who look down on large families, and Sam’s friends are dealing with the pressure of drugs and applying to college. None of this overrides the fun, however. The book is generally sweet and uplifting, and these issues give it a little grounding.
Content Note: Sex, drugs, alcohol, swearing
Published: June 14, 2012