Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Book Review:  When Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 380
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

I was looking for a light contemporary read for my day off and when I read the synopsis for Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, it sounded exactly like what I was looking for.  And what a cute read it was! It’s fun, romantic in an adorably nerdy kind of way, and it also focuses a lot on family, especially the drama that can arise when children have hopes and dreams that are at odds with what their parents want for them.

Dimple Shah is a career-minded young woman.  She has just graduated from high school and plans to attend Stanford University in the fall, where she will study web development and coding.  She can’t wait to move out and get away from her overbearing mother, who is obsessed with finding Dimple the “Ideal Indian Husband” and is constantly criticizing Dimple for not wearing makeup, for not doing more with her hair, and for, just in general, not doing more to attract the ideal husband.  Dimple desperately wants a break from her mom’s nagging and knows what would make for a perfect means to escape, if her parents will go along with the idea: a summer program at San Francisco State University for aspiring web developers.  Dimple doesn’t think her parents will go for the idea, but when she broaches the subject with them, they’re all for it so off Dimple goes to SFSU.

Rishi Patel is also college-bound.  He will be attending MIT, a prestigious university that is sure to secure him a lucrative career.  Rishi is also a hopeless romantic who embraces the idea of arranged marriages.  He knows that his parents have selected an ideal candidate to be his future wife, and so he is 100% on board when they tell him that he can meet her if he attends a summer camp at SFSU.

Who is this ideal candidate?  Why, Dimple of course, which explains why her parents were so quick to agree to her attending this summer camp.  What a plan these parents have come up with!  Too bad no one thought to clue Dimple in.  When she arrives at campus, she is immediately accosted by some weird guy who greets her as his future bride.  Talk about awkward!  Dimple flings an iced coffee all over Rishi and runs off, afraid that he’s some kind of crazy stalker dude.  Things take a turn for the even more awkward when Dimple and Rishi are then assigned to be partners for the duration of the camp and have to work on a project together.

Will Dimple be so put off by what her parents have set her up for that she refuses to make nice with Rishi, or will Rishi be able to win her over?

LIKES

Dimple and Rishi.  These two are such likeable characters.  At first I wasn’t super crazy about Dimple because she was so rude when it came to pretty much anything her mom said. I just kept thinking ‘Be nice. She’s the only momma you’ve got.”  At the same time though, I could completely understand her frustration.  When you’re heart set on pursuing a career, and a good career at that, it’s got to be a kick in the head having your mom so focused on you “improving” your appearance so that you can bag the ideal husband.

Although it took me some time to warm up to Dimple, with Rishi, on the other hand, it was love at first sight.  He’s just this precious young man who is totally into his heritage and who also wants to make his parents happy. I just wanted to give him a hug when he came bounding up to Dimple, like an enthusiastic puppy, only to end up shot down and drenched in iced coffee.  Rishi, of course, has no idea that Dimple has been left in the dark about the whole arranged marriage idea, but as soon as he realizes she’s at the camp for her career and that she has no interest whatsoever in making a love connection while there, Rishi apologizes and is even willing to withdraw from the camp and go home to make things less awkward for Dimple so that she can focus on what she came to learn.  How can you not fall for a guy who is willing to do that?

Nerds!  I also loved that both of them are basically awkward nerdy types.  Dimple’s into coding, and Rishi, even though he’s going to MIT, which is nerdy enough on its own, also has a secret passion – he loves to draw comics and is exceptionally gifted at it too.  Books that feature nerdy characters are my favorites, so this was just perfect for me.

Diversity.  If you’re looking for a great diverse read, When Dimple Met Rishi fits that bill as well since the two main characters are both Indian Americans. I liked that many aspects of Indian culture were presented and that they were worked into the story in a way that flowed very naturally in conversations like one between Dimple and Rishi where Rishi explains to Dimple why he embraces the idea of an arranged marriage.  I just loved Rishi talking about why so many Indian traditions are important to him.  It’s nice to see a young person who sees the value in heritage and tradition, and he seems to open up Dimple’s eyes to aspects of her own culture that she had paid little attention to as a child.

DISLIKES/ISSUES

My only real issue was the subplot with Rishi’s brother.  It just felt unnecessary since the main purpose the brother served in the story was to help explain why Rishi feels so strongly about not ever disappointing his parents.  He’s trying to make up for his brother’s behavior.  That’s not to say his brother is a bad kid.  It’s just that Rishi’s brother does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, whether it makes their parents happy or not.  Beyond that, his character wasn’t really developed too much more. I actually can’t even remember his name as I’m sitting here typing my review, so I think the story would have worked even better without him showing up at the university and inserting himself into the plot.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a fun and diverse summer read that’s delightfully nerdy and contains a hint of romantic possibility, you’ll definitely want to check out When Dimple Met Rishi.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

four-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Book Review: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley

Book Review:  Words in Deep Blue by Cath CrowleyWords in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
four-stars
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on June 6th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 273
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

I went into Words in Deep Blue not really knowing what to expect.  I had read that it was a book about books and the people who love them, and that was more than enough to pique my curiosity.  It was also my first time reading anything by Cath Crowley and I’m always game to try out a new author.

What I experienced, however, was so much more than just a book about books.  Words in Deep Blue is a beautifully written and moving novel that deftly explores themes of love and friendship, as well as those of loss and the grieving process.

The story centers on life-long best friends Rachel Sweetie and Henry Jones.  Over the years, Rachel grows to have more than just friendly feelings toward Henry and when she learns her family is moving away from the area, she decides to confess her feelings to Henry via a love note, which she leaves in Henry’s favorite book at his family’s bookshop.  She sends Henry a message letting him know about the letter and hopes that he’ll read it and come visit her before she moves away.  She waits as long as she can, but when Henry is a no-show, Rachel moves away and vows to cut all ties with him because she feels so hurt.

Rachel stays gone for three years and only returns after a family tragedy – her brother Cal drowns – leaves her so deep in the throes of grief that she needs to get away from everything that reminds her of Cal, the ocean that took his life, and the fact that her own life has pretty much fallen apart since he died.  Consumed by grief, Rachel has failed Year 12 and now cannot see a clear future for herself.  Before her brother’s death, she and Cal shared a fascination with the ocean and all ocean life, so much so that Rachel had planned to pursue a career in the field of Oceanography.  But now she can’t even stomach the sight of the ocean, so she feels lost.

Henry, although going through nothing as tragic as the death of a sibling, is still having a pretty rough go of things himself.  Henry is pining after Amy, a girl he was dating during the entire time Rachel was away, but who has since broken up with him.  To make matters worse, Amy not only dumped Henry, but she also started dating a guy that Henry absolutely hates.  So Henry spends most of his time embarrassing himself by trying to get Amy back or seething because he hates her new boyfriend so much.  In addition to his girlfriend troubles, Henry is also dealing with the fact that his parents are splitting up and may also be selling their beloved second hand bookstore, Howling Books.  Everything he has ever known and loved could be about to change.

When Rachel comes back to town and ends up working at Howling Books, where Henry also works, will it be impossibly awkward or will Rachel and Henry embrace this second chance to rekindle their friendship and help each other work through their troubles?

 

LIKES

Relatable Themes.  As I’ve already mentioned, Words in Deep Blue explores the themes of friendship, love, loss, and the grieving process.  We’ve all experienced one or more of these in our lives and so I think this just makes Words in Deep Blue such an easy book to connect with.  That and Crowley does a wonderful job of exploring each of these themes in such a realistic way that you can’t help but see yourself in her characters and what they’re going through.

Realistic, Flawed Characters.  I loved both Henry and Rachel, not because they were the perfect characters, but for the exact opposite reason…because they both had their fair share of flaws and it made them so easy to relate to.  In the case of Rachel, it was easy to understand why she wanted to escape from her life for a while to work through her grief, but at the same time, it really started to frustrate me that she wouldn’t open up to any of her friends from her old town to let them know what had happened to Cal.  Everyone is constantly asking her how Cal’s doing and she just makes up lies, saying that he’s fine and living with his Dad.  How can you work through your grief when you’re carrying around this burden and adding to it by telling lies?

In much the same way, it’s easy to understand why Henry is upset about losing Amy.  They had been dating for years and had started to make serious plans for the future together, starting with a big trip around the world together.  Amy really pulls the rug out from under Henry, and he’s left there holding a non-refundable, non-transferrable airline ticket.  That said, however, it becomes increasingly frustrating the longer Henry pines over her because the more we see Amy in action, the more clear it becomes that she doesn’t love Henry, probably never did, and on top of that, is just a nasty person all the way around.  The fact that Henry started to see what we were seeing about Amy and continued to think about getting her back made me want to scream.  But at the same time, haven’t we all been there at some point?  So yeah, totally relatable.

Dual Narration.  I’m always a big fan of dual point of views and this book is no exception.  What I always like about dual narratives and especially liked about reading the alternating chapters from Rachel and Henry’s point of view was that peek behind the curtain, so to speak.  I get to see firsthand how they are actually feeling about something versus how they then choose to present themselves to others.  I loved it for both characters but really liked the added depth that it added to Rachel’s story.

The Setting.  I don’t know that I have ever loved the setting of a book more than Howling Books.  Seriously.  I want this shop to open up in my town. I’d be there everyday.  I loved the atmosphere, with the coffee shop next door with the quaint little garden between the two shops, and with its monthly book club. It was perfect in every way.  I loved the caring customer service that Henry and his family provided, especially with respect to the customer who is looking for a second hand copy of a book that he once owned and gave away and now desperately wants to get back because it belonged to his deceased wife.  Henry and his family located copy after copy of this book in hopes of locating the special one for their customer.  The amount of effort they put into trying to find that book was just so touching to see.

As if that wasn’t enough, the whole concept of the Letter Library moved me to tears.  As Henry’s dad says, it’s the heart and soul of their bookshop.  The Letter Library is a collection of books that cannot be purchased but that customers are allowed to peruse as they wish and even make notes in.  It embraces the idea that each reader brings their own experiences to a book and gives them the opportunity to leave behind their unique experience for the next reader to find.  The Letter Library also goes a step further in that some people actually leave letters, sometimes signed and sometimes anonymous, within the pages of the books.  That whole idea was just so romantic and charming.  Again, why is there not something like this in my town?

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

I hate to even put anything in this section since it is such a lovely read, but I do have to confess that as much as I adored the concept of the Letter Library, it was hard for me to imagine some of the characters in the book actually using it, especially since they’re all carrying around smart phones and texting each other.  It was hard to reconcile the idea that the same kid who just sent someone a text would then sit down and handwrite a letter to that same exact person and put it in a book for them to read and reply to.  It didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book at all, but it was a niggling thought in the back of my mind every time a letter was left or retrieved.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Words in Deep Blue is one of those books that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone.  It’s filled with so many relatable themes and life lessons that I think any reader could easily connect to it.  And of course, I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves books and the power of the written word because the world of Howling Books is one you’ll want to immerse yourself in.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Love lives between the lines.

Years ago, Rachel had a crush on Henry Jones. The day before she moved away, she tucked a love letter into his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. She waited. But Henry never came.

Now Rachel has returned to the city—and to the bookshop—to work alongside the boy she’d rather not see, if at all possible, for the rest of her life. But Rachel needs the distraction, and the escape. Her brother drowned months ago, and she can’t feel anything anymore. She can’t see her future.

Henry’s future isn’t looking too promising, either. His girlfriend dumped him. The bookstore is slipping away. And his family is breaking apart.

As Henry and Rachel work side by side—surrounded by books, watching love stories unfold, exchanging letters between the pages—they find hope in each other. Because life may be uncontrollable, even unbearable sometimes. But it’s possible that words, and love, and second chances are enough.

 

four-stars

About Cath Crowley

Cath Crowley is an award-winning author of young adult fiction. Her novels include Words in Deep Blue, Graffiti Moon, Chasing Charlie Duskin (A Little Wanting Song) and the Gracie Faltrain trilogy and Rosie Staples’ Magical Misunderstanding. Awards include The Prime Minister’s Literary Award (2011), The Ethel Turner Prize for Young Adult Literature (2011), Winner of the Indie Book Awards (2017), YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List (2013), Cooperative Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) Recommended Book.

Cath is also a freelance writer, editor and teacher.

Book Review: One of Us Is Lying

Book Review:  One of Us Is LyingOne of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus
three-half-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on May 30th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 361
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

Karen McManus’ debut novel One of Us is Lying has been advertised as part Pretty Little Liars and part The Breakfast Club.  I’d say those comparisons are spot on, but I’d also add in a dash of Gossip Girl to give a more complete picture of what this book is about.

As the novel begins, it is immediately reminiscent of The Breakfast Club.  Five high school students who don’t typically hang out or know each other all that well end up in after school detention together.  There’s Addy, the beautiful homecoming princess-type; Cooper, the superstar athlete; Bronwyn, the Yale-bound goodie two shoes; Nate, a delinquent who is already on probation for dealing drugs; and finally there’s Simon, who is somewhat of an outcast but also the creator of a gossip app that all of their fellow students are obsessed with (Cue the Gossip Girl comparison). No one was sure how he did it, but Simon always managed to dig up the juiciest bits of gossip about his fellow classmates and made it his business to expose anyone and everyone.

Where the comparison to The Breakfast Club basically ends is that instead of this “Breakfast Club” ending up with these seemingly different students bonding and becoming friends, this detention ends up in death.  Something happens and Simon dies in the classroom.  At first it appears to be a tragic accident, but once the police start investigating, it becomes clear that Simon’s death was not an accident.  An as yet-unpublished draft for his gossip app indicates that Simon was about to post some seriously juicy gossip about Addy, Bronwyn, Nate, and Cooper, which bumps them up to the top of the list of prime suspects.  The central question at this point becomes: How far will someone go to protect their secret? Murder?  (And cue up the Pretty Little Liars comparison).

LIKES

Okay, so I have to admit that both Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars are guilty pleasure shows for me.  I binge watched both of them and am disappointed that both series have ended. So when I heard about this book, I knew I just had to read it.  I love a good thriller/mystery anyway, but this just sounded perfect for me.

I think what I enjoyed the most about the novel was exactly what I loved about those two shows – the thrilling pace,  the endless twists and turns, and  never knowing from one moment to the next who’s going to be on the hot seat. What do I mean?  Well, let’s just say there’s someone out there behind the scenes who is pulling the strings of the investigation and making each one of the main suspects look guilty as hell. Everyone’s heads are spinning, including mine, trying to figure out if one of the four students who were in detention are actually guilty or if they are just pawns in a sick game and the real murderer is still out there somewhere.  I was already thoroughly engrossed in the story as soon as it was revealed that Simon was dead, but the added tension of someone possibly trying to frame these kids for murder made it so I literally could not put this book down until I knew the truth about what had happened.

Although this book is mainly about solving the mystery, there is some great character development in it.  Of the four main suspects, Addy was by far my favorite character.  At first she’s just this pretty shell of a girl who dresses the way her boyfriend wants her to, goes where he wants her to, and is more of an extension of him than she is her own person.  Simon’s death, the ensuing investigation, and all that comes out really changes her though and she becomes downright badass by about the midway point of the book.  When the police investigation just seems to keep going in circles that are being drawn by the puppet master behind the scenes, Addy is one of the main ones to take matters into her own hands to try figure out who the real killer is.

DISLIKES/ISSUES:

My biggest issue with One of Us is Lying is that there’s not enough distinction between the different characters’ voices. The story unfolds from the viewpoint of the four accused teens and is told in alternating chapters from each of them.  However, no matter whose perspective a chapter was coming from, I found myself having to flip back and see whose name was at the beginning of the chapter.  And that wasn’t just happening early on in the book as I was getting to know the characters. It happened pretty consistently throughout the book and was a little frustrating since I wanted to plow through the book to find out who was responsible for Simon’s death and didn’t want to keep backtracking.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think whether or not you would enjoy this book depends on how much you enjoy entertainment along the lines of Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl since One of Us is Lying does play on so many of the same themes and types of characters and contains similar drama.  If those aren’t your cup of tea, this book may not be for you.

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

One of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

three-half-stars

About Karen M. McManus

Karen M. McManus earned her BA in English from the College of the Holy Cross and her MA in journalism from Northeastern University. Her debut young adult novel, ONE OF US IS LYING, will be released from Delacorte Press/Random House on May 30, 2017. It will also be published internationally in 18 territories including the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia.

ARC Review: Hello, Sunshine

ARC Review:  Hello, SunshineHello, Sunshine by Laura Dave
three-half-stars
on July 11th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Chick Lit
Pages: 256
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 MY REVIEW

I was initially drawn to Hello, Sunshine because of its vibrant summery cover but wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I actually sat down to read it.  What I got was a timely, relevant, and thought-provoking exploration of how people present themselves online in this age of technology and social media.

Sunshine MacKenzie seems to have it all – a loving husband, a gorgeous apartment in Manhattan, and a wildly successful YouTube cooking show with millions of followers that will soon transition to an even bigger audience once it starts airing on the Food Network.  As perfect as Sunshine’s life sounds, it soon becomes clear that her life is actually more along the lines of a house of cards just waiting to be toppled over and trampled on.  You see, Sunshine’s entire online persona is just that – a persona.  Everything that her fanbase loves about her and that has made her such a success is nothing but a pack of lies.  A pack of lies that Sunshine and her associates have successfully kept under wraps, or so they thought.  When Sunshine’s social media accounts are hacked and the hacker starts unraveling her life one lie at a time, her entire life and career fall apart right in front of her and no amount of PR damage control can stop the bleeding.  Sunshine loses her show, most of her followers, her husband, and her home, and ends up fleeing to her real hometown and to her estranged sister.

The rest of the book follows Sunshine as she tries to figure out what to do next.  Is there’s a way to get her old life back or will reuniting with her sister and spending some quality time with her family, away from the media frenzy, set Sunshine on a different path?  Will she decide there’s more to life than fame, fans, and the stress of trying to maintain an appealing online persona?

 

LIKES

I think what I liked most about Hello, Sunshine was just how relevant the book’s central premise is, that so many people are not being authentic when they are online.  Just as Sunshine has an online persona that has been crafted and scripted for her, there are many who aren’t even in show business who portray themselves as how they want to be perceived online, even if it’s completely contrary to what their life is actually like.  It’s something I think about whenever I see someone online who just seems like their life is picture perfect in every way.  Life is too messy for things to always appear that perfect, if that makes any sense. Or I might even think of it in terms of myself – how do others know if I’m being authentic or if I’m, in essence, putting on a show for them by being what I think they want me to be.

Hello, Sunshine also made me think about how vulnerable we really are if we’ve put ourselves out there on social media – how easily accounts can be hacked and someone’s life can be turned upside down if they happen to make the wrong person angry.

In addition to being a thought-provoking read about social media and authenticity, Hello, Sunshine is also just an entertaining read as well.  All of the drama that surrounded Sunshine’s fall from grace kept me engaged throughout and I kept thinking what a great movie it would be.  Desperate Housewives kept coming to mind as I was reading.

As fake as her online persona is, the Sunshine we’re presented with is brutally honest and she’s dying to give us a blow-by-blow account of how she royally messed up her own life.  If you like that kind of personality, Sunshine is very likable and you’ll want to follow her journey and see where she went wrong at every step along the way.

 

DISLIKES

My main dislike is that I figured out who the hacker was almost immediately. I kept hoping I was wrong and that there would be a huge surprise revealed, but my first guess ended up being correct so that was kind of a letdown for me.  I also didn’t buy the hacker’s reasoning for doing what they did, so that slightly hampered what was otherwise a very enjoyable read.  Hello, Sunshine was still a solid LIKE for me, but a little less predictability and a little more believability here would moved it from the LIKE column into the LOVE column.

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read that still manages to be quite thought-provoking, I’d say Hello, Sunshine fits the bill.  I think it would make for a great beach or vacation read.

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

GOODREADS  SYNOPSIS

From Laura Dave—the author of the “addictive” (Us Weekly), “winning” (Publishers Weekly) and critically acclaimed bestseller Eight Hundred Grapes—comes a new novel about the secrets we keep…even from ourselves.

Sunshine Mackenzie has it all…until her secrets come to light.

Sunshine Mackenzie is living the dream—she’s a culinary star with millions of fans, a line of #1 bestselling cookbooks, and a devoted husband happy to support her every endeavor.

And then she gets hacked.

When Sunshine’s secrets are revealed, her fall from grace is catastrophic. She loses the husband, her show, the fans, and her apartment. She’s forced to return to the childhood home—and the estranged sister—she’s tried hard to forget. But what Sunshine does amid the ashes of her own destruction may well save her life.

In a world where celebrity is a careful construct, Hello, Sunshine is a compelling, funny, and evocative novel about what it means to live an authentic life in an inauthentic age.

three-half-stars

About Laura Dave

Laura Dave is the author of the critically acclaimed novels The First Husband, The Divorce Party, London Is The Best City In America, and the forthcoming Eight Hundred Grapes. Dave’s fiction and essays have been published in The New York Times, ESPN, Redbook, Glamour and Ladies Home Journal.

Dubbed “a wry observer of modern love” (USA Today), Dave has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show, Fox News Channel’s Fox & Friends and NPR’s All Things Considered.  Cosmopolitan Magazine recently named her a “Fun and Fearless Phenom of the Year.”

Three of her novels have been optioned for the big screen with Dave adapting Eight Hundred Grapes for Fox2000.

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Book Review:  The Inexplicable Logic of My LifeThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
four-stars
Published by Clarion Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 452
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The first day of senior year:  Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.

Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

 

MY REVIEW

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a moving story about love and about what it means to be a family.  It follows the journey of Sal, a young man who is starting his senior year of high school.  Sal, who lost his mother at an early age and never knew his real father, lives with his adoptive gay father, Vicente, and has been raised in a loving Mexican-American family.  Up until now, Sal has always been sure of who he is and where he belongs, but when he unexpectedly starts getting into fights at school, he starts to question everything about himself. How can he have these random violent tendencies when he has been raised in such a loving environment and has never known violence?  He feels like he doesn’t even know who he is anymore.  As if questioning his very being wasn’t enough, Sal is confronted by mortality when a beloved family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It seems like his whole world is coming apart and Sal feels lost.  Thankfully his best friend Samantha is there to help him try to make sense of what he’s feeling, but when her world is turned upside down too, they are both left trying to make sense of the cards they’ve been dealt in life.  In many ways, this is a coming of age story for them both.

 

LIKES

There’s so much to like about The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. I love the fact that it’s primarily character driven.  Sure, there’s a plot. Lots of things – big things actually – happen throughout the story.  But it’s not really so much about what happens, as it is about how the characters react to and learn and grow from what happens to them.

I really loved the characters and the relationships too.  Sal is a great kid and since we’re getting the story from his perspective, it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic towards him, especially with everything he goes through.  Thankfully he has an incredible support system in the people around him.

This book is filled with incredible relationships, and not the romantic kind.  I’m talking about familial relationships.  The father-son bond between Sal and his adoptive father is wonderful.  Vicente is a nurturing father who always seems to know the right thing to say to put Sal’s mind at ease.  He’s such a great dad that Sal’s friends, Samantha and Fito, have practically adopted him as their dad as well.

Speaking of Samantha and Fito, the friendships in this book are beautiful too.  Samantha and Sal have practically grown up together and are as close as if they were brother and sister.  Samantha has a less than ideal relationship with her mother and so she probably spends more time hanging out with Sal and his dad than she does with her own family. Like siblings, Samantha and Sal spend a lot of time mocking and teasing each other.  Their hilarious banter was actually one of my favorite things about the book.  But even though they constantly pick on each other, also like siblings, they always have each other’s backs no matter what.

Fito is a newer addition to Sal’s circle of friends.  Like Samantha, he has a pretty rough home life and, at one point, even gets kicked out and is living on the streets for a while until Sal and Samantha find out and find him a place to stay.   Fito isn’t used to anyone looking out for him and doing nice things for him so their kind gesture brings him near tears, which made me fall head over heels for this poor kid.

There were many other beautiful relationships too, including that between Sal and his adoptive grandmother, Mima.  Their bond reminded me of my relationship with my own grandmother.  When I was growing up, she was one of my best friends and biggest confidantes and that’s the way it is with Sal and Mima.  Growing up with such nurturing influences as Mima and Vicente in his life, I could understand all the more why Sal was so confused by the violent outbursts he keeps having at school.

Aside from the characters and relationships that drive the story what I also loved about The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is that it’s a book that makes you think.  It unflinchingly tackles big topics like love, family, death, grief, nature vs. nurture, and even homophobia and racism and how all of these things impact Sal and his family and friends.

My absolute favorite thing about this book though is its message about family.  The Inexplicable Logic of My Life beautifully illustrates that family has little to do with biology and genetics and everything to do with who you let into your heart and who lets you into theirs.  Blood may be thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.

 

DISLIKES

The only real criticism I have of this book is something that is hard to go into without giving away spoilers, but it’s about a loss that Sal, Samantha, and Fito each experience.  Even though it definitely added a moving and dramatic element to the story, I couldn’t help but think “What are the odds that that same tragedy would actually happen to all three friends?”  If you’ve read the book, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t read it, you’ll figure it out.  Other than that one quibble, I was really pleased with this read.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a moving and thought-provoking story about love and loss and what it means to be a family, I’d definitely recommend The Inexplicable Logic of My Life.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Book Review: One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Book Review:  One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins ReidOne True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
four-stars
Published by Washington Square Press on June 7th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Chick Lit
Pages: 327
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  From the author of Maybe in Another Life—named a People Magazine pick and a “Best Book of the Summer” by Glamour and USA Today—comes a breathtaking new love story about a woman unexpectedly forced to choose between the husband she has long thought dead and the fiancé who has finally brought her back to life.

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancé, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying.

 

MY REVIEW

A book with a love triangle I actually enjoyed?  As much as I usually rage against them, I totally did not see that one coming, but in One True Loves the main character Emma finds herself at the center of what I’d consider to be a pretty realistic love triangle.  When her husband and high school sweetheart, Jesse, is lost at sea in a helicopter crash, Emma is devastated.  His body is never found and after months and months of hoping he’ll return to her, Emma finally decides that she needs to face the fact that he’s gone and move on with her life.  She moves back home and starts working in her parents’ bookstore and runs into one of her good friends from high school, Sam.  Sam was in love with Emma in high school, and even after all these years, he still feels the same way so he asks her out.  They take things very slowly, because Sam really wants to make sure Emma has finished grieving for Jesse before they move forward as a couple.  Emma does fall in love with Sam and, over the next couple of years, starts to build a life with him.  They’re in the midst of planning their wedding when Emma gets an unexpected phone call – it turns out Jesse is still alive and is on his way home to her.

The rest of the novel follows Emma as she tries to figure out what to do.  Does she break Sam’s heart and go back to Jesse, who she always said was the love of her life?  Or does she break Jesse’s heart and tell him that she has moved on without him? 

LIKES

It’s truly an impossible situation to be in and what I enjoyed most about the book was how well Taylor Jenkins Reid captures all of the conflicting emotions that not only Emma is feeling, but also those of both Jesse and Sam.  Both men know how difficult this is for Emma, yet both of them are also completely devoted her to and want a future with her.  Sam even goes so far as to remove himself from the equation for a while to give Emma the space she needs to really think through what she wants.  If she’s going to choose Sam, Sam wants it to be because she truly chooses him, not because she would feel too guilty to dump him and go back to her husband.

I also liked the way Reid structures the novel.  We start out in the present with Emma getting the phone call letting her know Jesse is still alive, but then we go back in time to when they were all in high school and watch Sam and Emma meet and become good friends, and we also watch Emma and Jesse meet and fall in love.  As we work our way back toward the present and see each of these relationships develop over time, it becomes all the more gut wrenching to think about having to choose between these two men because they’re both so great and because both relationships are such healthy ones for Emma and she’s truly happy and deeply in love with each of them.

DISLIKES

The only thing I didn’t care for in One True Loves was that I thought the ending wrapped up a bit too quickly.  It was like once Emma made her choices, we hit fast forward and zoomed to the ending.  I was still happy with the ending; I just would have liked a little more.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Even with my issue about the ending feeling rushed, I still thought this was a wonderful read.  Being a married woman myself, I found it very easy to put myself in Emma’s shoes and wonder how I would handle being put in the same situation that she found herself in.  That allowed me to get so absorbed in the story that I devoured the book in a day.  That said, I’d highly recommend One True Loves as a great vacation or beach read.  It’s an engaging read that you won’t want to put down until you find out who Emma chooses.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Taylor Jenkins Reid

TAYLOR JENKINS REID lives in Los Angeles and is the acclaimed author of One True Loves, Maybe in Another LifeAfter I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Her most recent novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, comes out June 13th. Her novels have been named best books of summer by People, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, InStyle, PopSugar, BuzzFeed, Goodreads, and others.

In addition to her novels, Taylor’s essays have appeared in places such as the Los Angeles TimesThe Huffington Post, and Money Magazine.

Waiting on / Can’t Wait Wednesday – Spotlight on The Readymade Thief

Genres: Contemporary Fiction

New WoW

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, which encourages fellow bloggers to spotlight upcoming releases that we’re excited about.  This week I’ll also be linking to Can’t Wait Wednesday, hosted by Tressa.

My selection for this week is The Readymade Thief by Augustus Rose.  I have to admit up front that it’s Colson Whitehead’s advance praise of this book that really makes me want to read this book.  Whitehead says “In his highly addictive and multi-faceted first novel, Augustus Rose pits an irrepressible and gritty young heroine against a sinister group of fanatics. The Readymade Thief is a kickass debut from start to finish.”   An irrepressible and gritty young heroine versus a sinister group of fanatics?  Ummm, yes please! How badass does that sound?!

It sounds like a read that is guaranteed to be a wild and suspenseful ride from start to finish and I also like that it’s advertised as being great for fans of Ernest Cline since I really loved Ready Player One.

THE READYMADE THIEF by Augustus Rose

Publication Date:  August 1, 2017

 

From Amazon:  “A debut novel that’s unexpected, uncategorizable, unputdownable.” –Robin Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

An addictive literary puzzle that introduces an unforgettable young heroine plunged into the twisted world of a secret society with a dark agenda.

Lee Cuddy is seventeen years old and on the run, alone on the streets of Philadelphia.

Betrayed by her family after taking the fall for a friend, Lee finds refuge in a cooperative of runaways holed up in an abandoned building they call the Crystal Castle. But the façade of the Castle conceals a far more sinister agenda, one hatched by a society of fanatical men set on decoding a series of powerful secrets hidden in plain sight. And they believe Lee holds the key to it all.

Aided by Tomi, a young hacker and artist with whom she has struck a wary alliance, Lee escapes into the unmapped corners of the city—empty aquariums, deserted motels, patrolled museums, and even the homes of vacationing families. But the deeper she goes underground, the more tightly she finds herself bound in the strange web she’s trying to elude. Desperate and out of options, Lee steps from the shadows to face who is after her—and why.

A novel of puzzles, conspiracies, secret societies, urban exploration, art history, and a singular, indomitable heroine, The Readymade Thief heralds the arrival of a spellbinding and original new talent in fiction for fans of Marisha Pessl and Ernest Cline.

ADVANCE PRAISE FOR THE READYMADE THIEF

 “In his highly addictive and multi-faceted first novel, Augustus Rose pits an irrepressible and gritty young heroine against a sinister group of fanatics. The Readymade Thief is a kickass debut from start to finish.”  —Colson Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad

The Readymade Thief is my favorite kind of book: an improbable one. The novel is a map of things—urban exploration, secret societies, the city of Philadelphia, Marcel Duchamp, very possibly the Home Alone movies—and if those things don’t seem to fit together, well, that’s the magic of the improbable book, and the transmutation of obsessions, by energy and intellect, into something wholly new: a novel that’s unexpected, uncategorizable, unputdownable.”  —Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

The Readymade Thief is a brilliant, suspenseful, and cinematic novel with an unforgettable heroine and a big story about art, the nature of consciousness, and all points in between. Be prepared to lose yourself in it.”  —Edan Lepucki, author of California and Woman No. 17

“I fell more than a little bit in love not just with Lee—the gutsy protagonist of Augustus Rose’s gorgeous debut novel, The Readymade Thief—but with the book itself. It’s a hypnotizing amalgamation of love story and mystery. I am in awe.”  —Hannah Pittard, author of Listen to Me

“In The Readymade Thief, Augustus Rose shows that he has one of the steadiest hands in fiction. How else to explain how effortlessly he complicates and expands the mystery at the heart of the novel, adding Marcel Duchamp, the Darknet, Urban Exploration, and a unified field theory along the way to such amazing effect. Each time I thought I had found my way to solid ground, another level opened up, and I eagerly tunneled deeper. Rose has crafted something memorable, crackling with energy, a truly wonderful tale.”  —Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

“A rewarding novel full of pleasures and surprises. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, it took me somewhere stranger and deeper than I could have imagined. A rich, heady mix of ideas and thrills.”  —Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe

* * * * *

I’d love to hear what upcoming book releases you’re waiting on this Wednesday? Leave me your link in the comments below and I’ll stop by and check out your WoW selection for this week. 🙂

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book Review:  The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
on April 11th, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

 

MY REVIEW

To be perfectly honest, I went into The Upside of Unrequited assuming that there was no way it could possibly be as great as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I’m thrilled to report that I was dead wrong in my thinking and that Becky Albertalli has done it again.  The Upside of Unrequited is every bit as cute, funny, heartwarming, and relatable as Simon and destined to end up one of my favorite reads of 2017.

The Upside of Unrequited centers on 17-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso.  Molly is many things – she’s smart, has a hilarious sense of humor, is super crafty and obsessed with Pinterest, and she’s a twin.  In addition to being all this, Molly is also a hopeless romantic who is infamous within her circle of friends for having had 26 (and counting!) crushes in her life.  The catch with Molly and her crushes is that all of them are unrequited – Molly has never once put herself out there and tried to act on any of them.  She has a major fear of being rejected and somehow ending up the punchline of a joke because she’s overweight and is uncertain as to whether anyone would ever seriously be attracted to her.  In her mind, it’s safer to not even try to find out.  That’s the upside to those unrequited crushes — if you don’t put yourself out there, you can’t be rejected:

“There’s a reason I’ve had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.”

There’s also, however, as Molly has learned, a downside.  You’re left alone on the sidelines while all of your friends, and even your twin sister, are flirting and falling in love.  It feels like everyone is leaving you behind?  The big question of this book:  will Molly stay on the sidelines in the safe zone where she never has to worry about being rejected or will she take a chance in the hopes of finding that special someone who is more than just crush number 27?

 

LIKES

Molly.  I really loved Molly. In addition to being smart and funny, Molly also has anxiety issues and I found the inner monologue running through her head to be so relatable throughout the book.  I just loved the way Albertalli wrote Molly’s voice and could empathize with all of Molly’s insecurities.  If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or felt the fear of rejection, it’s easy to understand where Molly is coming from and why she’s so hesitant to put herself out there.  I also loved that even though Molly is somewhat overweight, she still has a great sense of style and a healthy self image. She isn’t trying to starve herself to make herself more appealing to anyone.  Molly is who she is and makes no apologies for it.  When a boy at a party tells her she’s “gorgeous for a big girl,” Molly’s very candid response is “F*** you.”

I also liked all of the nicknames that Molly gives to the boys she is potentially crushing on.  When Molly’s sister Cassie falls for a girl named Mina, Molly develops a crush on one of Mina’s friends and dubs him ‘Hipster Will.’  Then when she scores a job at a local shop, she meets Lord of the Rings fan, Reid, and dubs him ‘Middle Earth Reid.’  The story takes an especially interesting turn when Molly meets these boys because with each one, there appears to be the potential for more than becoming crush numbers 27 and 28. These two boys both seem genuinely interested in Molly.  Hipster Will would be great in the sense that she could continue to hang out with her sister, who seems to have ditched her to hang with Mina.  But could it be Middle Earth Reid that brings her out of her shell instead?  I have to admit to having a soft spot for Middle Earth Reid.  He’s got that “adorkable” vibe going on and I thought his obsession with Cadbury mini eggs was just too cute for words. It immediately made me think of Simon and his Oreo obsession.

Speaking of Simon?! I thought it was just so cool that Albertalli was able to work in a cameo appearance from Simon and some of the other characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  Best surprise appearance ever!

Sisterhood. One of my favorite parts of this book is the relationship between Molly and her twin sister, Cassie. Albertalli does a beautiful job of realistically depicting all of the nuances of the bond between siblings.  Molly and Cassie each know exactly what buttons to push if they are fighting and want to hurt each other, but they also always have each other’s back if anyone else tries to hurt them in any way.  I liked that one of the major themes running through the story was how sibling relationships change over time.  No matter how close you are as children, you’re going to grow up, move away, and probably start families of your own.  When Cassie meets Mina, her first serious girlfriend, and starts spending almost all of her time with her, it really makes Molly start to think about what it’s going to be like when she and Cassie grow up and start to draft apart.

Diversity.  There is so much diversity in this book.  Molly and Cassie have two mothers, one is white and the other is African American. Molly and her family, as well as Middle Earth Reid and his family, are all Jewish, while Mina’s family is Korean. The sexuality represented in the book is richly diverse as well. There were straight characters as well as gay characters, and Mina considers herself to be pansexual.  The diversity itself was fantastic, but what made it even better was how naturally it was all written in. It didn’t feel like Albertalli was just shoving as much diversity in as she possibly could, for diversity’s sake.  All of the characters and relationships felt realistic and authentic.

 

DISLIKES

I can’t think of a single thing that I disliked about this book aside from the fact that it’s over and I want more.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a book about relationships, being brave enough to take chances, and following your heart, I’d highly recommend The Upside of Unrequited.  It’s just a sweet and warm-hearted book filled with positive message about what it means to grow up and find love.

 

RATING:  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

Book Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Book Review:  A Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
four-stars
Published by Poppy on February 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

 

MY REVIEW

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful follows the story of Mel Hannigan, a 16-year-old who is living with bipolar disorder.  Life with bipolar disorder is not easy, as we witness through Mel’s day-to-day struggles with the disorder, but for the most part, Mel seems to have things under control.  Where Mel really struggles though, as do so many others who are living with mental illness, is with her refusal to let anyone outside of her immediate family know that she has bipolar disorder. She fears the stigma of mental illness — that her friends will start to treat her differently or that she’ll become defined by her illness.  Rather than opening up to her friends and possibly allowing them to be a part of her support system, Mel instead chooses to keep her disorder a secret.

Mel is also living with another secret that is eating away at her.  Bipolar disorder has a genetic component — her beloved older brother Nolan had the disorder as well.  Tragically, he ended up dying because of it and what happened to him is a constant source of fear for Mel.  If she can’t control her disorder, will she suffer a fate like her brother’s? So not only does Mel not tell people about how her brother died, but now that she is starting at a new school, she doesn’t even tell people that she ever had a brother. She pretends to be an only child.

Those are some pretty big secrets for a 16-year-old to be carrying around and much of the novel focuses on how keeping those secrets really starts to negatively impact Mel’s life.  Just before Mel is officially diagnosed with bipolar, she has an episode that results in a huge fight between her and her best friends, Annie, Zumi, and Connor.  Her episode escalates immediately following the fight and she ends up hospitalized and doesn’t return to school for weeks and weeks.  She refuses to contact her friends because of what she’s going through and so they basically turn on her, assuming the worst about her because of some lies that Annie is spreading about her. By the time Mel does return to school, she basically has no friends and chooses not to make anymore because it’s easier to just keep people at arm’s length. She has a couple of casual acquaintances that she’ll chat with, but that’s it. A chance run-in with Connor a few months later clues Mel in that maybe keeping her disorder a secret and refusing to explain why she behaved the way she did during their fight wasn’t the best course of action, but by that point, it’s too late – the damage is already done. It still hurts though because she really misses Zumi, in particular.

Keeping her disorder a secret also impacts Mel’s romantic life as well. One day while working at the local senior center, Mel meets a boy that she thinks she might like to date.  Mel is immediately tormented by her usual concerns – how can I get close to this boy without him finding out about my disorder and, if he does find out, is he going to treat me differently because of it? Along with how she’s feeling about what happened with her friends, Mel ends up on a pretty big emotional roller coaster ride and the main question of the novel becomes how long can she continue to cope with her disorder while dealing with all these mixed emotions and keeping so many secrets.

LIKES

I really liked Mel a lot.  She’s a nice girl and I immediately sympathized with everything she’s going through.  One of the qualities I liked most about her is the way she handles herself at the senior center with the elderly residents.  She loves working with them and cheering them up if they’re having a down day or aren’t adjusting well to living there.  At the same time, however, she is self-aware enough to know when she’s on a downward cycle with her bipolar disorder and isolates herself from the residents because she doesn’t want to bring them down with her.  I was really touched by that level of sensitivity and caring.

I also liked how the author, Eric Lindstrom, accurately portrays bipolar disorder as a disorder that is unique to each person who has it. Not everyone who has bipolar experiences the exact same ups and downs, and some like Mel are what are called rapid cyclers.  I thought he did a wonderful job of capturing Mel’s ups and downs and of showing us that even though Mel has bipolar disorder, there is still so much more to her than her disorder.

My absolute favorite part of the book was the overriding theme that sometimes you need help in life.  Sometimes no matter how independent we think we are or how afraid we might be of being judged, we still need to reach out to others.  There are some problems out there that are just too big to handle alone.  I think that lesson is true not just for someone who is coping with a mental illness, but for all of us.  Sometimes we all have to let people in.

DISLIKES

The only real issue I had with A Tragic Kind of Wonderful was that it felt like Mel’s drama with her ex-circle of friends often took up too much of the story.  While I understood that the drama was meant to show it’s unhealthy for a person to try to hide their mental illness from those who care about them, it still just felt like too much time was spent delving into Mel’s relationships with both Annie and Zumi and seeing what led to the collapse of their friendship.  It’s one of those things that probably won’t bother other readers, but it just started to feel like a bit of a distraction to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautifully written YA contemporary that paints an accurate and vivid portrait of bipolar disorder while simultaneously breaking down the stigma that is often associated with mental illness.  If you enjoyed books such as Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places and Emery Lord’s When We Collided, I think you would enjoy this read as well.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Eric Lindstrom

Eric Lindstrom enjoys writing Young Adult novels, including his debut novel Not If I See You First in 2015 followed by A Tragic Kind of Wonderful.

English publication of both in the USA is by the Poppy imprint of Little, Brown for Young Readers, and in the UK and the rest of the world by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

He has worked in the interactive entertainment industry for years as a creative director, game designer, writer, and combinations of all three. As Editor and Co-Writer for Tomb Raider: Legend he received a 2006 BAFTA nomination for Best Video Game Screenplay. As Creative Director and writer for Tomb Raider: Underworld he received a 2009 BAFTA nomination for Best Action Adventure Video Game and a 2009 Writers Guild of America (WGA) nomination for Best Writing in a Video Game.

He also raised children, which led to becoming first a school volunteer, then a substitute teacher, then a part time kindergarten teacher, then getting a credential to teach elementary school, and most importantly the discovery that Young Adult books are awesome. It’s pretty much all he ever reads, and now writes, in his house near the beach on the west coast, with his wife and, yes, cats.

Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Book Review:  Saints and MisfitsSaints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
five-stars
Published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 13, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:  1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.  2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.  Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.  But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?  3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.  Like the monster at my mosque.  People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

MY REVIEW

S.K. Ali’s debut novel Saints and Misfits is a beautifully written coming of age book about family, friendship, love, religious faith, and so much more. It’s also a book that focuses on the importance of not judging people, of not making assumptions about people you don’t even know based on how they look or how they’re dressed, or maybe even how religious or not religious they may seem.  Saints and Misfits tackles all of these important themes and allows us to explore them through the eyes of a hijabi teen, Janna Yusuf, as she navigates her way through life in her high school, at home, and in her Muslim community.

For the most part, Janna’s life is just like many other teens.  Her parents are divorced and Janna shares an apartment with her mother and her older brother, Muhammad.  Janna, a sophomore in high school, is fairly popular at school, works hard to get good grades, and is also starting to become interested in boys. Outside of school, Janna keeps herself busy with a part-time job taking care of her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram and also by pitching in as a photographer and website maintainer at the mosque where her uncle serves as Imam.

Janna is also a young woman with two very big secrets that she is trying to keep hidden from her loved ones and her community: 1) that she is attracted to Jeremy, a cute non-Muslim boy from school and she’s afraid that her family will not approve, and 2) that while attending a party at her friend Fizz’s house, Janna is nearly raped by Fizz’s cousin, Farooq.  Janna is traumatized and ashamed about what happened with Farooq but is afraid to tell anyone because Farooq is a very well- respected member of their close-knit Muslim community.  She doesn’t think anyone will believe her.  Janna’s experience is made all the more traumatic by the fact that Farooq seems to turn up nearly everywhere she goes, lurking in the background, almost as if he’s stalking her.  Janna’s two secrets drive much of the book’s storyline as she must decide what to do about each of them.  Will she choose to pursue her attraction to Jeremy and perhaps have to deal with the disapproval of her loved ones?  And will she find her voice and speak out against Farooq, to let her community know that he’s not a man to be revered and respected, but instead, he’s really a monster?

 

LIKES

There’s so much to love about Saints and Misfits, but I’d have to say my favorite part is the wonderful cast of characters.

Janna.  I adored everything about Janna.  She’s super smart, hilarious, a little bit snarky, and just an all-around likeable character, probably one of the most likeable characters I’ve read so far this year.  As if all of that wasn’t cool enough, Janna is also a Flannery O’Connor loving book nerd! If I had gone to school with Janna, I totally would have wanted to be friends with her.  I also found her voice to be authentic and I loved seeing the events of the story unfold from her perspective.  Her journey to find herself and to ultimately decide what kind of person she wants to be is such a compelling one.

Muhammad.  Janna’s older brother Muhammad is a great character too. He’s a typical annoying older brother at times, but he’s also just an all around good guy.  He’s protective of both his mother and his little sister, and he’s also adorably head over heels in love with his girlfriend, who Janna has dubbed “Saint Sarah” because the girl appears to be perfect in nearly every way.  (Janna learns that she’s wrong to make such a judgment about Sarah—that Sarah is human and has a past just like everyone else — but I’ll leave the details about that for you to discover on your own).

Sausun.  After Janna, Sausun is probably my next favorite character.  I loved Sausun because she comes across as kind of a badass. She’s tough, not easy to impress, and she wears a niqab accessorized by Doc Martens.  She also hosts a hilarious YouTube show called Niqabi Ninjas, which she says she does to “lighten things up” so that people won’t be afraid of her and of other Niqabi (girls who cover their faces, in contrast to hijabis like Janna who just cover their hair).  What I loved most about Sausun though was how she steps up and gives Janna the metaphorical kick in the pants that she needs to try to stand up to Farooq.

Nuah.  Nuah is such a loveable character. I loved this guy so much.  Janna meets him at the senior center where she takes her neighbor, Mr. Ram, every week.  Where Farooq’s presence suffocates and overwhelms Janna, Nuah’s presence puts her at ease and whether she realizes it or not, she’s more herself around Nuah than she is around any another male we see her with in the story.  Nuah is super sweet, always sees the bright side of things, and loves to tell jokes and be silly.  He’s a big hit with all of the seniors at the center, and he also clearly likes Janna even though she doesn’t seem to realize it. As we learn during the course of the story, Nuah also is truly devout as opposed to the fake Farooq, who may have memorized the entire Quran but clearly has no interest in what it actually means.

There are also tons of really likeable secondary characters as well, like Janna’s uncle, who runs an advice column as part of his duties for the mosque.  He sends his answers to Janna so that she can edit/proofread them, so we get to see them as well.  He always has such warm and witty responses to the questions that are asked of him. You can’t help but chuckle when reading them.

In addition to the fabulous cast of characters, I also loved the realistic representation of the Muslim community.  Janna’s community is close-knit and supportive, with everyone pitching in and helping wherever they can.  I loved the positive depiction, which is so important these days when there are those who constantly try to demonize Muslims.  Ali does a wonderful job of illustrating that the Muslim community is just like almost every community out there, and she does it in a realistic way.  Yes, the community is positive overall and filled with caring people, but also like any other community out there, it has its issues as well, in this case the issue being Farooq.

Diversity.  Saints and Misfits is overflowing with diversity in the most wonderful way.  As I’ve already mentioned, the novel is set in a Muslim community and most of the main characters are Muslim, with both Hijabis and Niqabis being represented.  On a side note, while I’m thinking about the different types of coverings that can be worn, one of the things I really loved about the book was how Ali illustrates that just like with any other religion, different people interpret the Quran in different ways and thus their practice of the religion is very individualized. Just like not all Christians are the same, not all Muslims are the same either.

But the diversity doesn’t end there.  In addition to being Muslim, Janna is also half-Egyptian and half-Indian. Mr. Ram, the neighbor Janna cares for, is Hindu, and Ms. Kolbinsky, another elderly neighbor (who happens to have a crush on Mr. Ram!) is newly arrived from Poland.

 

DISLIKES

That it’s over?  Seriously. I adored Janna and her friends so much and would definitely be up for reading more about them, especially some of the characters that we just barely scratched the surface on. I’d totally be up for a standalone book on Sausun, Nuah, or even Janna’s brother Muhammad.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Saints and Misfits is an important novel because of the themes it explores and because of its realistic depiction of a Muslim community.  What makes this book even more special though is that it’s not just an important read, it’s a beautifully written and engaging read as well, one of my favorites of the year so far.

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly this week about books that should be made into TV shows and Saints and Misfits was one of the books on the list.  I actually really hope it happens because I think it with such a diverse and vibrant cast of characters, it would make for a very entertaining show.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

Thanks so much to S.K. Ali, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and Netgalley for the opportunity to preview this book.

five-stars

About S.K. Ali

S.K. Ali is a teacher based in Toronto whose writing on Muslim culture and life has appeared in the Toronto Star. Her family of Muslim scholars is consistently listed in the The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and her insight into Muslim culture is both personal and far-reaching. A mother of a teenage daughter herself, S.K. Ali’s debut YA novel is a beautiful and nuanced story about a young woman exploring her identity through friendship, family, and faith.