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Review: GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring Blake

Review:  GIRL MADE OF STARS by Ashley Herring BlakeGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: How to Make a Wish
five-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 15, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

MY REVIEW:

Ashley Herring Blake is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  She has such a gift for handling very difficult topics with sensitivity and grace.  I didn’t think she could top How to Make a Wish, which was one of my favorite reads last year, but she has outdone herself with her beautifully written and heartbreaking latest, Girl Made of Stars. 

It’s not just a well-crafted story either. Girl Made of Stars is also an incredibly relevant and timely story, hitting the shelves in the midst of the #MeToo movement on social media that is calling out sexual predators and finally holding them accountable for their actions.

Girl Made of Stars follows the journey of Mara, high school student and founder of the feminist school publication, Empower.  Mara has very strong convictions about giving a voice to those who wouldn’t normally have one, but when she finds herself caught in the middle of an impossible situation, her whole belief system is turned on its head and she doesn’t know what to do.

Her twin brother Owen is accused of rape by his girlfriend, Hannah, who also happens to be one of Mara’s best friends.  Mara doesn’t want to believe that her beloved brother could be capable of such a heinous act, but Mara also doesn’t believe that Hannah would lie about such a thing so she just feels so lost and confused.

It also doesn’t help Mara’s state of mind that her own personal life feels like such a mess.  She and Charlie, her best friend since they were kids, tried to take their relationship in a romantic direction and things didn’t go well.  Now everything is awkward between them and Mara doesn’t know what to do about that either.

Girl Made of Stars follows Mara as she tries to make sense of all of the things that are happening in her life and as she tries to confront demons from her own past that are holding her back.

 

This is one of those books where I feel like I’m going to ramble and ramble and never quite do justice to just what a gorgeous and well-crafted story it really is.

One of the standout moments of the book is how the author sets the stage.  The book opens with Mara and her twin brother Owen lying outside on a flat roof, gazing up at the stars, and reciting a story they made up when they were kids about some of the constellations.  It’s this perfect portrait of innocence and because it seems so innocent and pure, it’s all the more shocking and hard to believe that just a few pages later, Mara’s brother will be accused of rape.  Those two images are just so jarring and hard to reconcile.

I also loved that the story comes to us from Mara’s perspective.  That way we don’t actually see the rape but instead, we learn of it the same way Mara does and have to make up our minds using the same evidence Mara does.

Speaking of Mara, I thought she was just such a loveable main character.  I love that she founded a feminist publication and used it to stand up for what she believed in.  I also spent those early pages ooh’ing and ahh’ing about how sweet her relationship with her sibling was so I became super invested in her once I read what her brother was being accused of because I knew it would tear her up inside.  Mara has to face some tough facts in this story and I was right there with her every step of the way as she begins to watch her brother more closely at school and with his friends.  She begins to see the possibility that just because he’s her brother and she loves him more than life, there is still the possibility that he could be guilty of what he’s accused of doing.

And then to complicate what Mara is feeling even further, there’s Hannah to consider.  Hannah is precious and I loved her just as much as I loved Mara. Hannah is this kind, free-spirited, hippie type and she is absolutely adorable.  That and she’s also head over heels in love with Owen.  When we first meet them at a party, it’s almost nauseating how cute they are with each other.  Her obvious love for Owen makes it all the more shocking that she later accuses him of forcing himself on her.  At the same time, though, it lends that much more credibility to her story.  If she loves him so much, what would be her motivation to accuse him of something so awful?   It becomes so easy to see why Mara is so lost and confused and it made me all the more sympathetic to her as she tries to decide where her loyalties should lie.

In addition to the story of Hannah and Owen, which dominates much of the book, I also really liked the Mara/Charlie storyline that threaded its way through the narrative.  I loved Charlie right away.  Charlie is gender queer and is still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but uses music as a way to work through it.  I kind of wanted to knock Mara upside the head for nearly messing up her relationship with Charlie and really wanted her to figure things out so that she could have at least one good thing happening in her life.

Have Your Tissues Handy.  This is a book where I felt so invested in all of the characters that I ended up in tears several times while I was reading.  I shed tears for Hannah, not just because of what happened to her but also because of how she was treated by Owen’s friends and others when she returned to school.  Blake effectively exposes the ugliness and unfairness of victim blaming and Hannah’s experience serves as a stark and heartbreaking reminder of why so few rape victims come forward and report the crimes.

I didn’t just cry for Hannah though.  I also cried for Mara as well.  I cried for the impossible situation that she finds herself in, torn between her best friend and her brother.  Not only is Mara’s whole world torn apart because she’s caught in the middle, but the whole experience serves as a trigger for Mara, reminding her of a traumatic event from her own past that has haunted her for years.

And lastly, I shed tears for the relationship between Mara and her brother.  Bottom line, whether Owen is innocent or guilty, their relationship is forever changed.   Those twins who would lie outside, look up at the stars, and make up stories about them are no more.  The innocence is lost and there’s no way to get it back.  Will they ever be close again?  Where do they go from here?  It’s heartbreaking to see that Mara could lose the person she has been closest to all her life.

 

I love when a book is so good that I have to leave this section blank.

 

I’ve been somewhat stingy with 5 star ratings this year, but I say without hesitation, that Girl Made of Stars is a 5-star read all the way.  It’s a heart-wrenching read that tackles difficult subjects with sensitivity and understanding. I guarantee it will move you.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“I need Owen to explain this. Because yes, I do know that Owen would never do that, but I also know Hannah would never lie about something like that.”

Mara and Owen are about as close as twins can get. So when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can the brother she loves really be guilty of such a violent crime? Torn between the family she loves and her own sense of right and wrong, Mara is feeling lost, and it doesn’t help that things have been strained with her ex and best friend since childhood, Charlie.

As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie navigate this new terrain, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits in her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.

five-stars

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels SUFFER LOVE and HOW TO MAKE A WISH.

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
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.

ARC Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

ARC Review: How to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring BlakeHow to Make a Wish by Ashley Herring Blake
Also by this author: Girl Made of Stars
four-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: the Publisher
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:  All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

MY REVIEW

How to Make a Wish is a beautifully written heartfelt story that follows the journey of seventeen year old Grace Glasser as she tries to follow her dreams in spite of the many obstacles placed in her path.  Grace’s dream is to move to New York City after graduation and study piano at the Manhattan School of Music. Cost is, of course, an obstacle, so Grace is counting on performing well enough at her upcoming audition to not only be accepted to the school but also to secure a scholarship.   Grace is a gifted pianist so this is well within the realm of possibility.  The biggest obstacle standing in Grace’s way, however, is actually her mother.  Grace’s mother, Maggie, lost her husband when Grace was just a toddler and has never been able to put the pieces of her life back together.  She has no sense of responsibility whatsoever and basically flits from man to man, moving in with them at the drop of a hat, and dragging Grace along with her.  Because Maggie is so unreliable, the roles in the Glasser household have ultimately become reversed, with Grace acting more like the parent and Maggie acting like the boy crazy irresponsible teen.

When the story opens, Grace has just come back from a two-week music camp and learns that in just those couple of weeks she was gone, Maggie has met yet another man and has packed up everything they own and moved in with him.  As if that wasn’t awkward enough, the man has a teenage son – a teenage son who happens to also be one of Grace’s ex-boyfriends.  Her mother is completely oblivious as to how awkward that’s going to be and pretty much tells Grace that she needs to suck it up because this guy could be “the one.”  As much as Grace wants nothing more than to move out and start living her own life, she’s also terrified of what’s going to happen to her mother if she leaves her alone.

One afternoon Grace is out walking on the beach, thinking about how complicated and messed up her relationship with her mother is, and she comes across Eva, a teenage girl about her own age crying on the beach.  Eva is grieving over the loss of her mother, who has just recently passed away. She has come to Grace’s town to live with her legal guardian and is feeling lost and alone.  She and Grace connect immediately and a beautiful friendship and maybe even a little something more develops between them.  The rest of the novel explores their growing relationship, while at the same time, highlighting the messy relationship between Grace and her mom and how it truly infiltrates every aspect of Grace’s life.  Can Grace break free from her mom’s hold on her so that she can follow her dreams?

LIKES

Grace:   Grace is such a complex character and I loved following her as she navigates her way through the obstacles that she encounters throughout the novel.  She’s strong and she’s mature beyond her years because of the situation with her mother, but she’s also simultaneously vulnerable for the same reason.  It’s almost like she has grown up without a mom or a dad even though her mom is right there.  My heart broke for Grace so many times along the way, especially early on when she learns that her mother sold her piano. As a mother, I seriously wanted to grab Maggie and shake her. I mean, seriously, you know your daughter’s main passion in life is music and you also know she has a major audition coming up to get into the school of her dreams and you decide that selling her piano while she’s out of town is a good choice?  What kind of parent does that?

That said, there were moments when Grace frustrated me too though. Most of the time I just wanted Grace to pack her bags and move out because the vibe I was getting from Maggie was that even if Grace didn’t pursue her musical dreams and instead stayed home to play the responsible one and keep her mom out of trouble for the rest of her life, Maggie wouldn’t even appreciate Grace’s sacrifice.  As frustrated as I was, however, I understood why Grace was so conflicted about it.  Maggie is all Grace has in terms of family, so if she walks out on her, she has no one left.  It’s an impossible situation.

Grace’s Relationship with Eva:  This relationship was my favorite part of How to Make a Wish.    Their moments together are just so lovely, sweet, and pure in comparison to the drama that makes up the rest of their lives.  They are the calm in each other’s storm.  I loved their quiet adventures sneaking out late at night and climbing up the local lighthouse together, the stolen moments when Eva would sneak into Grace’s room through the bedroom window whenever she couldn’t sleep, and even their silly moments together snacking on peanut butter straight out of the jar.  As messed up as Grace’s life is because of her mother and as sad as Eva is because of her loss, this relationship cuts through all of that heartache and brings hope for a happy ending with it.

Luca:  Luca is Grace’s best friend and he is seriously the most precious friend a person could have.  He’s loyal to a fault, funny as hell, and just so supportive when it comes to Grace.  He and his mom, Emmy, are really the closest thing to a family Grace has ever had and they would take her into their home in a heartbeat if she ever decided to leave her mom and the drama behind.

Diversity:  Author Ashley Herring Blake does a wonderful job with diversity in How to Make a Wish. Eva is biracial and she also likes girls, while Grace is bisexual.  Blake’s characters are realistically portrayed and do not feel like stereotypes at all. Not only is the growing relationship between Grace and Eva beautifully portrayed, but I also loved how everyone around them readily accepted their attraction to one another and supported them wholeheartedly, no questions asked.   Grace’s mother was completely clueless that her daughter was bisexual, even though Grace had told her before, but this was more a case of Maggie being too wrapped up in Maggie to pay attention to what Grace was saying than her being negative about it.  Once she took a moment to focus on her daughter instead of herself, she got right on board with it too.

DISLIKES

Maggie:  I guess it’s obvious that I didn’t care for Maggie for much of the novel, but even though I didn’t like her, I still think Blake did a marvelous job of  realistically conveying just how complicated a mother-daughter relationship can be.  She captures Grace’s conflicted feelings towards her mom in a way that I think we can all relate to.  No matter how bad things get – how many of Grace’s birthdays Maggie forgets, no matter how many strange guys she brings home, no matter what — Grace still remembers little moments when things were good between her and her mom, like painting their nails together and sitting and talking about wishes. There’s always that hope in the back of Grace’s mind that things will get better and so she gives her mom chance after chance after chance to step up and act like a mother.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think How to Make a Wish would make the perfect summer read for someone who is looking for a romance but who also likes a story with some layers to it.  The relationship between Grace and Eva by itself made this book worth reading, but I really loved the depth that the mother-daughter relationship added to the overall story.  That dynamic really made the story resonate with me all the more.

RATING:  4 stars

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way impacts my opinion of the book.

 

four-stars

About Ashley Herring Blake

Ashley Herring Blake is a reader, writer, and mom to two boisterous boys. She holds a Master’s degree in teaching and loves coffee, arranging her books by color, and watching Buffy over and over again on Netflix with her friends. She’s the author of the young adult novels SUFFER LOVE and HOW TO MAKE A WISH.