The Lie Tree reminded me a lot of the Marie Brennan The Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Both series have strong female protagonists but what makes The Lie Tree so special is that the protagonist is a younger teenage girl with a love for science instead of a woman. Throw in some Nancy Drew-like mystery and a little bit of gothic atmosphere and you get this wonderful book by Frances Hardinge that is just a really well written young adult book without any stupid YA romance tropes that dominates the genre.
The Art of Starving is the debut novel from prolific short story writer Sam J. Miller and I’ve been looking forward to reading this since I found out he was publishing a novel. I absolutely love Miller’s short fiction, especially Calved, one of my favorite stories of all time. In The Art of Starving, we get a gritty first-person narrative of a young gay teenager’s struggle with an eating disorder(that he believes he doesn’t have). This is going to be a highly polarizing book for many people and hopefully, I can explain why I think that way.
The first thing that jumps out at you while reading this book is if starving yourself and getting super-heightened senses from not eating is really a good way to represent eating disorders to a young adult audience? A lot of kids fantasize about having magical powers and if anorexia gives our main character powers, is this not making it more tempting for teenagers to think positively about eating disorders? These are the questions that I had to grapple with the entire time while reading this book. In the end, I think this book has really clarified my views on the #OwnVoices debate. The point of the book is to show that “bad things will happen to you, some of it isn’t your fault, but other things will be your fault. Being Better is being able to tell the difference,”pg 343. This book is meant to be a difficult read. It is meant to have a viewpoint of a young man with an unbalanced viewpoint on his eating disorder, because real kids out there are having the same thoughts about themselves. Real kids think that their control over their eating makes them special, like they have powers, and Miller is saying, “Hey, we thought this way before, and we’ve screwed up. Let’s take responsibility for the destructive thoughts we have about ourselves and get better.” I do think there will be some readers that will find this book problematic, but Miller is giving us an honest portrayal of an eating disorder from the viewpoint of a gay man going through it, and in the midst of addiction, no one thinks logically, just like Matt.
Matt, our narrative eye, is constantly looking for validation from others. He thinks that his life is getting better when he meets his boyfriend Tariq, but in reality, he is still struggling with his addiction and putting all of his own happiness unto someone else. This is as much a story about a young man coming to grips with his own self-approval than anything else. When he finally comes to have a shred of love for himself, he realizes that love is the true form of where his powers come from. Not only does Matt come to this realization but his mother and sister, dealing with their own addictive personalities, see Matt getting better, and decide to make the choice to change their alcoholism and destructive behavior.
I liked this book, it really made me think about a lot of the conversations and debates about young adult fiction. Sam J. Miller is an excellent writer, that I will continue to read. I did think that the “turn around” portion at the end of the book was really rushed. I would have liked to have seen at least a little more of his recovery. There was an instance of ridiculousness towards the end of the book with Matt’s ultimate use of his powers but it didn’t bother me too much. I thought Matt’s relationship with Tariq at the end really worked for me. From a plot perspective, it is a very basic story, but I think that the writing made me think outside the story to other conversations about addiction and writing controversies.
17/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – Setting/World Building
4 – Writing Style
4 – Heart & Mind Aspect
The second Illuminae Files book was just as fun as Illuminae but less believable and a bit more annoying, but regardless it was a blast. I like these books, they are fun reads that engross me for the entire weekend. Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff tells the story of the Heimdall Station, the station that the survivors of Illuminae are heading towards. On this station, a BeiTech strike team has taken over and it’s only chance of survival are Hanna and Nik, two star-crossed individuals that must save everyone, including the incoming survivors of Illuminae.
Have you ever daydreamed about being a hero when you were in high school? Where you would fight bad guys and win the day? Well, that is pretty much what Gemina is, a book version of kicking bad guy butt and being just overall amazing. This is Die Hard for teenagers. Yes, this book is ridiculous, the bad guys are laughably inept, and Hanna is basically Black Widow from the Avengers, but it is a ton of fun. I thought Nik, the young drug dealing former con, was your typical bad guy, roguish character but I couldn’t help but like him.
The thing about this book, is that it can be really annoying at times. The thing that annoyed me the most is dark grey background with light grey text. How was this even allowed to be a thing? Luckily this wasn’t the majority of the book but there are instances where I legit had to turn on every single light in my room to even read this book. Where Illuminae’s use of experimental formatting made the book much better, Gemina failed to do the same. I never had such a hard time reading a book. The book is also annoying because of something other reviewers brought up, the jokes and innuendos were just too much, especially during scenes that should be super serious. These jokes are just wasting the time of the characters and in turn possibly killing people for doing so.
Ridiculous, over the top, high school daydreaming material, that I couldn’t help but still really enjoy it. I’ll definitely be reading the third book too.
12/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
2 – World Building
2 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect
Caraval by Stephanie Garber was just an alright book for me mainly because the beginning lacked anything exciting and original but also the YA romance bits just really annoyed me. The overall plot is about a sister finding her other sister during an alternate reality game set in an enclosed location with actors/actresses and magic. This Caraval setting is a lot like an Alice in the Wonderland world and a lot of the visuals in this book reminded me of the recent Alice in the Wonderland movies.
So the beginning of this book has two sisters being abused by their father. One is about to get married and the other is found with a young man. The older sister, Scarlett is forced into playing this Caraval game before she gets married because her sister has run away from home to join it. With her is a roguish gentleman named Julian and they are trying to find the sister Tella. The story becomes a “figure out the riddles,” in a game about 80 pages in but those first 80 pages, before they go to Caraval, I just did not like. It was boring, unoriginal, and just plain annoying. The book really didn’t begin until they entered Caraval.
Once Scarlett and Julian are in Caraval the mystery and riddle aspect of the book made me read on. Yes, Garber does a good job of creating a twisty little plot that is wrapped up in this game, and that is why I continued to read. The setting was fun and I liked the outlandish outfits all the characters wore even though a lot of emphases was put on all the different dresses Scarlett wore. Seeing how the game would impact the finale was the main reason I kept reading because I knew the end would be twisty and climatic.
If there is one part of this book that bothered me the most it was the constant need for Garber to remind the reader about how attractive everyone is. I would guess that I read about Julian’s muscles about eight times during this book. So much of the romance element of this book was all about looks. Every single character was attractive. All the men were described rather similarly, dark hair, lean muscles, smooth skin, that it just seemed rather immature. Caraval is the equivalent of looking through Instagram selfies and only seeing all the perfect looking people.
Another thing that bothered me was all the constant paragraph breaks. Many times there would be a paragraph break but the next paragraph would just continue what was being explained in the previous paragraph. Many times I had to stop reading because I thought maybe I missed a sentence that shifted the scene to justify a new paragraph but it just never happened. Most paragraphs were no longer than four sentences and it just read monotonously after awhile. If it wasn’t for the mystery and riddle element of the book, I would have DNF’d rather soon, but I finished it up. It was a short book because of all the white space and written letters(which I liked).
I would recommend this to YA readers that love YA. If you like Marissa Meyer’s books you’ll probably like this. I thought that Cinder was a better-written book than Caraval however. Even though I haven’t read The Night Circus yet, I don’t think the two are comparable. If you like romance YA books I think that this will be more up your alley than mine. If this book had less perfect characters and Garber cut back the female character constantly lusting after the men, it would have been much better.
10/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
2 – Characters
2 – World Building/Setting
1 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect
On the Edge of Gone is one of the best YA science fiction books I’ve ever read. On the Edge of Gone follows Denise and her mother as they are attempting to find shelter for an impending comet collision with Earth. When they are running late to the shelter they are assigned to, because they are waiting for Denise’s sister Iris, they come in contact with a generation ship that is still on Earth. The generation ship’s passenger list is completely full but Denise takes it upon herself to become useful and get herself and her mother invited to stay on the generation ship, while also looking for her sister Iris at a shelter. This proves to be difficult because Denise is autistic and her mother is a drug addict.
This is a great novel that shows the tenacity of a young girl to overcome all the odds against her. Denise is such a fantastic character. I love Duyvis’ interpretation of Denise’s autism and she writes it beautifully because Corinne Duyvis is autistic herself. This was such a new type of character that I’ve never read about and I was so engaged with this book because of that. Denise’s ability to never give up and always have hope is inspiring. She takes one moment at a time and lives as hard as she can in those moments.
There is not a lot of complicated science fiction in this book and the book reads quickly. It mostly centers around Denise figuring out a way to be irreplaceable aboard this generation ship. There is enough information about the generation ship for it to be interesting but not enough to overshadow the narrative. The highlight of the book for me is just seeing what this comet is doing to the world around them and how it really impacts their life. The atmosphere of a doom’s day like plot is done so well in this book. Many times Denise catches herself thinking about normal everyday things and realizes that those normal things are so unimportant now compared to the situation of the world. There is a sense of despair about the book but also a silver lining of hope that all the characters share.
I think most people would like this book. It is just a well-written YA book that needs to be more widely read. Typical YA tropes are present but they never overshadow any other part of the story. At no point did I become annoyed by the actions of the characters or the author in this book and that is a big plus for me when it comes to YA. I will definitely be reading more of Duyvis’ books in the future.
17/25 Possible Score
Plot – 3
Characters – 4
World Building – 3
Writing Style – 4
Heart & Mind Aspect – 3
If I Was Your Girl is a very readable, quick contemporary YA book about a trans girl starting over in a new town. As someone that is relatively ignorant about transgender people, not knowing anyone personally, I wanted to pick this up to understand these individuals more. I am glad I did because this was an enjoyable book that I read in two sittings. Amanda is starting a new school where her father lives. When Amanda was a young boy, she was bullied badly, and always thought that she was a girl; but because of the pain of trying to please her parents and the bullying, she tried to take her own life. She then went through transitioning as her mother realized that she wasn’t going to have a child if she wouldn’t let her son be her daughter. At this new school she makes a ton of friends, gets a boyfriend, and her life is fantastic, but she feels torn by the decision to tell people her past or not.
A running theme in this book is that when Amanda was a boy, she pictured herself with no future, or a future as a girl. This connects with a lot of other media I’ve watched or read when it comes to transgenders, they see themselves as the other gender even though their outside doesn’t match who they really are. I think that after reading this book, I believe these stories with much more validity and less ignorance.
What Meredith Russo, the trans author, does really well in this book is giving Amanda a normative life as a transgender. Sure, she goes through really hard times, but there is a glossy coating over the book, to encourage possible trans people reading the book because Amanda’s journey is possibly easier for her than many other trans people that don’t pass as well as Amanda does. Russo even says in the afterword, which must be read, that she “even bent the rules to make Amanda’s trans-ness as unchallenging to normative assumptions as possible.” I feel that this approach was done to make as wide of an audience as possible be comfortable with reading a book about a transgender and she succeeds admirably in this goal. This is a great stepping stone into the life and thoughts of trans individuals.
One important thing that I took away from this book are the 3 big no-nos when talking to a trans person. The first is under no circumstances should you ever ask a trans person what their genitals are. This is the biggest mistake anyone can do when talking with a transgender. The second thing is to not ask any questions about surgeries and the final one is to not ask their previous name. Curiosity about other people’s privates is just something that needs to be wiped from everyone’s mind.
Even though I liked this book, the writing is a bit meh in a lot of places. The plot of the book is relatively safe on purpose. The character’s relationship is very shallow at times and their communication was not that good. Most of the characters didn’t do a whole lot for me except for Amanda. The setting in the book is really generic and very underutilized.
This book is a great start to having a trans person as the main character but other books will overshadow this in the future; however, as of this moment, this book will speak to a lot of people looking for a voice like theirs, and it cannot be denied as being an important book in 2016 for trans individuals.
TBR Priority Rating: 7/10(If you like YA Contemporary, read this soon.)
14/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
2 – Setting
2 – Writing Style
4 – Heart and Mind Aspect