Tag: YA Romance

Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

“All I have are the songs crashing together in my head. They’re all sad. They’re all bitter. And they’re all I have.”

rain-and-a-book-nick-norah-infinite-playlist-cohn-levithanIf you saw my little note on Goodreads, then you know that I was not sure if I was going to review Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. But it occurred to me that not talking about this book on my blog would be highly unfair. Not in recent times has a book moved me so much or, for the lack of a less cliched phrase, filled my lonely, dark, black hole of a heart with so much joy.

Whenever I talk about David Levithan, this is the first book people point me to (although I don’t know why I still pushed it a little far down my list). David Levithan as an author is not just someone I admire and look up to but also someone who has some kind of influence on me. When I read him, there have been times when I’ve felt it’s something I wrote, or if it was something written exclusively for me. I don’t just mean that in the sense that I connect to it or relate to it in a way we do with so many writers. It’s more like his work is like my security blanket. I discovered him last year and although I’d resolved to read only one book each by the authors I chose (in order to increase the number and genres of books I read), I ended up breaking that resolve for Levithan. I think, if I may be so bold to admit it, I’m a little bit in love with him because of his writing.

I had not heard of Nick and Norah before I started reading Levithan, or even the movie of the same name (which is, I hear, quite popular). I was skeptical at first because this is a collaboration project, and I wondered how it would turn out. In the past I’ve tried to get two writers to do collab projects with me, and they both politely declined stating “What if it doesn’t work out” as the reason. Oh well. I’m glad Levithan and Rachel Cohn did not say that to each other. (Speaking of Cohn – I’ve not read any of her works, so reccos are welcome!)

A lot of us are against books with their movie tie-in covers (I still have quite a few in my collection. I generally try not to look at the cover if it bothers me.) But in the case of Nick and Norah, I fell in love with the cover as well. Not that I have any particular liking for Michael Cera or Kat Dennings (I’ve seen way too much Arrested Development and Two Broke Girls for that), but seeing that cover made me feel things that other authors of this genre have failed to. I’m not being partial here. I’ve seen the original cover as well, the one that looks a bit like Eleanor and Park (which still gets credit for being the book through which I eventually discovered Levithan – it was a whole YA trail I had to walk through), and I still like the movie tie-in cover of the edition that I have better.

The story begins with Nick asking Norah to be his girlfriend for five minutes, and her responding with a kiss. They are both avoiding the same person – Nick’s ex Tris. Later, as Norah goes searching for her friend (who’s passed out drunk somewhere), Nick’s friends ask her to take him out for the night, because he has been spending too much time pining for Tris. They promise to drop her friend home safe and sound. And thus begins a very memorable night – for Nick, Norah, and the readers.

The story is intermeshed with music – Nick is a member of a band, he’s written songs for Tris, songs whose lyrics Norah had read even before she knew who Nick was. There are also numerous references to other popular bands (“The Cure. What do they think they’re the cure for? Happiness?”). Even the Acknowledgments page is a playlist. It’s one of the books I danced with, and swayed along with the music. There may be other books with their own “soundtrack” so to speak, but this is the one that transported me to that night. Norah’s indecisiveness regarding whether to give Nick a chance, Nick’s heartbreak that slowly heals during the course of the night – all of it was almost magical to read.

It is difficult to explain why this book made me feel all the things it did (yes, the point of this review should be to explain that, but sometimes words fail), but the main reason, it seems, is that it’s a story about moving on. It’s a story of two healed hearts. It’s a story where things change drastically in one night for the better for two lost, heartbroken people. There, right there, is a story worth reading, a book worth recommending. So go on, mend your broken heart. Find your cure.

The Cure. For the Ex’s? I’m sorry, Nick. You know. Will you kiss me again?

(PS: After reading Nick and Norah, I also read Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by the same authors. There’s a reference to the above quote – a happy reminder of how all these characters are in the same universe, which makes them more real somehow)

Goodreads | Amazon

 

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Sad Girls, by Lang Leav

rainandabook-sadgirls-langleavAt the outset, let me mention I didn’t finish Sad Girls. Let me rephrase that a little bit – I couldn’t finish Sad Girls. I rolled my eyes so many times while reading about the lives of these (terribly sad) girls that I was worried they would fall out of their sockets. At one point, I rolled my eyes so hard that I think saw the edge of my brain!

Some may argue it is unfair to review a book that I abandoned midway. You wouldn’t be wrong – it is unfair. But here are my reasons to go ahead with my thoughts anyway.

To summarize, Sad Girls is the story of Audrey, who lied to her friends about their classmate Ana and the lie spread like fire. Unable to stand the rumours, Ana committed suicide. At the funeral, Audrey meets Ana’s boyfriend, Rad (I tell you, I hate even the names of the characters in this sad book). Audrey and Rad hit it off instantly, and decide to leave the funeral and hang out elsewhere.

All of these people live in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business (to a level that can only be described as creepy). The whole town is now talking about Audrey and Rad (if the hot topic in your town is the whereabouts of two teenagers, you need to move to a better town). They are even talking about it in the grocery store, where Audrey’s mother hears about it. She forbids Audrey from speaking to Rad, but hello, rebellious, angry, mother-resenting teenager at work here. Later, Audrey’s boyfriend (oh, did I not mention that she already has a boyfriend?) gets uncomfortable and tells her not to see Rad again, and she reluctantly agrees. The more she stays away from Rad, the more she misses him, and the more she feels her current boyfriend is “not the right guy for her.”

From a literary standpoint, Sad Girls has way too many issues to even keep a track of. The plot is blah. The dialogues just keep running one after the other. They are inane, the characters drone on and whine on. The language sounds like it was written this way to appeal to the YA crowd, but most YA isn’t written half as badly. Young Adult books aren’t supposed to be stupid; you don’t need to dumb anything down for its audience – but that’s how it is in this excuse of a novel. There are characters in this novel who don’t have much to do. They sit along in the sidelines, mouth a few dialogues, create a bit of drama, cry a few tears, speak a few pretentious profound things, then just vanish. Sad Girls is a literary fiasco.

What bothers me most isn’t the above points though. The literary reasons aren’t why I decided to go ahead with this post in spite of not finishing the book. My biggest problem with this book is how it trivializes things like suicide, panic attacks, anxiety, depression etc. We live in a world that’s finally waking up to the true horrors mental disorders and of late a lot of emphasis is being given on seeking out help and getting the right treatment. As someone who has suffered from depression, I find it most irritating when a book – especially a book whose targeted audience is of the age that’s most vulnerable to these disorders – treats it like it’s a silly thing. Nope. Not done.

This isn’t just me getting triggered either. Lang Leav is a subpar writer with a ridiculously wide reach. Her audience mostly consists of an impressionable crowd – is this the message you want to give them? I mentioned in my review of Lang Leav’s book The Universe of Us that she confuses abuse for love. In some of her other works (I refuse to call it poetry) as well she has glorified sadness and grief. I understand that some good art comes out of pain, but to glorify it? To be so addicted to it? Not a healthy message to send out to the world.

I never had much respect for her (so called) “poetry”. After reading whatever I’ve read of Sad Girls, I have no respect for her fiction either. What I do have is anger and disappointment, but I’m gnashing my teeth and swallowing it for now.

Note: An ARC of this book was available on NetGalley. The opinions expressed here are my own. 

Goodreads | Amazon

The Sun is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

Local Teen Trapped in Parental Vortex of Expectation and Disappointment

28763485Natasha Kingsley is about to be deported. Daniel is on his way to attend an interview to get into Yale, pursue medical studies and become a doctor. Their paths cross thanks to a series of coincidences. Although, no two people could be less alike – one is a science geek, who believes love is just chemicals in the brain and nothing more; the other is a dreamer and a poet (who has absolutely no interest in becoming a doctor). But now that their paths have crossed, how do they spend the one day they have got with each other? Is it just one day, or does Natasha somehow manage to stay in the country? Told from alternating POVs of the main characters, and punctuated by the histories of the sub-characters, we watch this light-hearted story unfold.

My interest in The Sun is Also a Star was piqued because it gave off a distinctly Eleanor & Park vibe when I read the blurb on Goodreads. Now that I’ve read it, I know I was wrong. Aside from the simple fact that both the male protagonists are Korean American, the two stories don’t have anything in common. I’m choosy about YA – either I enjoy the books tremendously or I’m left utterly cold. TSIAAS lies somewhere in between. Of course there were things that I would normally call out as issues – such as the instalove between the two characters, Daniel’s conviction that everything is rosy and poetic (it’s VERY unrealistic – he’s always dreaming!), the fact that despite being blatant opposites, in their individual narratives their voices are strikingly similar. I have to admit though that it’s a cute story. It’s not badly written; by that I mean, while I don’t believe anyone could fall in love with anyone in a day (love is a big word), I didn’t feel as cynical as to not enjoy the book either. It allowed me to suspend my disbelief and as far as books go, that’s not a terrible thing. It’s not a terrible thing at all. So I forgave the instalove and the dreaminess, and I closed my eyes and enjoyed it. Maybe you will too.

Mind you though, it is no Eleanor & Park. It’s a book that’ll get rid of reality for a few hours, in a complacently pleasant way (if that makes sense).

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley/Penguin Random House Children’s Publisher. My review is honest and unbiased.

The Universe of Us, by Lang Leav

We existed in a time before love.

41uk183zjdl-_sx310_bo1204203200_So, I’m back with the review of Lang Leav’s new book, as promised yesterday. I could have written this yesterday, in fact, just chose not to. The page count says 200+, but 1) every alternate page is blank or has an image, 2) every page has only one or two lines. I read it in breaks, but when I finished, I realized I took up approx 55 minutes (give or take 10 minutes) to read it. Let that sink in.

Yesterday, in my review of Faudet’s book, Bitter Sweet Love, I mentioned how his work is rather juvenile and Leav’s work is something that in the past I have considered high school-ish. Given that I read The Universe of Us right after the poorly written Bitter Sweet Love, by comparison, Leav’s book seemed more sophisticated. By comparison.

This is true of the first half. By the second half, the book plunges into all that I feared going in – the childishness, the dullness, the half-bakedness. I know Leav is extremely popular, but what is worrisome is that her audience is mostly young and very impressionable; some of her poetry can be construed as dangerously terrible advice. Her poetry isn’t layered; it doesn’t have a lot of depth – it is all too easy to take it literally. Consider this one for instance: I think love is about being your darkest, most destructive self. To be loved, not in spite of this but because of it. My dear, that is abuse, not love.

Speaking of abuse, Leav’s obsession with love seems almost unhealthy. I have read excerpts of her poetry before, if not the whole books (although, a lot of her poetry in this volume had me thinking “I’ve read this before”. There is, after all, only so many times that stars can collide). The number of metaphors for “love” and “heartbreak” make you drowsy, not like you’re bored, but more like you’re drugged. There is no variety, no casual observation thrown in to break the monotony, nothing. It’s love all around. So syrupy.

While the book was all right for a quick read, while a lot of her words rhymed and everything, while her “poetry” is certainly better than Faudet’s, if someone asked me to recommend a poetry book, I wouldn’t be jumping up with pompoms for Lang Leav.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley. This review is honest and unbiased.

Goodreads | Amazon

Suffer Love, by Ashley Herring Blake

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When it comes to YA Lit, there are simply too many books to choose from nowadays. The numbers are out there, you could pick up whatever you want as long as you’re willing to read. Which I doubt most young adults nowadays are. Keeping this in mind, the next bit might come off as a bit preachy. I have no intentions to offend anyone with my next statement, but here goes nothing:

Shouldn’t young adults be reading better books?

The best books to read as a teenager, pretentious and condescending as this sounds, are classics. No other time in your life will you have the time or the patience to read them, or the wisdom to grasp their underlying textures and not-so-smooth surfaces. On the other hand, what teenagers have nowadays are capsules – swallow with water, forget before you pick up the next one. All YA nowadays fits into either romance or dystopian sci-fi. Think about it – 99% of YA lit can be classified in one way or the other into these two broad categories. Which really isn’t giving the most impressionable age of our lives a good mouthful, is it?

So that was my mini rant against the grim state of YA Lit. I don’t hate all YA. But it feels like kids these days have limited options, despite the numbers. Now, on with the review.

Genre: I was just ranting about YA Lit. So the genre this one fits into, in case you haven’t guessed it yet, definitely isn’t Shakespeare (upcoming pun unintended).

Summary: Hadley St. Clair, a girl with an unusual name and massive daddy issues, has earned quite a reputation at her school. Sam Bennett, a new student, is also from a dysfunctional family, falls for her the moment he sees her, but when he learns her last name, he realizes they can never be together (too melodramatic for a bunch of seventeen year olds, but whatever). He knows something about her that links the two of them together, but he really does not want to reveal the truth. A few months before the occurrences described in the book, Hadley comes home to find a bunch of notes about her father’s affair. No points for guessing with whom he’s having said affair.

Narrative technique: Told from both Hadley as well as Sam’s points of view in alternating chapters. This would have been great, but their narrative voices are almost identical – this results in the reader getting constantly confused about whose dad is involved with whose mom. Not that taking away the infidelity/dysfunctional family will change this story in essence.

Language: Amateurish.Some editing errors.

While we’re speaking about the language and narrative, I feel I must mention this subtrend I’ve noticed in YA Lit lately – all the characters make a gazillion references to notable works of literature. As if the author is trying to tell the reader “I’ve read these books. Take me seriously.” It all comes out looking pompous and callow, though the intent was probably the opposite. In this book, both the main characters become friends while working on a Shakespeare project (the title of the book is from a line in one of his plays). All the subcharacters are into TS Eliot’s poetry and conversations often end up being synonym wars (not kidding, I swear). Authors nowadays seem to be going out of their way to prove their grammar is impeccable by turning their characters into grammar nerds (I hate the phrase grammar nazis). This would have been fine, had the book not contained sentences like, “Her eyes literally lit up.” This reminded me of a cartoon I saw once where Tweety pulls a string to “turn off” Sylvester’s eyes.

Large chunks of the book could be taken out without affecting the overall story. Avoid the done to death cliche of girl-with-daddy-issues-and-a-reputation and you have the same story. Remove the dysfunctional families, you have the same story. Remove the obvious “big reveal at the end”, you still have the bloody same boy-meets-girl story.

There are some books that you go in hoping to love them but you don’t. With this book, I went in prepared to hate it (I believe the first words I said after reading the first page were, “I’m too old for this shit.”), but in spite of everything I’ve said above, I did not hate it as much as I thought I was going to. It’s an extremely lazy read, a silly story, an escapist novel that does not evoke any emotions. If there’s too much on your mind, maybe this book will help you forget it for a few hours.

Rating: 2.5/5

Goodreads | Amazon (Pre-order)

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group