Book Reviews


Author: Jay Asher
Publication Information: Razorbill, 2011 (first published 2007)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288
Source: Library — read for class
Genre: Young Adult — Contemporary
Warnings: Suicide, sexual assault, sexual harassment
Rating: 2 stars
Recommended For: Not recommended.

Clay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her.

Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes– and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death.

All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his small town. . .

. . .and what he discovers changes his life forever.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I will give Jay Asher credit for exactly one thing about this book, and it’s that he built up the suspense surrounding Hannah’s death enough that I wanted to keep reading. Which is simultaneously what I disliked the most about this book, because Hannah’s suicide was treated like a mystery to be solved, and the whole thing felt sensationalized. The book centered on Clay wondering why Hannah is holding him partially responsible for her death, rather than on what he could’ve done to help her. While I thought Clay’s feelings of anger and confusion were realistic, there was no discussion of how Hannah was depressed and how that played a role in her death, no real discussion of how the adults in her life failed her when she tried to get help. The whole crux of the book was Hannah’s desire to get revenge on the people who bullied her, and that’s not healthy at all.

I was really, actually angry after finishing THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, because I honestly could not understand how a book about suicide couldn’t discuss mental illness at all. I think there was a throwaway line from Clay when he’s angrily thinking about how she needed help, but that’s all I really saw. We see Hannah reaching out a couple times and her being dismissed, and while that’s unfortunately realistic, the notion that reaching out for help isn’t worth it is never deconstructed — what is that telling teens who need help, and might read this book and take away the thought that it’s not worth it because no one will believe them anyway?

I honestly would not feel comfortable recommending this book to anyone, especially since there are books that handle suicide and mental illness much better. Examples include I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez, WHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord, and I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman.

Book Reviews


Author: Stephanie Oakes
Publication Information: Dial, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 400
Source: Library — read for class/reread
Genre: Young Adult — Contemporary
Warnings: Violence, emotional abuse, forced child marriage, racism, brief mention of suicide
Rating: 4.5 stars
Recommended For: People who like their books a little more on the twisted side, people who liked IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch.

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

(Summary from Goodreads)

I don’t want to say I enjoyed this book because the subject matter wasn’t really something to be enjoyed, but I definitely had a hard time putting it down. It was gruesome and terrifying but also fascinating to read. While I didn’t enjoy it as much this second time around because I already knew all the twists, I still found that THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY still packed quite the emotional punch.

One thing I found interesting was both of this book’s settings, since neither is one I’ve seen a lot of in YA. The book alternates between the present-day in a juvenile detention facility as Minnow adjusts both to being out in the world again and not having hands, with flashbacks to her time in the Kevinian cult interspersed throughout the story. The use of flashbacks was particularly interesting, because they’re given as Minnow’s testimony to the FBI agent asking her about what happened the night the cult’s compound burned to the ground and the cult’s leader, the Prophet, was found dead. As such, we’re never really getting the whole picture, and there’s a definite sense that Minnow is holding something back. Is she ever really being truthful? Who knows.

Something that comes across really effectively in this book is the sense that there’s something missing. In this case, the something missing is Minnow’s entire childhood, since her parents joined the Kevinians when she was 5 and she didn’t escape until she was 17…only to be immediately sent to juvenile detention for an unrelated crime. In the flashbacks, we see that the girls are only ever raised to be the eventual wives to men much older than them. This is juxtaposed with the present-day events, in which Minnow (re)discovers things she missed out on in her time with the Kevinians, such as reading, television, and friendship. This juxtaposition only makes the sense of loss and finding oneself more striking.

While there are religious themes in this book, they aren’t overpowering, and there is a great deal of questioning of faith as the book goes on. Minnow spent most of her live among people who blindly followed the Prophet, and she spends a lot of the second half of the book trying to figure out if she even believes the things she was taught about God and, if so, what her relationship to Him is. This is a theme I think a lot of teens could relate to, and I thought it was handled respectfully.

Overall, I found this book complex and impactful. I highly recommend it.


Book Reviews


Author: Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely
Publication Information: Atheneum, 2017 (first published 2015)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Source: Library – read for class
Genre: Young Adult – Contemporary
Warnings: Violence (specifically: police brutality), racism, underage drinking, language, hospitals
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Everyone.

A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galluzzo, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement?

There were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.

(Summary from Goodreads)

This. Book.

I was surprised by how much this book stuck with me – which really shouldn’t have, because it’s Jason Reynolds (who is the entire reason I selected this book from a handful of options for my YA resources class).

I found myself resonating most strongly with Quinn’s chapters, as his point of view was one that I could identify with. Quinn, who is white, has never once had to think about walking into a convenience store for a bag of chips, for example, but once he witnesses Rashad being brutally beaten by his best friend’s older brother – who stepped into the role of father figure after Quinn’s father was killed in action in Afghanistan – all of that changes. Which usually makes me cringe, because the white people learning other people are human thing is old (THERE ARE SO MANY OF THOSE) and also, DUH other people are human. But instead of veering down that road, ALL AMERICAN BOYS actively wrestles with what whiteness means in our society through Quinn’s point of view as he realizes over the course of the story that someone can simultaneously be a “good”or “nice”  person but also racist.

Meanwhile, Rashad does some hard thinking of his own while in the hospital, as he spends his waking hours wondering what he could’ve done differently to avoid his altercation with Paul. He’s also caught in the middle between two sides: his ex-Army, ex-cop father, who advocates going along to get along; and his older brother, who’s politically active and wants to shake up the system (much to their father’s chagrin).

This book should be required reading for everyone.

Book Reviews

Book Review: EMBER

Full disclosure: I’m friends with the author and read multiple drafts of the book prior to its publication. This hasn’t impacted my review at all.

EmberTitle: EMBER
Author: Anna Holmes
Series: Ember of Elyssia, #1
Publication Information: Self-Published, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 341
Source: Purchased
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Warnings: Light violence (swordplay, magic), maiming
Rating: 5 stars
Recommended For: Fans of the enemies to lovers romance trope (told in dual POV!) and witty banter; fans of The Princess Bride.

The war is over. The island of Elyssia has been freed from the clutches of the Rosalian Empire, power restored to the island’s monarchy. However, after leading the Resurgence from the front, Princess Caelin now finds herself sitting and waiting more often than not. When magical prodigy Alain Flynn breaks into her palace to kidnap her, she hears of a secret slave camp—and forms a plan. Under the guise of a kidnapping, she will investigate the camp, expose the secrets, and take control of the fate of her kingdom.

(Summary from Goodreads)

So, I’ve read this book like three or four times and I’m still not sick of it, so it’s already got that going for it.

So many fantasy books are about defeating the bad guy, and then everyone goes to war to take down the aforementioned bad guy, and everyone is happy when the bad guy goes down, but we don’t get to see very often what happens after the war. What sort of rebuilding goes on? How do the new people in charge gain the trust of the people who fought against them? EMBER, refreshingly, is set during this time of rebuilding. The war has ended, and that’s where the story begins. Caelin has to figure out how to rebuild Elyssia, and how to gain the trust of the people who were on the other side in the war – since a lot of people actually supported the Rosalians. Then, there’s also the fact that, as a teenage girl, a lot of people don’t think she’s up to the task of ruling, so she has enemies inside the palace as well as outside. And, inwardly, Caelin is unsure she has what it takes to be a good ruler. SO MUCH CONFLICT.

Our other POV is Alain, a former Rosalian commander (or Prince, as they’re called) who is put into slavery – a thing Caelin’s advisers are doing behind her back – and, upon escaping his slave camp, decides to kidnap Caelin. He is one of the previously mentioned supporters of Rosalia who hates Caelin and doesn’t want to see her rule. But, all he knows is the propaganda fed to him by the Empire, and when he actually meets Caelin, he starts having conflicted feelings about her as he realizes she’s not the evil person he was always told. MORE CONFLICT.

And then, of course, there is a cast of delightful secondary characters. There’s Riley, my precious brooding child, a palace guard and Caelin’s best friend since childhood; Tressa, a centaur bounty hunter who’s got the best attitude in the world; August, who I just want to hug every time he shows up; and Gavroth, who is The Best. Even the villains are a delight to read, even though they’re terrible people.

Book Reviews


Author: Katy Tur
Publication Information: Dey Street Books, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 291
Source: Library – requested after viewing author interview
Genre: Adult – Memoir
Warnings: language, discussion of sexual assault (specifically in the last two chapters)
Rating: 3 stars
Recommended For: People interested in a behind the scenes look at political journalism.

Called “disgraceful,” “third-rate,” and “not nice” by Donald Trump, NBC News correspondent Katy Tur reported on—and took flak from—the most captivating and volatile presidential candidate in American history.

Tur lived out of a suitcase for a year and a half, following Trump around the country, powered by packets of peanut butter and kept clean with dry shampoo. She visited forty states with the candidate, made more than 3,800 live television reports, listened to endless loops of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”—a Trump rally playlist staple.

From day 1 to day 500, Tur documented Trump’s inconsistencies, fact-checked his falsities, and called him out on his lies. In return, Trump repeatedly singled out Tur. He tried to charm her, intimidate her, and shame her. At one point, he got a crowd so riled up against her, Secret Service agents had to walk her to her car.

None of it worked. Facts are stubborn. So was Tur. She was part of the first women-led politics team in the history of network news. The Boys on the Bus became the Girls on the Plane–but the circus remained. Through all the long nights, wild scoops, naked chauvinism, dodgy staffers, and fevered debates, no one had a better view than Tur.

Unbelievable is her darkly comic, fascinatingly bizarre, and often scary story of how America sent a former reality show host to the White House. It’s also the story of what it was like for Tur to be there as it happened, inside a no-rules world where reporters were spat on, demeaned, and discredited. Tur was a foreign correspondent who came home to her most foreign story of all.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Normally I wouldn’t have picked up UNBELIEVABLE, but I thought this interview Katy Tur did on The Daily Show was interesting enough that I decided to read it. I didn’t learn anything particularly new about the Trump campaign – Tur pretty much confirms what people on the left have been saying for awhile – but it was an interesting look at political journalism. It’s also a fairly quick read, and the writing is engaging and easy to read.

Overall, I thought the structure was effective. Tur alternates between two chronological timelines: campaign events and minor mishaps on the campaign trail, and watching the events unfold at the Trump campaign’s victory party on Election Night. (I will caution that this could potentially be triggering to anyone who weren’t mentally in a great place that night.) On the other hand, there was a chapter in the middle about Tur’s parents explaining how she got into journalism that seemed out of place and probably wasn’t necessary in the context of the larger narrative.

If you’re looking for Earth Shattering Revelations about the Trump campaign, this isn’t the book to read. But if you’re interested in a behind the scenes look at the rallies in a format that’s entertaining (somehow, given the subject matter) and could easily be read in an afternoon, UNBELIEVABLE would be a good fit.

Book Reviews

Blast from the Past: OLD MAGIC

Welcome to Blast from the Past, where I reread books from my past to see how they hold up.

OldMagicTitle: OLD MAGIC
Author: Marianne Curley
Publication Information: Simon Pulse, 2002 (first published 2000)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 317
Source: Purchased
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy/Time Travel
Warnings: mentions of rape; light innuendo and violence (swordplay, magic); bullying; ableism
Rating: 3 stars
Recommended For: People who are really good at suspending disbelief in the name of being entertained by medieval time travel and the defeat of nefarious sorcerers.

Jarrod Thornton is mesmerizing, but Kate Warren doesn’t know why.

The moment the new guy walks into the room, Kate senses something strange and intense about him. Something supernatural. Her instincts are proven correct a few minutes later when, bullied by his classmates, Jarrod unknowingly conjures up a freak thunderstorm “inside” their classroom.

Jarrod doesn’t believe in the paranormal. When Kate tries to convince him that he has extraordinary powers that need to be harnessed, he only puts up with her “hocus pocus” notions because he finds her captivating. However, the dangerous, uncontrolled strengthening of his gift finally convinces Jarrod that he must take Kate’s theories seriously. Together, they embark on a remarkable journey — one which will unravel the mystery that has haunted Jarrod’s family for generations and pit the teens against immense forces in a battle to undo the past and reshape the future.

(Summary from Goodreads)

Okay, so you know how a lot of people are obsessed with Australian YA because it’s really, really good, for some reason, and it makes us wonder what’s in the water down there?

This book isn’t one of those.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s entertaining. But if you’re looking for something to fill the aching void left by having no more Melina Marchetta books to read? (I know. I’m sad, too.) Look elsewhere.

I first read OLD MAGIC in ninth grade after encountering it on the bookmobile that hung out on base near my bus stop every week. I was hooked. I ended up using my precious allowance to buy my own copy so I could read it whenever I wanted. It combined three of the things I loved most in my books: romance, history, and magic.

When I picked it up again a couple weeks, it had been at least ten years since I last read it. It didn’t really hold up. I noticed right away that the editing…left a little to be desired. There are a lot of run-on sentences. Marianne Curley LOVES commas. I had a hard time letting that go.

Also, a lot of the things I enjoyed when I was younger just seem illogical to me now. There’s a pretty serious case of insta-love in this book, not to mention Kate telling Jarrod within minutes of meeting him that he has magical powers. And then Kate was confused when Jarrod subsequently didn’t believe her and actively avoided her. In this case, I really need to side with Jarrod. Some stranger telling you you have magical powers, a thing you don’t even believe in? I’d run, too.

One thing that bothered me this go around was the fact that Jarrod kept calling Kate “crazy” and telling her she was “crazy” and “sick in the head.” There are more sensitive ways to bring up concerns about a person’s mental health, my dude. And then later, when Jarrod starts actually believing Kate about the magical powers thing? He doesn’t walk back or unpack his previous comments about Kate being “crazy” at all. They don’t get revisited or examined at all.

If you can suspend your disbelief, OLD MAGIC is entertaining. I liked the section of the book that takes place in the Middle Ages; Curley incorporates a lot of small details that makes the reader feel like they’re there. I actually wish there was more of the book that was set there, because that was more fun for me to read than the parts set in the present day. All of the magical aspects were interesting, too, and again, I wish that had been developed a little more since I’m always a nerd for magical systems.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with this reading since I loved this book so much in high school. It was still entertaining, but there were some things I noticed this time that bothered me that I just wasn’t aware of during previous readings.

Book Reviews

My Favorite 2017 Reads

Despite grad school, working two jobs until Thanksgiving, and crippling anxiety, I managed to read a lot of books this year, and a lot of those books were really good. So today, I’m going to talk about my favorites. Because I didn’t actually get around to reviewing most of them.

The only particular order these are in is chronological:

F&SOF FIRE AND STARS by Audrey Coulthurst: This was one of my favorite fantasy books I’ve read, like, basically ever. It reminded me a lot of Rae Carson’s THE GIRL OF FIRE AND THORNS (one of my favorite books ever). It also so many of my favorite tropes: forbidden magic, enemies-to-lovers, star-crossed lovers. SO GOOD. (Bonus: nary a tragic queer to be found.) [My full review here.]

GirlMoonTHE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill: I took forever to read this book mostly because I didn’t want it to end. The writing was gorgeous. And it was simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking. I could easily seeing this book being one I reread multiple times because reading it felt so much like wrapping myself in a warm blanket.

WhenWeCollidedWHEN WE COLLIDED by Emery Lord: I’ve been raving about this book to everyone since I read it. It combines a sweet summer romance with a look at mental illness that felt authentic. This was another one that made me want to laugh and cry. sometimes at the same time. Also, I loved that it shows that maybe some of us are a little messy on the inside, but we still get love stories, too.

KissingMaxHoldenKISSING MAX HOLDEN by Katy Upperman: First of all, this book made me really, really hungry, so be warned. There are also a lot of country music references, which I always have a soft spot for. But I really loved how Jillian makes some not so great choices (because real, actual teenagers make some not so great choices), and how she grapples with them and tries not to let them define her.

LongWayDownLONG WAY DOWN by Jason Reynolds: I don’t read a lot of books in verse, but multiple people raved about this one and it’s easy to see why. It’s a really quick read, but Reynolds packs so much history and characterization into such a short space. It’s a compelling story, combined with great poetry.

THUGTHE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas: If you only read one of the books from this post, make sure it’s this one. Was it written with black teenagers in mind? Yes. (GOOD.) But if you’re white, this is also a book that will force you to confront your privilege without you even realizing it’s happening. THUG may tackle serious topics, but at its root, it’s also a book about family, community, and figuring out one’s identity. There’s a reason it’s been a bestseller since it came out.

MexicanDaughterI AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER by Erika L. Sánchez: This book was a pretty intense look at anxiety and depression, and I found the anxiety depiction pretty realistic. I think this book does a great job dispelling the idea that mental illness is a ~white issue~ (which is good since, statistically, marginalized populations actually have a higher rate of mental illness). This book covers a lot in not a ton of pages and while the romance didn’t really add much to it for me, for the most part, everything was woven together really well.

DearMartinDEAR MARTIN by Nic Stone: Speaking of packing a punch in a smaller number of pages. This book will destroy your life in the best possible way, and it will happen abruptly, which makes complete sense given that this book is about police brutality. At first I was thrown off by the use of third person present tense, but I got over that pretty quickly, because Stone still manages to get us into Justyce’s head really effectively even without his letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. that show up throughout the book.

TurtlesTURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green: I think the best word to describe this book is terrifying. Aza’s mind is an uncomfortable place, and her thought spirals are so realistic, it was a little hard for me to read at times. Green pretty handily deconstructs the conception of OCD in pop culture as a cute personality quirk by showing us how much it disrupts Aza’s life.

RadioSilenceRADIO SILENCE by Alice Oseman: This is the only book I’ve read that actually uses the word demisexual on the page, spelled out in black and white. And the fact that the demi character has so much anxiety over the fact that he’s ace was honestly one of the most relatable things I’ve read this year. I don’t know if I would’ve picked this book up if not for the ace rep (I WANT TO READ THEM ALL [and the fact that that’s physically possible makes me sad, but I digress]), but I ended up really enjoying it on its own. The relationship between Frances (who is bi, by the way) and her mother is wonderful, as well as her friendship with Aled. And if you like podcasts – particularly weird ones such as Welcome to Night Vale – this would be a good one to pick up.

What books did I miss this year that I need to make sure I read in 2018?