Tag: YA

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.

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman

Never is a long time.

29432767Faithful is the story of once-popular, now-self-destructive Shelby Richmond. One fateful night, when she was seventeen, she and her best friend Helene go out for a drive. Their car crashes; Shelby survives with minor injuries, but Helene goes into a vegetative state. Traumatized and guilty, Shelby has a nervous breakdown and stops speaking altogether. She’s admitted to a psych ward, where she is raped by an orderly. This is when she gets the first of many postcards. It says, Say Something. And she does. She tells her mother about what’s happening and her mother gets her released from the hospital immediately.
Helene, on the other hand, is being revered as some sort of saint. Those who visit her claim they get cured of all illnesses and misfortunes if they touch her hand. Shelby does not believe in these miracles, but she is still suffering from guilt. Helene and Shelby both once had dreams and bright futures ahead of them. Helene’s lost hers, and Shelby gives up hers, choosing instead to waste her life away in her parents’ basement. She shaves her head, smokes pot, and watches TV shows she claims to hate. Her drug dealer is her old classmate, Ben Mink, with whom she walks to Helene’s house one night. Ben reveals to her that he’s going to the city to become a pharmacist and asks her to go with him. Two years have passed since the accident and Shelby decides to finally leave her hometown. She moves to the city with Ben, gets a job in a pet store, unexpectedly makes friends, and, most importantly, begins to save dogs in need of saving.

Admittedly, this book got off to a very slow and depressing start. It wasn’t just grim, because of the accident – it was very bleak. I disliked this bit of the story, but did not, at any point, feel like putting the book down. I might have, had it continued in that vein, but after Shelby decides to do something with her life, the story was, if not instantly, uplifted. I loved the characters in this book – especially Maravelle, Shelby’s friend from the pet store. I’m not a dog person, but the way Shelby rescues ill-treated dogs was heartwarming, and I found myself falling in love with all her dogs.

When Shelby starts receiving the postcards (Say Something, See Something, Save Something, etc.), I was reminded of Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger. But the main difference between the two is, Ed Kennedy receives aces in the mail to save other people; Shelby receives them to save herself. Her guilt and self pity nearly killed her, and even towards the end of the book, her self pity is highly palpable. On the night of the accident, Shelby believes she saw an angel and she believes it is the angel who is sending her the postcards. At other times, she is convinced it is Helene – though Helene is now incapable of doing any such thing.

Speaking of Helene, I felt the whole “miracle” angle was unnecessary. It contributed nothing to the story, and felt like it was forced into it to add a bit of magical realism to it. It was unconvincing, and a little annoying.

Aside from that one grouse, I thought that Faithful was a beautiful story of redemption and growth and forgiving oneself. I have wanted to read Alice Hoffman for a long time, but unfortunately, because of where I live perhaps, her books would either never be in stock or be ridiculously expensive because of import charges attached to them (the number of years I’ve been trying to get a copy of Practical Magic, I tell you!). Since I have never read her, I cannot compare Faithful to any other work of hers. But as someone who’s finally ventured into her world of literature, I felt warmly welcomed and left knowing for sure that I would return someday.

Goodreads

Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley. My review is honest and unbiased.

Every Day, by David Levithan

“Where do you want to go?” I ask again. “Tell me, truly, where you’d love to go.”
I don’t initially realize how much hinges on her answer. If she says, Let’s go to the mall, I will disconnect. If she says, Take me back to your house, I will disconnect. If she says, Actually, I don’t want to miss sixth period, I will disconnect. And I should disconnect. I should not be doing this.

But she says, “I want to go to the ocean. I want you to take me to the ocean.”

And I feel myself connecting.”

13262783May I say how much I hate Levithan right now. This man makes me break my book resolutions. And this man not only makes me read books from a genre I dislike (and scoff at), he makes me enjoy them. Worst of all, this man caused a conflict, nay, a war! Just look at this:

Brain: A genderless-bodyless entity that wakes up in a new human body each day. What a premise! This ought to be good.
Heart: Whatever, really.
Brain: Um… This is a love story.
Heart: *indistinct humming*
Brain: OK. Why am I reading this? These is YA. This is romance. Let’s close this and read something else.
Heart: Could you shut. Up. For. One. Minute?
Brain: Beg pardon?
Heart: SHUT UP.
Brain: …

.

Heart: Ohmygod, this is so beautiful, I have tears. I’m crying. This is… awww.
Brain: ???

Heart: *weeps* Oh, A. Oh, Rhiannon.
Brain: Blech. Oh, come on! “It’s the way you looked at me – it couldn’t have been anyone else.” Seriously? That is SO cheesy.
Heart: *sulks* Yeah, okay, just shush.
Brain: !!!

Heart: I have to make a phone call!
Brain: Dontdoanythingstupid!!!
Heart: NO, I really do!
Brain: This is NOT an Adele song!
Heart: Hang yourself, you stupid brain.

Brain: Why aren’t they explaining why A is this smoke entity person thing? Why is this happening? Are there others like this? Can it have feelings? What about the bodies it goes into, why don’t these people notice that entire days from their lives have just gone missing? This makes no sense!
Heart: Really, I couldn’t care less right now.

Brain: OK, that was a weak ending if I ever saw one.
Heart: So what if the ending wasn’t great. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Brain: I’ll be the judge of that.
Heart: You jealous, emotionless, ROBOT!

*Heart walks off stage, leaving a trail of warm fuzzy feelings behind; brain, feeling useless, dejectedly plops down on a bed*

PS: I have to say though – only Levithan could have pulled this story off. Any other YA author would have turned it into a disaster. Do give it a read for the warm fuzzies. And keep your phone far, far away.

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

 

 

 

The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan

10459537How is 2016 being so blatantly dominated by books of the romance genre? Is everything ok with me? This isn’t how I am.

Well, we’ll either ponder over that, or I’ll take the help of this Bookish Bingo created by my friend Shantala, who blogs at Shanaya Tales (check out the blog!) to jump out of this terrifying routine (yes, romance to me is terrifying; send help).

You know I could review David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary with just one word: cute.

I don’t mean that in a fawning-over-a-baby way nor do I mean that in a sarcastic way. I mean, just, cute (adj.)

The plot line is lean. There isn’t much there to talk about. The layout is interesting, with words laid out in alphabetical order in the form of a dictionary. Accompanying each word is a scene from the relationship of the protagonist. Some of words have nothing to do with the story, but somehow, I still found them (there’s that word again) cute. For instance:

defunct, adj.

You brought home a typewriter for me.

More than the story, The Lover’s Dictionary is an exploration of the protagonist’s feelings, his love for the girl, as well as his deepest insecurities in the relationship. In describing the latter, the girl does not come out as perfect, but that’s only his own shortcomings colouring the way he sees her. It’s a little disjointed, but won’t appear so if we see these as observations rather than parts of a story.

I wouldn’t call it breakthrough literature, but I see why it has become immensely popular. People relate to it, its simplicity and everything. It isn’t the kind of book I’d enjoy regularly, but it’s like pop music. It caters to a certain age group (YA) and while an occasional song is fun and new, I wouldn’t wanna live and drown in that saccharine pond of sentimentality.

Goodreads | Amazon

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

If you have ever reeleanor-and-park-rainbow-rowell-rain-and-a-book-sreesha-divakaranad this page where I’ve listed my genre preferences, then you know I hate romances and I am very, very choosy about YA.

I’ve scoffed at Erich Segal’s Love Story and called it highly overrated.

I’ve found so many flaws with The Fault In Our Stars that the very reference to the book and any praise for it is something I haughtily wave aside.

I’ve looked at shelves bearing Nicholas Sparks’ books with a half-contemptuous-half-pitiful “Oh, honey…” expression.

Maybe I am too cynical for my own good. But am I? Because interestingly,

I am also the person who sobbed into her pillow after reading Eleanor & Park.

Oh GOD. What is this book? Which is this bit of an episode from the characters’ lives that reduced me to such ugly crumpliness?! What are these things floating in my mind, all these, what are these – these emotions!!!

Clearly this is an unfamiliar territory for me. Believe me when I say this – I am trying to look at this book objectively and review it as such, but there’s just too much water in my eyes for me to do that.

Genre: YA, Romance

Summary: Before I give you the summary, let me say, this book moves at a very unhurried pace, so each little scene, each little thing hits you like a minitruckload of “feels”. If I do give you a summary, however spoiler-free it may be, it will ruin it for you. So this is all I am going to say: Eleanor is the new girl in town – a tad overweight, with strange clothes several sizes too big for her, lots of unruly red hair – with whom no one wants to share a seat on the school bus. An irritated Park, a half-Korean kid from the neighbourhood, orders her to sit down next to him. Park reads comic books and listens to music. One day he notices that Eleanor has been looking over his shoulder and reading the comics with him (she calls it “eavesreading”). They don’t talk a word, but Park lets her read – waiting a bit longer than usual to turn the page so as to let her finish. Until one day…

Well, that’s all you’re gonna get from me.

Have you ever experienced this – you feel like there’s so much emotion in you that you feel you’re heart is being squeezed and the pain shoots right through your chest to the centre of your palm? It’s a horrible feeling. It’s a glorious feeling. Along with that, the fluttering butterflies in the stomach. I was reading, and every time that pain shot through, all I wanted was some kinda icepick to stab my palm, because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I read this book in secret, because I knew I could collapse into tears any minute and I did not want to call any attention to myself – no one in the family is a reader, and, really, “sobbing because of a scene” was not something I saw myself explaining.

The book explores various themes, such as body image issues (Eleanor’s weight), identity issues (Park’s mother is Korean and he feels like a misfit), abuse, bullying, domestic violence, but the central theme is first love. The characters are well written, but a wee bit too one-dimensional. There’s not a lot of explanation about the characters’ pasts, and the author has spent a little too much time on the romance that she has not entirely done justice to the other themes, in my opinion. The writing style is simplistic, very YA-relateable. I would not call this groundbreaking literature, but for what it is, it works well. I personally liked the first half more than the second, and I wish the ending was not so open-ended. Maybe there’s a sequel coming up? I hope so. I loved the comic book references in the book, especially part where Park looks at Eleanor smiling and thinks she looks like Joker from Batman, then thinks she wouldn’t see it as a compliment, but that’s how he meant it. That was… cute!

A heart warming and heart wrenching tale at the same time, on a rating scale, I would give it between 3.5-4 out of 5.

You can get the book here. And some tissues here.

And remember, this book forces you to remember parts of you that you have forgotten.

Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s something in my eye.