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Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIERed, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on May 14, 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
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:

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends...

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

Review:

Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue is honestly the romance book I didn’t know I needed in my life until I started reading it.  I was looking for a light, fluffy, and fun read when I requested this one and it was exactly what I was hoping for.   When I started reading, I realized Red, White & Royal Blue pretty much has all my favorite things all rolled into one story. There’s a generous helping of enemies to friends to lovers, fake relationships, and sassy but supportive friends and family, with a side of politics and royals thrown in for good measure.  It was truly the perfect recipe for a book that I devoured in just over a day.

I absolutely loved the premise of having Alex Claremont-Diaz, the First Son of the United States, fall in love with Prince Henry of Wales.  It just immediately opened the door for so many entertaining possibilities, from the romance itself, to the media frenzy it was sure to generate, and to the potential political fallout it could create on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  The premise was made even better by the fact that both Alex and Henry were just the two most precious young men on the planet.  Alex is hilarious, while Henry is soft, but put them together and their banter is full of wit and snark, and just flat out adorable.  I felt like I was either smiling or laughing out loud every time the two of them would text or call each other.  The sexual tension between them is also off the charts, even when they’re trying to hate on each other.

There’s also a more serious side to the story as Alex is still figuring out his sexual identity to a degree and as he and Henry worry about what they’re coming out as gay would mean for their families from a political standpoint.  A subplot of the story has Alex’s mother as the first female President of the United States (Can I live in this alternate reality please?!) and she’s up for reelection this year, while Henry is next in line to take the throne and rule his country.  I liked having these very relevant social and political issues meshed in with the light, fluffy fun.

Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Alex’s sister, June, and his best friend, Nora.  These smart, savvy, hilarious ladies at times really stole the show with all the ways they helped try to facilitate the relationship between Alex and Henry.  They were everything I’d want in a sibling and best friend, and if the author wanted to write more books featuring them, I’d totally read them.  (Hint, hint.)

If you’re looking for a fun and flirty read with a side of political drama, be sure to check out Red, White & Royal Blue.  4.5 STARS

 

 

Mini Reviews: RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIEThere's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
four-half-stars
Series: Dimple & Rishi #2
Published by Simon Pulse on May 14, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Romance
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
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:

The irresistible companion novel to the New York Times bestseller When Dimple Met Rishi, which follows Rishi’s brother, Ashish, and a confident fat athlete named Sweetie as they both discover what love means to them.

Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After being dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Review:

There’s Something About Sweetie is the third book I’ve read from Sandhya Menon, and as with its predecessors, When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love, it left me with a big grin on my face.

I’m a huge fan of the way Menon draws her female characters and Sweetie Nair is no exception. Sweetie is strong, bold, and full of life, and she’s also a talented singer and athlete who’s ready to take on the world.  There’s one obstacle, however, standing in her way…her mother.  Sweetie is overweight, and while her weight doesn’t bother her or her friends, it bothers Sweetie’s mother.  Her mother’s obsession with her weight becomes so emotionally draining for Sweetie, she decides it’s time to implement the Sassy Sweetie Project, where Sweetie is determined to live life to the fullest and do whatever makes her happy.  Sweetie really does love and respect her mother and doesn’t want to hurt her, but ultimately, it’s her life and she has to fight for it.  I really admired her determination to stick up for herself.

Menon does an equally wonderful job with the love interest for Sweetie in this book.  Those familiar with When Dimple Met Rishi will recognize Ashish Patel as Rishi’s younger brother. Ashish is a kind-hearted, soft boy who is in an especially vulnerable spot when the story opens.  His long-time girlfriend has cheated on and dumped him, and he’s so down on himself that he can barely function.  In fact, he’s so off his game and desperate, that he resorts to recruiting his parents’ help in finding him someone to date, and it’s his parents who bring Sweetie into his life.  I love the journey that Sweetie and Ashish begin together. They each have something to prove and I loved how supportive they were to each other and I spent many pages hoping Sweetie would be able to get her mother to back off so she and Ashish could have a chance at a happy ending.

There’s Something About Sweetie is a wonderful read for anyone who enjoys charming romance novels filled with lovable characters, supportive friend groups, and sometimes awkward family dynamics.  This is also a wonderfully diverse read in that both main characters are Indian American and several of their dates actually focus on learning more about their culture and embracing it.  I’d also recommend There’s Something About Sweetie to anyone looking for a book that has a strong focus on self-love and body positivity.  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Casey McQuiston

Casey McQuiston grew up in the swamps of Southern Louisiana, where she cultivated an abiding love for honey butter biscuits and stories with big, beating hearts. She studied journalism and worked in magazine publishing for years before returning to her first love: joyous, offbeat romantic comedies and escapist fiction. She now lives in the mountains of Fort Collins, Colorado, with a collection of caftans and her poodle mix, Pepper.

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of When Dimple Met Rishi, From Twinkle, With Love, and There’s Something About Sweetie. A full-time dog servant and part-time writer, she makes her home in the foggy mountains of Colorado.

Review: LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira Ahmed

Review:  LOVE, HATE & OTHER FILTERS by Samira AhmedLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
four-stars
Published by Soho Teen on January 16th 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 281
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Samira Ahmed’s debut novel Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a powerful coming of age story about a young woman caught between wanting to follow her dreams wherever they may take her, but also not wanting to disappoint her parents who have their own hopes and dreams for her.  Indian American teen Maya Aziz is a seventeen-year-old high school senior with a mad passion for filmmaking.  It’s her dream to move to New York and study film making at NYU.  Film making and boys (specifically her longtime crush, Phil) are pretty much all Maya ever thinks about.  Unfortunately, Maya’s passions are at odds with what her parents want for her, which is to go to college close to home and study something practical like medicine or law, and then settle down with a suitable Indian husband.  Love, Hate, and Other Filters follows Maya as she tries to navigate the many obstacles that are in the way of her getting what she wants most.

Then, as if Maya’s personal life wasn’t filled with enough obstacles, her life is completely thrown into turmoil when there is a terrorist attack in her state’s capital, just a few hundred miles away from her home.  The prime suspect in the attack shares the same last name as Maya and even though she and her family have lived in the same community for all of Maya’s life, they suddenly become targets of those around her who are consumed by fear, hatred, and bigotry.  The Islamophobia is so rampant that Maya’s parents become even more determined that Maya go to college as close to home as possible.

Is there any way Maya can convince her parents to let her go away to NYC for school?  Does she have any chance of being with Phil who is starting to finally show some interest in Maya as well, even though he is neither Muslim nor Indian?  Can Maya find the strength to confront her parents so that her dreams aren’t sacrificed because of their fears?

Maya was definitely my favorite part of Love, Hate, and Other Filters.  She’s such a likable teen and I loved her passion for film making and all of her references to classic films that she loves.  I especially liked the way she often looked at scenes unfolding around her in the real world, imagining how she might create a film from them.  I thought that made for such a fun and unique perspective.  I also liked that Maya is independent and a bit sassy at times, even though she still wants to be a good daughter and not upset her parents.  Sometimes she can be a bit rude to them when they keep trying to push their own agenda when it comes to her future, but even though I would sometimes cringe at her comments, I still admired her for trying to stand her ground with them.

I also really enjoyed the secondary characters such as Phil, Maya’s longtime crush.  He’s just a super sweet guy and I enjoyed all of his interactions with Maya.  The scenes where he teaches her to swim were some of my favorites in the book.  So fluffy and sweet!

My favorite secondary character was actually Maya’s aunt, Hina.  Hina is probably Maya’s biggest role model and is proof that there is more to life than just doing what your parents want you to do.  Hina is unmarried, living on her own in the city, and she’s a very successful graphic designer.  She is one of Maya’s biggest supporters when it comes to following her own dreams and offers to run interference on more than one occasion when Maya is having a particularly difficult time communicating with her parents. I adored Hina so much. Heck, I’d love a whole book just devoted to Hina and her life. She was fantastic!

Another great secondary character was Maya’s best friend, Violet.  There wasn’t nearly enough of her in the book, but what was there was wonderful because she and Maya have such a strong bond.  I love books that feature strong female friendships.

In addition to loving all of these characters and how they fit into Maya’s coming of age journey, I also liked that this book was so much more than just a simple coming of age story.  It’s also an important book that tackles the very relevant topic of Islamophobia and how Muslims are so unfairly targeted by people who can’t get past their fear, hatred, and bigotry.  I felt so awful for Maya and her family and for anyone else in the world who experiences anything like what they went through in this book.  Seeing from Maya’s perspective all of the fears that she has for her loved ones because of the way Muslims are unfairly targeted packed such an emotional punch and it made me all the more angry that our President continues to push his hateful Muslim ban.

I have to admit that I was torn about how much focus there was on romance in this story.  Those who read my reviews know I almost always whine about romance taking over the plot of books that have so much else going on in them, and that was my issue here as well.  Don’t get me wrong – I loved Phil and I thought he and Maya were super sweet together, but there were several times throughout the book where it felt like Maya was more interested in boys than she was in her film making.  That’s fine – people are allowed to be interested in whoever or whatever they want to, but at the same time, I thought she was kind of at that point where she really needed to pick and choose her battles with her parents carefully since there was a good chance she would not win them all.  What does she want more – a non-Indian boyfriend or the chance to go away to NYC for college?  It didn’t really make me enjoy the story any less, but it did have me shaking my head a couple time and saying “Keep your eye on the prize, Maya!”

I also wish there had been a little more emphasis on the fact that Maya and her family are Muslim.  There were a lot of wonderful details about their Indian culture and customs and especially about their delicious foods, but there wasn’t much mention at all about their religious beliefs and how those beliefs figured into their day-to-day lives.  I obviously still enjoyed the story even without it, but especially since the book’s synopsis even emphasizes that the main character is Muslim, I think a little more focus on what their religion is like, would have just really rounded out the story well and would have pushed it closer to a five-star rating from me.

Samira Ahmed’s Love, Hate, and Other Filters is a coming of age story that I think many young adults will be able to relate to on a personal level.  Being torn between wanting to follow your own dreams while at the same time, not wanting to disappoint your parents is a pretty universal journey that most of us take.  Ahmed takes her story to another level by also tackling tough and all too relevant issues like Islamophobia that can make this journey even more difficult for teens like Maya.  If you’re in the mood for a read that is both light and fluffy, yet also powerful and hard hitting, I’d definitely recommend Love, Hate, and Other Filters.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape–perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

American-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

four-stars

About Samira Ahmed

SAMIRA AHMED was born in Bombay, India, and grew up in Batavia, Illinois, in a house that smelled like fried onions, spices, and potpourri. She currently resides in the Midwest. She’s lived in Vermont, New York City, and Kauai, where she spent a year searching for the perfect mango.

A graduate of the University of Chicago, she taught high school English for seven years, worked to create over 70 small high schools in New York City, and fought to secure billions of additional dollars to fairly fund public schools throughout New York State. She’s appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Fox News, NBC, NY1, NPR, and on BBC Radio. Her creative non-fiction and poetry has appeared in Jaggery Lit, Entropy, the Fem, and Claudius Speaks.

Her writing is represented by Eric Smith of P.S. Literary.

Book Review: A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard

Book Review:  A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara BarnardA Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
Also by this author: Goodbye, Perfect
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on January 9th 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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.

MY REVIEW:

I know we’re only halfway through January, but I have a strong feeling that Sara Barnard’s A Quiet Kind of Thunder has already secured itself a place on my Best of 2018 list.  It’s one of the most gorgeous contemporary stories I’ve read in a long time and I don’t know that I’ve ever related to a main character more than I related to Steffi Brons.

Steffi is a high school student who was diagnosed with selective mutism as a young child and who has lived with social anxiety and chronic shyness all her life.  What this means for Steffi is that, for most of her life, it has been nearly impossible for her to effectively communicate verbally with pretty much anyone outside of her immediate family.  And because there were even times when she had trouble verbally communicating with her family, she and every member of her family learned how to use sign language as a workaround.

About the only non-family member Steffi is able to easily communicate with is her best friend, Tem.  Steffi and Tem have known each other since they were toddlers, and in many ways, Tem has acted as somewhat of an interpreter in social settings such as school over the years when Steffi has just not been able to get the words out on her own.  Up until this year, that is.  Tem ends up transferring to a new school, and Steffi is on her own.  With the help of her therapist, however, Steffi begins taking some new medication and also starts making plans to slowly but surely challenge herself to better cope with her anxiety and shyness.

Enter Rhys Gold, the new boy in school.  Rhys is deaf and has transferred to Steffi’s school, and since Steffi is the only student at the school who knows sign language, their teachers decide it would be a great idea to pair them up so that Steffi can help Rhys get acclimated to his new environment.  Because Rhys can’t hear, it doesn’t matter to him that Steffi usually cannot speak.  They find plenty of other ways to communicate that don’t involve speaking and form a fast friendship that quickly turns into something more.

With so many changes going on in her life, Steffi starts to have a lot of questions:  Can she ever overcome her anxiety and go out and live a normal life? Can she go off to college and live away from her parents?  If there’s an emergency, would she be able to cope with her crippling shyness enough to get help?  And then there are the matters of the heart – is she really falling for Rhys or does she think she is because the relationship is easy because no speaking is necessary?  And finally, after all of these years of living this way, if Steffi is able to overcome her anxiety, will she even know who she is anymore?  Will she recognize herself?

This is one of those books where there’s so much to love.  It has wonderfully-drawn, realistic main characters in both Steffi and Rhys.  I fell in love with both of them immediately – Steffi, because I could relate to her crippling shyness and social anxiety as those are issues I’ve dealt with all my life as well, and Rhys, because he’s charming and friendly, and I loved that he left his deaf school because he wanted to challenge himself in an environment where everyone around him was not hearing-impaired.

I especially related to Steffi because of her determination to challenge herself a little at a time to better cope with her anxiety. I remember doing similar things when I was in school, challenging myself to raise my hand and answer questions in class, etc.  Watching Steffi in many ways was like reliving many of my own school experiences so of course I was cheering her on every step of the way.   I don’t think I’ve ever seen myself in a character as much as I see myself in Steffi.

In addition to having these two amazing main characters, I also loved the focus on friendships and family that Barnard presents in A Quiet Kind of Thunder.  I absolutely adored the friendship between Steffi and Tem.  Tem is a fabulously well-developed character in her own right, but what I loved most about her was that she just “gets” Steffi. She accepts her exactly the way she is and supports her in every way that she can.  I loved how realistic the friendship felt, especially when it came to some of their heart-to-heart conversations.  Their conversations are honest and intimate and were conversations that I could totally imagine myself having with my best friend when I was that age.

The family support that we see in A Quiet Kind of Thunder is wonderful too. So many times we see parents that are oblivious to what is going on in their teen’s lives or they are unsupportive.  Thankfully, not in this case.  Yes, Steffi’s parents are of course concerned about her and are apprehensive about the idea that someday she will move out and go away to college.  They’ve known her all her life and have seen firsthand just how crippling the anxiety has been for Steffi.  But, that said, they have also done everything parents can possibly do to get her, not only the professional help that she needs to cope with it, but also the support at home.  And we see the same kind of support at Rhys’ house, with his parents being on board with the idea of him challenging himself at a mainstream high school, etc.  It just made for a nice reading experience to actually like all of the parents that were in the story for a change.

I could probably write for days about everything I loved about this book, but I’ll wrap up by talking a little about the diversity and the portrayal of mental illnesses and disabilities.  One of Barnard’s main characters has selective mutism and severe anxiety, while the other is hearing impaired and also happens to be bi-racial.  Tem is a POC as well.  I thought Barnard did a beautiful job of writing a book with a diverse cast of characters without making it feel like she was just checking off boxes.

I also thought she handled the selective mutism, the social anxiety, and the deafness in a well-informed and respectful way.  I felt like I learned a lot about all of them, and I loved the book’s positive message that even with any of these conditions, you can still live a productive and meaningful life, and not only that, but yes, you can find love.

Speaking of love, I’ll admit I got a little worried that the book’s message would be that having a boyfriend is somehow a magic cure-all for anxiety.  Thankfully, A Quiet Kind of Thunder does nearly the opposite.  Steffi clearly acknowledges throughout the story that she is probably doing as well as she is with her anxiety because of the new meds.  There never comes a time when she attributes it to having a love life.  So no worries at all on that front.

When I first started reading, I thought I was going to have an issue with the romance between Rhys and Steffi because it definitely had an insta-love feel to it at first. I was able to get past that, however, because Barnard takes the time to have her characters explore the same questions I was asking about how they really do feel about each other:  Do they like each other because they really feel like they have a connection or do they like each other because it’s convenient?  Is Rhys only hanging out with Steffi because she’s the only one at the school who knows sign language?  And is Steffi hanging out with Rhys because she can use sign language rather than actually having to speak?  As soon as Steffi and Rhys started thinking about their own connection in these terms and started working through their own doubts, I was much more comfortable with their relationship moving forward since it added an extra layer of depth to all of the initial fluffiness.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written coming of age story that also includes a little romance in addition to tackling more serious issues like mental health, I’d highly recommend A Quiet Kind of Thunder.  It’s an engaging and moving read that is sure to put a smile on your face.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A girl who can’t speak and a boy who can’t hear go on a journey of self-discovery and find support with each other in this gripping, emotionally resonant novel from bestselling author Sara Barnard. Perfect for fans of Morgan Matson and Jandy Nelson.

Steffi doesn’t talk, but she has so much to say.

Rhys can’t hear, but he can listen.

Steffi has been a selective mute for most of her life. The condition’s name has always felt ironic to her, because she certainly does not “select” not to speak. In fact, she would give anything to be able to speak as easily and often as everyone around her can. She suffers from crippling anxiety, and uncontrollably, in most situations simply can’t open her mouth to get out the words.

Steffi’s been silent for so long that she feels completely invisible. But Rhys, the new boy at school, sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language means that she’s assigned to help him acclimate. To Rhys, it doesn’t matter that Steffi doesn’t talk. As they find ways to communicate, Steffi discovers that she does have a voice, and that she’s falling in love with the one person who makes her feel brave enough to use it. But as she starts to overcome a lifelong challenge, she’ll soon confront questions about the nature of her own identity and the very essence of what it is to know another person.

four-half-stars

About Sara Barnard

Sara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Email: info@sarabarnardofficial.com

For promotional enquiries, please contact: Rogers, Coleridge and White

Book Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Book Review:  The Names They Gave Us by Emery LordThe Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord
Also by this author: When We Collided
four-half-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on May 16th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 390
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Emery Lord’s The Names They Gave Us is a book that I was actually a little apprehensive about reading even though I fell in love with her writing when I read When We Collided.  My hesitation this time around was because I had read that this book focuses a lot on religion and faith.  Since I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, I was a little worried the subject matter might put me off.  Thankfully, my worries were unfounded.  Even though faith does play a prominent role in the story, Emery Lord handles it in a way that doesn’t come across as heavy-handed at all.  The Names They Gave Us is essentially a coming of age story and part of the main character’s coming of age journey is to actually question her own faith.

The Names They Gave Us follows Lucy Hansson, a high school student who is also the daughter of a preacher.  Because religion has just always been a part of Lucy’s life, she has always felt secure in her faith and has never questioned it.  That is, until her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.  That diagnosis sets off a chain reaction of events that strips all of the constants out of Lucy’s life.  Her longtime boyfriend Lucas, the boy she fully expects to marry someday, suddenly decides that the two of them should take a break and make sure they really love each other.  Not only that, but Lucy’s mom also decides that instead of Lucy being a counselor at their church camp like she has for every summer for as long as she can remember, she should take a job as a counselor at Daybreak, a local camp for troubled kids.

Lucy is crushed that Lucas would choose now of all times to break up with her and is also completely baffled as to why her mom would not want her to be with them at the church camp.  She is also starting to question her own faith:  After all of their prayers and the prayers of everyone in their congregation, how could her mom’s cancer have possibly come back?  Feeling like her whole world has been turned upside down, but ultimately knowing that she doesn’t want to do anything to upset her mother, Lucy reluctantly agrees to work at Daybreak for the summer.

When she first arrives at Daybreak, Lucy feels overwhelmed and wants nothing more than to be back at the church camp with her parents, but then she eventually starts to make friends – real friends that she actually has things in common with, friends who are also going through or have been through some bad times in their lives.  They provide a support system for Lucy that she has never had before, even with friends from school she thought she was close to – and suddenly things aren’t quite as bad as they first seemed.

Could this be why Lucy’s mom insisted that she go to Daybreak?  Is this Lucy’s mom’s way of making sure her little girl will be okay no matter what happens.  Or is there more to it than that?

 

I really liked Lucy and her family right away.  They’re just good people who fully embrace their faith but who also don’t try to force their beliefs on to others.  I was immediately devastated for them when it was revealed that Lucy’s mom’s cancer had come back.  The family was just getting back on its feet after her first battle with it, and now it sends them all reeling again.

Lucy was so easy to root for her not just because she was likable, but also because her emotions and fears, and those questions that just kept running through her mind felt so real.  Emery Lord does a very nice job of getting inside the mind of someone who is having a crisis of faith and possibly facing the loss of a loved one.  It was often heart-wrenching to read, but the portrayal felt very authentic.

I also loved that Lucy keeps an open mind about going to Daybreak and that her character undergoes tremendous growth during her stay there.  The counselors and the children who come there are a diverse group and, as such, Lucy meets a lot of people there who are very different from her and from anyone else she has ever known.  She doesn’t shy away from them or judge them at all though.  She meets a lesbian and a transgender counselor, for example, and she’s very open to asking any questions she has about their experiences.  She just genuinely wants to know everything about them and does so without trying to push any of her own beliefs on to them.

The beautiful friendships Lucy makes with her fellow counselors at Daybreak are one of my absolute favorite parts of The Names They Gave Us.  Each counselor has their own issues to deal with, whether it’s severe anxiety, abuse, or something else, but they come to camp and set aside those issues and try to help other kids who may be going through similar hard times.  Because the kids they counsel are often having such a rough go of things, they are not allowed to show any signs of their own issues while around them.  The counselors therefore lean on each other for support behind closed doors and, over their many years of working together, have become a very tight-knit group of friends.  And even though Lucy is the new girl and they know nothing about her, they still welcome her in with open arms.  Once she gets to know them and sees how much they truly are there for each other, Lucy slowly starts to realize that she doesn’t have to carry her burdens alone, that her friends will be there to support her.

This theme of the importance of friendship was what resonated with me most, as did the idea that it’s perfectly okay to question your own faith and beliefs from time to time.  It’s all just a normal part of that journey to find yourself and figure out your place in the world.

 

The only real issue I had with The Names They Gave Us is with the way Emery Lord left one important aspect of the story unresolved.  I don’t want to give away the ending so I’m going to be a little vague here.  I know this is Lucy’s story and that I should be satisfied knowing that she’ll be okay no matter what happens, but I still wanted to know how everything was going to turn out for her family.  I guess maybe I got a little too invested in the Hansson family but the characters were just so beautifully drawn that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them all.

 

With its focus on heavy topics such as cancer and religion, The Names They gave Us is not what I would consider to be a light contemporary read.  It is a beautiful read though and one I would highly recommend if you’re into books that focus on love, friendship, family, and faith.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

four-half-stars

About Emery Lord

Hi! I’m Emery. I’m the author of four novels about teenage girls:  OPEN ROAD SUMMER, THE START OF ME & YOU, WHEN WE COLLIDED, and THE NAMES THEY GAVE US.  I was born near a harbor on the East coast and raised near a beach, an ocean, a great lake, and the Ohio River. I’m a longtime Cincinnatian, where we love good beer, good music, and our public library.   I’m married to a scientist who shuts down every wedding dance floor, and we are owned by two rescue dogs.  I believe in the magic of storytelling, Ferris wheels, and you.” – Emery Load, in her own words

ARC Review – Piper Perish

ARC Review – Piper PerishPiper Perish by Kayla Cagan
three-half-stars
Published by Chronicle Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Netgalley
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:  Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and into art school in New York City, the better. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out. But is she brave enough to seize that power, even if it means giving up what she’s always known?

Debut author Kayla Cagan breathes new life into fiction in this ridiculously compelling, utterly authentic work featuring interior art from Rookie magazine illustrator Maria Ines Gul. Piper will have readers asking big questions along with her. What is love? What is friendship? What is family? What is home? And who is a person when she’s missing any one of these things?

* * * * *

 

My Review:

Kayla Cagan’s debut novel, Piper Perish, is what I would consider to be a coming of age story.  It follows high school senior and artist Piper Perish and her best friends, Kit and Enzo, also artists, as they navigate the trials and tribulations of that final year of high school and prepare for what comes next.  As the novel opens, we’re already at the halfway point of their senior year, and we learn that Piper, Kit, and Enzo have devised a plan where they will all leave Texas after graduation and move to New York City to attend art school together.  While it sounds like a fantastic plan in theory, it leaves a lot to chance.  What if they don’t all get into the schools they apply to? Will they be able to afford it, etc.?  All of the ‘What ifs’ weigh heavily on Piper’s mind throughout the novel because moving to New York to study art has always been her dream. She doesn’t know how she’ll cope if things don’t go according to their plan.  I know it sounds like a heavy read at first glance, but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually quite fun.  The bright, artsy cover was what initially caught my eye and,  after reading the synopsis, I picked it up because I was looking for a light contemporary read to offset all of the heavy dystopian fiction I’ve been reading lately and it sounded like Piper Perish would fit the bill.

What I Enjoyed:

I’d have to say that Piper herself is probably my favorite part of the book.  Piper’s passion for art, her obsession with artist Andy Warhol (She’s totally a ‘What Would Andy Do?’ kind of girl), her quirky flair for fashion, among other things, just make her someone that you wish you knew and could just hang out with.  Written in the form of a diary, the novel really lets us inside Piper’s head and heart as she pours all of her thoughts, dreams, and frustrations, into her diary. I thought Cagan did a tremendous job of creating an authentic high school experience and in giving Piper an equally authentic and vibrant teenage girl voice.  As I read Piper’s thoughts, I was transported back to my own high school senior year and could vividly remember going through so many of the same experiences.  Piper is a very relatable character precisely because she does represent so many things that we all went through in high school:  the dreams, the worrying, the self-doubt, and so on. I found myself starting to care about her from that very first page and really wanting her to push through all of the obstacles standing in her way so that her dreams could become a reality.

What I especially liked about Piper was watching her really grow up and mature throughout the second half of her senior year.  She is definitely not the same girl at the end of the novel that she is when we first meet her. Yes, she’s still quirky, fun, and lives and breathes art, but she’s also braver, more willing to stand up for herself and fight for what she wants, and she definitely has a greater sense of who she is and where she belongs.  I really liked the evolution of her character.

Aside from Piper, I also really liked all of the themes that the book covered. In addition to the everyday dramas of high school, it also tackles bigger themes like friendship, family, and love.  Piper spends much of her senior year learning what it means to be a friend through thick and thin as she and her friends each encounter obstacles, some of which put them at odds with each other.  Piper also spends a lot of time reflecting on the different degrees of love as relationships around her evolve and change  – the love of a boyfriend and girlfriend, the love between friends, the love of family members no matter how frustrated you get with them (or in the case of Piper’s sister, Marli, how much they deliberately try to make you miserable).

The discussion of art also fascinated me as I read this book.  I’m about as artistic as a rock, so I loved watching the creative process at work as Piper, Kit, Enzo, and their fellow classmates worked to create their senior projects.  I actually found myself wishing I had a paper copy of the book rather than an e-galley as well because there are little sketches here and there throughout the novel that I’m sure are much cooler in full color.

Anything I Didn’t Like:

I have to say I wasn’t big on the way the book was put together. I did love the first person point of view because I think it really helped me connect with Piper better. The diary style just didn’t really work for me.  It did at first because it really felt like I was reading the diary of a teenage girl, but then it started to feel less like a diary or journal and more just like a standard first person narrative broken up by dates. I never kept a diary or journal myself, but I still just couldn’t imagine that one would contain whole conversations between people quoted verbatim or that it would contain complete emails that Piper was receiving from her friend Silas. I can’t say that it took away from my enjoyment of the story at all, but I did feel like it had me pondering the structure of the book more than I would have liked.

I hate to say it, but I was not a big fan of either Piper’s sister, Marli, or of their parents.  Marli, who has just moved back home because she got pregnant while away at college, spends the bulk of the novel storming around screaming and yelling at anyone and everyone who crosses her path, especially Piper, who seems to be her favorite target.  I found it incredibly frustrating that Piper’s parents basically allowed Marli to verbally abuse Piper on a daily basis and that all of them, including Marli’s baby daddy once he moved in with them, simply tiptoed around her to try to keep the venomous raging to a minimum.  Most of the time their parents just chalked her outrageous behavior up to pregnancy hormones, but every once in a while particularly when Piper was really about to lose it and really go off on Marlie, then they would admit that Marli has been like this her entire life.  My question at this point is then why haven’t her parents done more to get her help – her behavior is clearly not normal.  I’m not a psychologist or a therapist, but it seems like Marli is living her life with an undiagnosed mental illness.  I was sympathetic to Marli in that sense and really wanted something to happen to acknowledge that she was going through some kind of mental health issue. Nothing did though so I ultimately just found her very hard to stomach because as she was presented, she was little more than a constant source of over-the-top drama.

As much as Marli bothered me, I think her parents actually bothered me more — not just because of how they let things go with Marli, but also because they were overall so unsupportive of Piper and her dreams.  Throughout the course of the book, they were probably the biggest obstacle that Piper faced because everything Piper wanted took a back seat to Marli and her drama and then to her parent’s poor planning when it came to their children’s college funds.  If you know your daughter has been dreaming her entire life of moving to New York City to study art, and she is clearly a gifted artist, wouldn’t you be doing everything you possibly can to try to make that dream a reality?  I hate to judge, but I was just very disappointed in their parenting abilities.

One other minor quibble I had with the storyline was how conveniently some obstacles were wrapped up in the closing pages of the book.  I can’t say much without giving away major plot points, but I just thought that what happened to Piper was something that would never happen in real life.  Younger readers will probably love it, but the jaded old lady in me was just like ‘Umm no, that would never happen in real life.’

Who Would I Recommend Piper Perish to?

I would most definitely recommend it to teenagers. It’s a fast and entertaining read, and I think teens will easily related to Piper’s journey.  I honestly can’t decide if this is one of those YA books that translates well for older readers though. I could see some older readers finding it a little over dramatic at times and thinking  “Kid, you think your life is stressful now, wait until you’re out on your own.”

Thanks so much to Netgalley, Chronicle, and Kayla Cagan for allowing me to preview this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Rating:  3.5 Stars
three-half-stars

About Kayla Cagan

Kayla Cagan is from Houston, Texas. Piper Perish is her debut YA novel, with a second novel on the way from Chronicle Books in 2018. Her short plays and monologues have been published by Applause Books and Smith and Kraus. She has also contributed comics and essays to assorted collections, including Girl Crush Zine, Womanthology, and Unite and Take Over: Stories Inspired by the Smiths. Cagan lives with her husband, screenwriter Josh A. Cagan and their dog, chihuahua Banjo L. Cagan, in Los Angeles.