19 March 2019

Review: Girls With Sharp Sticks

Girls With Sharp Sticks
by Suzanne Young

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: March 19, 2019

GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS is a beautifully relevant novel that tells the story of the young women of Innovations Academy. A boarding school for girls run by men, this school prepares these girls for their lives with husbands chosen for them by the academy. The girls are taught to never speak out, to look perfect at all times, and that the men in control of them are superior to any of their own ideas and aspirations. As the girls fight to stay close with one another, making the most out of their separation from families and the challenge of day to day confinement in perfection, they start to see that maybe Innovations might not have their best interests at heart, and the education they’d always dreamed of having might be a facade. Told from the perspective of a girl with high hopes for her future, GIRLS WITH SHARP STICKS explores with her the challenges of their lives, first loves, and friendships. This book was absolutely amazing, and with these characters the author explored very real issues and controversies that are prevalent today in our world. 

Review: Night Music

Night Music
by Jenn Marie Thorne

Publisher: Dial Books
Publication Date: March 19th, 2019

NIGHT MUSIC is the story of an unlikely romance set against the backdrop of race, family relations, and music during a summer in New York City. Ruby, the youngest in a family known globally in the classical music scene, has lost the love she once held for the piano and faces a newly uncertain future. The insecurity and jealousy Ruby feels when her father takes young prodigy Oscar under his wing, and into their house, fades into admiration and maybe even love. As Oscar becomes the poster child for a prestigious music school, he must deal with the historically white nature of the industry as unsettling truths come to light. Ruby and Oscar must fight these head on to ensure both her family’s reputation and his future. 

This is a delightful rom-com that tackles real issues, fleshed out enough that it's not just a “trashy” romance novel. The prejudice Oscar faces and expectations others have for him are grounded in the unfortunate truth of modern society and aren’t glossed over to further the plot. Rather, race relations and classism make up a large part of the story and feel integral to the novel as a whole. Ruby feels inadequacy and failure, but she is able to push forward to a degree, a rare presentation of such a storyline being told in a realistic and relatable manner. All the characters have personal flaws that are fleshed out, which is not often seen in this genre.

12 March 2019

Review: Shout

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 12, 2019

SHOUT by Laurie Halse Anderson is, in part, a sequel to SPEAK, Anderson’s critically acclaimed 1999 novel. In SPEAK, Melinda struggles to find her voice and speak out about having been raped. Melinda was a semi-autobiographical version of Anderson herself. However, SHOUT diverges from this fictional character and world, revealing Anderson’s true and heartbreakingly real experience as a girl growing into adulthood (then later, tells of the resistance she faced after writing SPEAK). Written entirely in verse, Anderson begins innocent anecdotes that, with one phrase, devolve into nightmares. Her pin-prick attention to detail and expressive prose is indulgent and gripping at the same time. One of the most moving elements of this book is her portrayal of her parents, conclusively complicated, yet loving and hopeful. Anderson describes her parents with detail and care, remembering vivid, emotional, and colorful moments in which Anderson’s childish perception and mature hindsight both play a part in revealing truth. Anderson’s personal and often emotionally raw verse is effectively moving. Throughout SHOUT, the horrors of sexual abuse and rape are laid bare to the reader. Anderson pulls no punches as she approaches the topic with fury and passion. While beautifully written and incredibly moving (more than one tear was shed), SHOUT is a vessel through which Anderson calls boys and girls, parents and teachers, to awareness and to action.

06 March 2019

Review: Opposite of Always

Opposite of Always
by Justin A. Reynolds

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: March 5, 2019

The charming and honestly written OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS by Justin A. Reynolds follows the story of Jack King, a high school senior living the exciting final few months before his graduation and transition to college. At a party with his buddy Jillian, Jack meets a witty and charming freshman college student named Kate. The two instantly hit it off, and as their friendship continues, Jack starts to fall in love with her. Unfortunately for the two, Kate falls ill only six months later, and dies! But when she does, Jack suddenly finds himself reliving the same six months over and over again, beginning the day that he first met Kate, and starting over every time she dies. Luckily, Jack realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to change things: an infinite time loop with infinite chances to save Kate. Unfortunately, everything has a price, and Jack has to be careful not to permanently sever his friendships, hurt his family, or lose himself in the process.

If you’re really into time-loop stories but are also a huge sap for romance, please take a look at this book. Jack and Kate’s relationship is really genuine and sweet, and let me just say that the friendship that Jack has with his two friends Jillian and Franny is so healthy. They always talk their problems out (even if sometimes I didn’t really understand a few of their conflicts) and support each other through tough times. Everything is told through Jack’s perspective, and seeing his character development throughout the book is really interesting and for some reason gives off some Scott Pilgrim vs. the World vibes? That’s cool though, because if Jack isn’t relatable, I don’t know what he is! 

So if you’re bored on a Saturday night and have the craving for a sensitive romantic comedy with meaningful messages, check out OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS! (Also, just a heads up for fans of John Green, Nicola Yoon, and Becky Albertalli, the back of the book mentions that OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS would be great for those who already enjoy works by those authors!)

05 March 2019

Review: Lovely War

Lovely War
by Julie Berry

Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: March 5, 2019

LOVELY WAR by Julie Berry, author of THE PASSION OF DOLSSA, tells of the trials of true love during WWI, told through the eyes of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love. The novel begins when God of Fire, Hephaestus, catches his wife, Aphrodite, engaging in a passionate affair with the God of War, Ares. Asked to defend themselves, Aphrodite begins to tell a story of two true loves set during wartime. From there, the epic unfolds, introducing Hazel, a timid pianist from London; James, a British soldier; Colette, a war torn Belgian survivor; and Aubrey, an African-American jazz pianist for the war effort. As love brings them together and war tears them apart, Aphrodite calls in witnesses--Apollo (God of Music) and Hades (God of Death)--to illustrate each character’s painful and joyful journey. 

What most struck me about this novel is Berry’s examination of the relationships between death, love, war, and music. Aphrodite begins the story to prove that War and Love are inextricably linked. This relationship, and Berry’s method of discussion, is creative and intriguing. As the Gods and Goddesses interfere in the lives of our mortal protagonists, we see the relationship’s many nuances and come to understand it as complex. The characters are complicated as well. As a result of war or prejudice, each one faces pain and struggles to overcome it throughout the novel. Despite its relatively short reading time, LOVELY WAR seems like a saga, extraordinarily detailed and expansive. The narrative gives even minor characters life and color. This worldbuilding through character development makes the interactions in the novel dynamic and meanful. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique and captivating epic and recommend it to all who enjoy historical fiction, romance, action, or Greek mythology.

Review: The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project

The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project
by Lenore Appelhans

Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab
Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Riley is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, and that’s all he was ever supposed to be. He lives in TropeTown, where everyone is a cliche character to be used in books. After breaking the rules and going off-script, Riley is sent to mandatory group therapy with other Manic Pixies. He meets and falls for Zelda, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl also in the group. As Riley gets to know Zelda and the other Manic Pixies in therapy, they find out their trope is on the brink of being terminated and must find a way to save it. There are plenty of Manic Pixie hijinks along the way, in a book that shows the joy in being yourself.

THE MANIC PIXIE DREAM BOY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT by Lenore Appelhans is fun, quirky, and everything you expect from a book about Manic Pixie Dream Girls/Boy. Yet it is also deep and introspective. The book explores and deconstructs the Manic Pixie trope, briefly covering some other tropes as well. As a YA book that parodies YA tropes, THE MANIC PIXIE DREAM BOY IMPROVEMENT PROJECT is naturally quite self aware; Riley breaks the fourth wall multiple times. This wonderful mix of qualities make this a pretty unique and interesting book. I really enjoyed reading it, and if you like subversions of typical YA stories, you will too.

04 March 2019

Review: The Fever King

The Fever King
by Victoria Lee

Publisher: Skyscape
Publication Date: March 1, 2019

Waking up alone in a hospital bed in Carolina, a country in what was once the United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro is now a technopath thanks to the deadly viral magic that killed his family. This attracts the Minister of Defense, who invites Noam to serve his country by training to become an elite magical soldier. But as the son of undocumented immigrants in a country whose Prime Minister promotes nothing but oppression of immigrants, the last thing Noam wants to do is help the government. So when Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, he secretly plans to use it against the government. But when he meets the minister’s ward, Noam becomes less certain that what he’s doing is right. Stuck between his longing for change and wish for love, Noam must decide if trust is a thing he can give out liberally, or if the more he lends his heart out, the faster his world might come crashing down around him.

Written with so much emotion and power, THE FEVER KING is packed with amazing prose and beautiful storytelling. One aspect that captivated me from the start was the book’s ‘dark characters.’ Nowadays, it is common for publishers to claim that certain books contain ‘dark’ characters/themes. Often when books are marketed as ‘dark,’ they don’t quite deliver, leaving readers disappointed. This is not the case with THE FEVER KING. From page one, it is clear that the author is well-practiced in writing emotion, as a prominent sense of sorrow can be felt as Noam navigates the book’s mysteries. And even when something ‘light’ occurs, the sense that something can still go wrong is prevalent. One of the ways that the author achieves this is through the articles included at the ends of some chapters. The true definition of dark and clinical, these articles chronicle the trauma of one of the characters while helping to promote the overall feel of the book, establishing its dark history. Horrid descriptions of terrifying experiments and twisted recorded conversations are featured through these articles, making the reader wonder just how destructive and horrifying this world is.

The articles would mean nothing without the setting. In a post-war Carolina, the world is in shambles. While there are some ‘good’ parts to some of the cities, most of the people live in disease-ridden ruin and struggle to survive because of the poor treatment they receive. The majority of these people are citizens of the country lining Carolina’s border—Atlantia. Fleeing their home to pursue a better life in Carolina, they’re given few if any rights, treated horribly, and left to die from the viral magic. Being Atlantian is a big part of Noam’s identity, as he’s been fighting for Atlantian rights for as long as he’s been alive. I found it interesting how Lee wove immigration into her book in a way such as this. Readers will appreciate how she didn’t just mention it once and let it be, but fully ingrained it throughout the book, showcasing the horrid and disgusting lengths to which some leaders might go to prove a point or please the wealthy.

This was seen in the character of Noam and how he dealt with various events. As I mentioned before, Noam was raised in fear of the Carolinian government because of what they do to his people. But he is also proactive in his fight against them, doing all he possibly can to help. And though now living in the government’s building, his pain and motivation doesn’t lessen. Noam is a character who would appeal to many in this sense because of the sheer motivation and anger that pushes him to act. I loved how he embodied all those who are marginalized and pushed down. Lee continues in this spirit with her side characters as she gives them each their own characteristics and personalities. With them, Lee took some themes from the main cast and carried them over to the rest of the characters. I loved how she didn’t just write them for the sake of writing them, but wrote them to be a part of the story. 

Another, much needed, aspect of this book was the Jewish and LGBTQ representation it had. Though LGBTQ+ and Jewish characters/themes used to only be popular in contemporary novels, they are slowly starting to make their way into fantasy, which readers will enjoy thoroughly in THE FEVER KING. 

One important world-building aspect to mention in THE FEVER KING was its magic system. Unlike anything else I’ve ever read, I was completely obsessed with how the viral magic was something people feared, not sought. With most books that I’ve read, having magic is something that is wanted and held on a high pedestal. But in THE FEVER KING, it was something to run from. I thought that this added yet another dimension to the darkness of the book, but also increased the urgency of which Noam must save his people. Never have I thought that a book’s magic system would serve as almost an antagonist, which was something I enjoyed greatly in this book.

If you are looking for a fresh twist in YA, THE FEVER KING will serve as that perfect speculative fiction sci-fi/fantasy book that you’ve been looking for. Recommended for ages 14+ because of mild language and adult themes.