Hi guys, I just finished a review of this amazing book for a blog I write for called PopCityLife!
Main Characters: Peter, Eliza, Andy, Anita
Synopsis: One evening, a blue-tinted star appears in the sky. Not “appears” as in something only careful astronomers and amateur star-charters would notice, but “appears” as in everyone on the planet notices at pretty much the same time and won’t stop talking about it. It’s only a couple weeks before NASA tells the world that yes, it might hit us. In fact, there’s a 2/3 chance that it will. What would you do in the months leading up to impending doom? Wallach’s novel, told through multiple perspectives, takes us through the lives of four teens and their friends as they try and figure out what’s worth keeping around… either for the continuation of the world, or the end of it.
Review: This book was an easy sell. I was intrigued by the cover, first of all, and then I flipped it open to read the blurb. I didn’t even read the first part, but my eyes were immediately drawn to: “They said the asteroid would be here in two months.” That was all I needed. Bam. Sold.
I’m going to throw it back a bit here, but do any of you remember Animorphs? You know, that series about the kids that were able to turn into animals to save the world from the invading aliens? Anyway, that’s one of my favorite series of all time, and its author, K.A. Applegate, has continued to write books that blow my mind. Shortly after Animorphs ended, she released a series called Remnants. It didn’t quite have the longevity of Animorphs, but the first book in the series began with a similar premise to We All Looked Up: the end of the world. An asteroid impact. The rest of Remnants involves the 100 or so people chosen to escape the planet on a dilapidated space shuttle and their adventures once cryostatis wakes them up 500 years later, which is pretty divergent from WALU, but anyway. The point is that Remnants #1 is absolutely one of my all-time favorite books (within the top 10) and it’s a brilliant reflection on human nature.
Which is to say, that human nature is unpredictable. There is no “default” setting for human nature. What you assume humans are going to do… well, they won’t. Some will. Others will exist completely outside the realm of plausibility.
WALU follows the story of four interconnected teens and their lives leading up to the Big Impact. The book begins with Peter, already having an existential crisis before the asteroid even appears in the night sky; obviously, learning that there’s a 66% chance that humanity will be wiped out just like the dinosaurs doesn’t do much to help him.
Anita is perfect. She gets perfect grades, has a perfect family, always looks perfect. But she’s tired of being perfect. She gets a C on a test for the first time ever, just to see how her parents will react. Spoiler: it’s not good.
Eliza’s home life sucks, so she’s taken to meeting boys at clubs and sleeping with them, just so she can feel something. To try and make someone care. But ultimately, no one seems to.
Andy is torn between loyalty to the guy who has always been his best friend, and the knowledge that his best friend is … well, not a good person. Andy wants to help Bobo, but might soon realize that Bobo is either beyond help or just not worth saving…
One of my favorite aspects of the book was the descriptions of what other people were doing. The randoms. The people you’ve never met and undoubtedly never will. Strangers in cities, strangers on islands, strangers in penthouses, and strangers on the street. Some, like Peter’s parents in the quote above, can’t find it in themselves to do anything but cry. They fall into the pit of depression, of hopelessness, of “what’s the point,” and there’s no one who can help them climb back out. Others decide it’s finally their chance to do whatever the hell they want; what’s a two-week jail stay in the long run? It’s all going to burn anyway. Others, though, others spread love: tell their loved ones they love them, make an effort to DO those last things on their bucket lists, find the money or the excuses to visit those beautiful places they’ve only dreamed about.
Not that any of those is a right or wrong response, really, which is sort of the point. You can’t predict how you’ll react. Honestly. You can ponder it day and night for the next 50 years but until it actually happens to you, you just don’t know.
Spoiler: the book ends before the meteor hits. Or doesn’t hit. I was slightly disappointed at first, because come on that’s the best part– but then I realized that the moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter. What matters is the person you are leading up to that moment. You can die in jail, or you can spend the next seventy years in jail. Or you can fill your life with light and love and go out surrounded by the people you care about the most… or if the world doesn’t end, wake up to a new world surrounded by the people you love.
Which one sounds better to you?
P.S. The author is also a great musician, and he wrote an album to go along with the book. Check it out on bandcamp! You can download it for $5, or if you really love it, get yourself the vinyl for $20. Why not? After all, life is short.
Main Characters: Wade/Parzival, Art3mis, Aech
Synopsis: In the not-so-distant future, technology companies own… well, pretty much everything. The development of fully-immersive virtual-reality gaming (the OASIS) catapulted its inventor to multi-billionaire-dom, and while he used his wealth and power for good, there are plenty of others who would like to obtain and use that power for evil. Wade, known in-game as Parzival, is a very average kid: his home life sucks, so he spends most of his time in the virtual world. When an opportunity arises to solve the world’s biggest virtual riddle and inherit the billions of dollars the OASIS’ founder has left behind, Wade jumps at it. Can Wade solve the riddle and change his future forever, or will the evil corporations and their less-than-orthodox methods win out?
Review: I received this book as part of a LootCrate and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get around to reading it. Like, on the order of months. I hadn’t heard anything about it and wasn’t really intrigued by the blurb on the back, and honestly, I thought it might’ve been too geeky for me! I play a myriad of video games across all kinds of genres (like World of Warcraft, Transistor, Borderlands, Counter-Strike, what have you), which… okay, yeah, I’m pretty geeky. But I’ve never delved into the lore of such games, and I figured that’s the kind of thing this book would be about.
Then one day I was staring at my shelves, trying to decide what to read, and this was one of the few left untouched. So I grabbed it, and it did not leave my side until I’d finished it. I carried it around in my purse for a few days– to work, to dinners, and then up and down the steps with me at home. It was so, so quick to catapult itself to the top of my favorite books list that I was almost in shock. My review on GoodReads was quite brief, amounting to: “This is it. This is my favorite book in the world.” Let me tell you a bit about it.
As I mentioned in my synopsis, we begin in the not-so-distant future: the year 2044, to be precise. The world is quite different. The wage gap continued to grow and numerous environmental crises took root. There are few habitable areas left, and those that do exist are wrought with poverty. There’s pretty much one place left in the United States where there’s any sort of money or power, and it’s in Columbus, Ohio. Most people’s lives are pretty shitty, and most people take to the OASIS to escape. That’s the name of the fully-immersive virtual-reality world created by James Halliday, which quickly became the go-to computer operating system in the world, and made Halliday the king atop a pile of gold. (Well, not literally. But he wound up kinda rich. Like, the most rich.) However, the OASIS is a free service. You have to buy the computers and headsets, of course, and the internet, but once you can log on, you’re home free.
At any rate, Halliday died (like people are wont to do), and instead of a will, he left a riddle. A riddle that would culminate in the finding of a golden egg. A riddle so ridiculously intricate that it was five whole years before anyone managed to figure out the very first steps. Five years of studying every piece of 80s trivia available (Halliday’s favorite era), five years of studying gameplay of video games long since forgotten, and five years of “gunters” (egg-hunters) slowly throwing their hands up in defeat.
Wade, our hero, thinks it could be him. He’s a smart kid, and he’s put in some hard work. He spends all his free time on the OASIS, either attending virtual school or ingesting more potentially-useless trivia. There’s no real reason for him to go anywhere else, because he lives in a trailer stacked atop approximately twenty others, and he lives with his aunt, who doesn’t seem to care what he does. Pretty much his only possessions are the interfaces that allow him to connect to the OASIS, and he’s got them sequestered away in his hideout, which is pretty much a cave deep within a pile of old, rusting cars.
But not even Wade realizes what will happen the instant his username appears in the first-place slot, or what dangers will arise. It’s been blank for five years, and there are some people– or companies (companies are people, right? Right…?)– who would do anything to get their hands on the golden egg (and Halliday’s fortune). Namely IOI (Innovative Online Industries), the internet service provider that has monopolized that industry, headquartered in the only city left in the United States that isn’t a slum: Columbus, Ohio. The IOI wants Halliday’s money. They want his legacy. They want to make even more money by being able to charge people to log into the OASIS. And they want it really, really badly.
Badly enough to kill.
Wade has never really had a problem going it alone, but he had met some online friends along the way. One such friend is Aech, whose whereabouts are unknown but has always been there for Wade as a gaming partner or a confidant. Aech is pretty equally matched with Wade in terms of 80s knowledge and video game expertise. They’ve spent the past few years collaborating on their research, but decided that if they’d figured out the first steps, they’d keep it to themselves. Nothing like a little friendly competition, right? But they’ve got plenty of learning to do about each other, first, and when Wade’s situation turns desperate and he winds up turning to the real-world Aech for help… well, let’s just say there are surprises in store for both of them.
A second person he meets along the way is Art3mis, the wickedly intelligent blogger who Wade had always admired from the safety of his terminal but had never attempted to interact with. When he runs into her virtual avatar outside the tomb where the first clue is located, they begrudgingly spark a friendship that quickly turns into something else… or does it?
I really don’t want to give away too much here. I want you to read this book. I want you to love it. I was barely alive in the 80s (late ’88) so some of the references are lost on me, but a lot of it is stuff that is firmly ingrained into the public consciousness and won’t be going away any time soon! And look, it’s 2016– if you don’t know what something is, you can flop the book down and open a new tab for Google. There’s no excuse for not “getting” anything that happens in this novel. Besides, if people in 2044 are still loving the 80s, you can too!
The point is that I loved this book. I loved it so much. The ending made me bawl. Like, flat-out “put the book down and cry”-cry. And that is honestly not something that books can achieve for me very often. I want to buy this book for every person I know. Actually, I started toward that goal today– I was at Books Inc. in Mountain View this evening with my friend Alex, and I bought it for her. I hope she loves it as much as I did.
A lot of this story rang true for me because I’ve been there. I’ve gotten lost in the virtual world. It allows you to be a person you can’t be in real life– to fly, to use magic, to be strong– and allows you to see places straight out of other people’s dreams. I’ve met so many people through virtual platforms, friends and lovers alike. I started playing World of Warcraft in 2009 and I still talk to people from my first guild on a regular basis. Sometimes the friends you make are thousands of miles away, but it’s never stopped any of them from being there for me when I needed them most. Just like Wade’s friends.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, I hope this book inspires you to take the first steps of something. Maybe nothing so drastic as a challenge to win yourself billions of dollars, but maybe something you’ve always wanted. Make an effort to meet the person you’re in love with… for real. Change your stripes. Write a book. Record an album. Do something, but do it because life is short and it will be worth it. I promise.
Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Published: Harlequin Teen, August 2015
Main Characters: Dave, Julia, Gretchen
Synopsis: Dave and Julia are best friends. Nothing strange about that. Prior to the beginning of their high school careers, desperate to avoid turning into the cliché high schoolers you see on TV, they collaborate on a list: things they should Never Do. With three months left of their senior year, they decide that maybe it’s time to give the Nevers list another look…
It’s been a long time since I’ve read something so good that I actually wanted to accumulate the energy to review it. (It’s really hard to do this when your job sucks the life out of you, you guys. Hold out as long as you can.) But this book, especially the last third, resonated with me on a level that a novel hasn’t in quite a good while.
So, let’s face the facts: Dave and Julia are best friends. The book starts off in third-person-Dave, so we know right off the bat: he’s in love with her, he’s been in love with her as long as he can remember. He’s memorized her face, he’s tortured by her touch, he adores when she smiles (especially if he’s the one who caused it). When he and Julia decide to start breaking the Nevers, he can’t tell her that he’s been breaking one this whole time: #8. Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school.
Most of the Nevers are silly, things that most kids in high school take for granted. Never go skinny-dipping. Never hook up with a teacher. Never go to a beer party. They’re fun to break, and any time spent with Julia is time well-spent, no matter what they’re doing. But when they get to the lower Nevers on the list, things start to get complicated. Never date your best friend. Can that one be broken? How? Why?
Dave meets Gretchen at a party and a few things fall into place: one, Julia is never going to feel for him the way he feels for her, and two, Gretchen is pretty awesome. She’s smart, funny, pretty, and genuine. And she’s interested in him.
Naturally, it takes the lightning bolt of seeing Dave and Gretchen together for Julia’s heart to kick-start into motion: she’s in love with Dave. Of course she is. But she can never tell him. Not now, not that he’s finally found someone he loves. Who wouldn’t love Dave? Julia expresses surprise that no one’s ever taken an interest in him before. He’s handsome, intelligent, funny… oh God, she’s so in love with him.
The dance of love/not-love/platonic love that follows in the wake of this revelation is fantastic, especially as someone who’s been through (is in the throes of) a similar scenario. Julia can’t hold down her feelings for long, and this culminates in a night of passion on a beach– a cliché to end all clichés, if we’re keeping score! Waking up with Julia in his arms was just as he’d dreamed it would be: perfect. It was perfect.
Before, when Dave had dreamed about love, this is what it looked like:
It was lazy. Love was lazy as hell. Love laid around in bed, warm from the sheets and the sunlight pouring into the room. Love was too lazy to get up to close the blinds. Love was too comfortable to get up and pee. Love took too many naps, it watched TV, but not really, because it was too busy kissing and napping. Love was also funny, which somehow made the bed more comfortable, the laughter warming the sheets, softening the mattress and the lover’s skin.
But. (There’s always a but.)
It isn’t long before Dave realizes something is off. As much as he loves Julia, as perfect as this friendship-turned-relationship has turned out, he can’t escape from the fact that when he’s looking at Julia, sometimes, just sometimes, he’s thinking of Gretchen. The doubts manifest into a dark cloud that follows him around, and he has to face the truth: that his affection for Gretchen had grown into something that not even this finally-requited love from Julia could squelch. For so long, Julia had been all he wanted– and now he’s gotten it, and he wants something else.
Gretchen gets hurt along the way, of course. It was unavoidable. As someone who is currently standing in Gretchen’s shoes and hasn’t gotten her happy ending yet, I almost couldn’t bring myself to finish this book because I couldn’t bear to find out how it ended. (Seriously, there were tears.) Would Dave make the right decision? Would he follow his heart to Gretchen, and where it would be truly happy? Or would his guilt, obligation, and fear of breaking Julia’s heart make him stay with her?
Spoiler: he makes the right decision.
In a scenario like this, someone getting hurt is unavoidable. But there comes a point where you can’t worry about the other people who will be hurt: you have to decide what’s best for you. It took a lot of courage for Dave, to break off this relationship with this person he’d wanted for as long as he could remember, who’d finally given him her entire heart. How could he ever hurt her? He’d already hurt Gretchen; that wasn’t the issue. But he had to figure out where his heart truly lay, and it was with Gretchen. To stay with Julia because… that was how he’d always wanted it, or because that’s how she wanted it, or because he didn’t want to hurt her… isn’t fair to either of them.
You’d be surprised how difficult this decision is for some people. Some people never make it. They settle. They never get to live a life less ordinary, or experience the difference between great love and mediocre love.
Jump. If you take one piece of advice from me, ever, it is to jump. Take that leap.
I’ll never fault anyone for following their heart.
Main Characters: Hannah, Zoe, Danny
Synopsis: Hannah and Zoe are best friends. They always have been and they always will be. In a classic case of “opposites atrract,” Zoe is the thunderstorm and Hannah is her lightning rod. When Zoe’s health issues take a turn for the worse, Hannah has to try and keep her friend safe while she sifts through her own shit: self-pity, daddy issues, and love. A whirlwind tour around the country carves etchings of jackalopes, buffalo, and casinos on each of our three characters’ hearts.
Review: This is the greatest book I’ve read in a while. I’m sure you’ll notice the dearth of posts lately; it’s not that I haven’t been reading, but I haven’t come across anything that screams, “Review me! Tell the world how great I am!” This was definitely a yelling book.
I’m going to warn you straight off the bat, though, that this book does not have a happy ending. It’s not that kind of story. It’s a story that rings true, a tale of struggle. Zoe has bipolar disorder, and it’s about as bad as it gets: hallucinations and altered experiences. Hannah is Zoe’s rock, and has been since they were both very young. Hannah has seen Zoe’s disorder manifest itself over and over; she’s learned the signals, and she’s learned how to cope. How to help Zoe cope.
But this time, it’s not working. The Pippi stockings aren’t working. The threats of lithium aren’t working. The last stop on Hannah’s “Help Zoe” train, Zoe’s autistic little brother, Noah… isn’t working.
Zoe has her heart set on the college of her dreams: New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. She is a wizard of a seamstress, breaking fashion boundaries and helping the girls at the prep school keep their skirts too short. But somehow, Zoe isn’t accepted, and something inside of her snaps. She blows out of town like a hurricane, dragging stick-in-the-mud Hannah along with her.
Hannah has her own crap she’s in the middle of, though. She’s been hauling a hot dog stand around town for two summers, trying to earn enough money to attend the local community college. Her mom is poor, and her dad is squandering every cent he makes on booze when he’s not attending AA meetings or being a weatherman. After an on-air meltdown, Hannah discovers that her father has siphoned her hot dog money. All $2000 of it.
So, what the hell? Why not run off with Zoe? It’ll only be for a day or two tops, right? It’ll give her time to cool off, time to think of some way to face her father without smashing his head in. Or sending him to rest peacefully at the bottom of the lake, which is where her hot dog stand now resides.
Except Zoe doesn’t want to turn around. When she’s not turning the car north to follow tornadoes, she’s turning it west to chase buffalo. She’s setting Kermit the Frog free the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. She’s bleaching her hair blonde in a Walmart bathroom on Black Friday. Above all, though, she’s not eating. Or sleeping. She doesn’t need to anymore, she tells Hannah. The aliens have been reformatting her DNA.
Hannah has to match her every step, because she doesn’t know what else to do.
Is Zoe crazy? What is crazy? If someone creates a world for themselves that’s better than the one they’re in, can you really blame them? She’s not harming anyone– except, okay, maybe the elderly security guard at IKEA whom she tazed in the middle of the night. Except herself, as she continues her path into starvation and sleepless madness. But she’s Hannah’s best friend. She’s the girl who creates museums in her basement for her brother to understand emotions. She’s the girl who teaches Hannah the meanings of audacity. Gluttony. Destiny. Betrayal. Insouciance. None of the meanings that you can glean from a dictionary, but the meanings that invoke life.
“If you won’t come with me, I’ll go with you,” Hannah tells Zoe. When forced to make a choice, I chose her.
Main Characters: Amy, Nick
Synopsis: Nick and Amy appear to have the perfect marriage. They’ve got it all: looks, money, love. But one morning, Amy has disappeared, and all that is left are signs of a struggle. Was their marriage really as good as it looked? Is Amy dead or just missing? Is Nick the fragile, worried husband or is he… a killer?
Review: My friend Caroline and I picked this up at the bookstore a couple weeks ago. I hate seeing a movie adaptation before reading the book; I’d rather have the book ruin the movie than the other way around. We were going to read it together and do our own personal sort of book club, but she works a lot more than I do and I simply couldn’t put this book down. Caroline, stop reading this right now and finish your book!
If you’re planning on seeing the movie and haven’t read the book yet, I’d advise you don’t read this review. Spoilers ahoy.
First and foremost, this book is a masterful piece of work. Amy is a masterful piece of work. Nick is a smarmy, spoiled baboon along for the ride.
Amy is… brilliant. She’s sharp, conniving, and knows what Nick is going to do before he even thinks about it. Amy does not like to be taken for a fool, and when she finds out that Nick is cheating on her with a ditzy twenty-three year old, she sets her sights on the ultimate revenge. She spends an entire year crafting this; every single spoken phrase, every single action is meticulously calculated. She doesn’t move unless she knows how it will be read once the plan is set in motion.What’s the plan? Why, to frame her husband for her murder, of course.
Like I said, Amy is meticulous. Her husband thinks she’s got an adorable affection for crime novels, but she’s really doing her research. She spends her evening writing a fake diary for the cops to find; she picks out real events from their shared history and twists them just slightly in her favor. She mentions real historic events that were happening at the time, things that would be sourced to ensure their plausibility. In the diary, she mentions feeling sick, describing textbook symptoms of antifreeze poisioning: yes, that’s right, she poisoned herself with antifreeze, then saved the vomit to later be wielded as evidence against her husband. She performed Google searches on his computer, things that would seem innocent until the police were looking for them: body float Mississippi river.
Somewhere along the way, Nick figures out what is going on. Of course he did– he’s a bumbling baboon, but he’s not a complete nitwit. All the proof that the cops are going on are things that were set up by Amy. Nick’s a deep sleeper? Perfect opportunity for Amy to plant his fingerprints all over the murder weapon. Nick’s cheating on Amy? Plant some underwear in his work office. Amy’s pregnant with a baby Nick didn’t want– wait, what?
I honestly think this is my favorite of Amy’s tricks. Her friend Noelle was pregnant with her fourth child. Amy invited Noelle over for lemonade and just happened to have drained the toilet– oh, it’s broken. When Noelle needed to pee, Amy later went and collected it, swapped it out at a doctor’s appointment, and voila– iron-clad laboratory proof that she, Amy, is in fact pregnant. What kind of monstrosity would kill his pregnant wife?! jeers the crowd. So cruel, so cruel. Because Nick did actually want a baby.
After hiring the best lawyer in the country, Nick finally learns how to act, and begins pleading with Amy via the national news. Come home, he says. I love you. He paints such a good picture of his adoration that even Amy begins to fall for it. He knew she would; that’s how well they know each other. Amy literally doesn’t believe she’s unlovable. She expects admiration, so when it’s granted, she believes it completely. Of course Nick loves her. Why wouldn’t he? Amy’s plans begin to change.
This is such a completely brilliant novel. Like I mentioned earlier, I legitimately did not want to put it down. I brought it to work with me and read over my sandwich at lunch. Amy’s plot is so precise, the lines so taught, that Nick never even had a chance. I read somewhere that we’ll never hear about the perfect crime, but this, my friends, is the perfect crime.
I chose the quotes above because they resonated with me the most. Amy and I have very little in common, but every good piece of writing has moments you can relate to. Especially that first quote; that’s me in a nutshell. To the outside world, I have plenty of redeemable qualities, and yet… single. So single. Anyway, for that second quote: I know what it’s like to be angry and then have it written off as “irrational.” I think every woman does, which is why the “do men not know that feeling?” was such a great piece of writing. The rest of the quotes are there not because they echo in familiarity against the inside of my skull, but because they’re some damn good quotes.
I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this story as a movie, especially because 50% of Part I is a fabrication. The events are mostly true, sure, but all the feelings behind them are not. It’s easier to throw a plot twist like this at you in a book, I think. But it comes out next Friday and I will be there for sure, that you can count on!
Title: Finding It
Author: Cora Carmack
Published: William Morrow Paperbacks, October 2013
Main Characters: Kelsey, Hunt
Synopsis: Kelsey is on a mission to find herself. She’s been running from herself and her twisted past ever since graduation: drinking, dancing, and fucking her way across Europe. One night, in a drunken stupor, she lays eyes on the hottest man she’s ever seen, a man with one name: Hunt. Somehow, he’s immune to her charms, which naturally just makes her want him even more. Kelsey thinks she’s finally had enough and is about to give up and head home, but a few more encounters later, Hunt issues her a challenge: spend a week with him, and if he can’t give her the adventure she’s been looking for, then she’s free to hang her head and go home.
Review: So somehow I missed that this was the third book in a trilogy. I did my research after the fact though, and luckily, the other two books focus on different characters. So I didn’t really miss anything important, just other stories that happen to take place in the same world. Phew!
At any rate, I completely fell in love with this book. It’s absolutely brilliantly written. It’s just Kelsey and Hunt, traveling around Europe. And it’s fantastic.
I don’t even really have the words for this. You’re just going to have to take my word for it. If you like realistic characters with realistic backgrounds and realist feelings and reactions, this is the book for you. Check out the quotes up there and how brilliant and evocative they are, and go get this book right now!
As soon as I get a job, I’m snatching up the rest of her books. If they’re half as good as this one, it’ll be money well spent!
Title: Meant to Be
Author: Lauren Morrill
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: Delacorte Press, November 2012
Main Characters: Julia, Jason
Synopsis: Julia is a bookworm. There’s no way around it. She keeps perfectly sharpened #2 pencils in her purse! And her friends bailed on her, so now she’s the only bookworm on the class trip to London. When you’re in high school, it seems like teachers are out to make your lives hell, and Mrs. Tennison is no exception: she assigns partners for the trip. Who does Julia get paired with? Class clown and unruly ginger, Jason. All Julia wants to do is survive this trip and get back to distantly ogling her MTB (Meant To Be), also known as the gorgeous hunk Mark, whom Julia has known since childhood. Is there more to Jason than meets the eye? Furthermore, is there more to Julia…?
Review: This was a completely lovely story. It’s one of those that, again, you pretty much know how it’s going to end, but the journey it takes you on to get there is well worth the ride.
It’s set in London, as mentioned in the synopsis. The class trip is a little over a week, and they’re staying in a very posh hotel. Julia doesn’t even have to deal with a roommate, which is great for her, because she’s one of those “me against the preps” girls. (I used to have that kind of frame of mind too, back in elementary school, but thank goodness I grew out of it!) She can spread out, fold her clothes, set out her books… and not have to worry about anyone messing it up.
Julia starts off with nothing but distaste for Jason, especially since he spent the whole plane ride over yelling “We’re going down!” every time there’s a semblance of turbulence. Like Julia doesn’t hate flying enough. (This, she and I have in common. See the first Memorable Quote.) That sums up his personality in a nutshell, really: he’s a joker, prankster, doesn’t really care how he’s perceived as long as at least one person is laughing.
In terms of things I didn’t like, SPOILER, Mark shows up in London. Yes, that Mark. Mark and Julia were neighbors when they were children, and they used to have a blast playing together every day. They even staged a pretend marriage! Alas, Mark moved away at some point, and her crush waned, as things do. But then Mark moved back, and it was like he’d never left. Clearly, this was a sign that they were Meant To Be.
At any rate, it turns out that Mark has some sort of connection to the hotel Julia and the kids are staying at, so she bumps into him in the lobby and they end up hanging out a lot. Long story short, Julia realizes Mark is definitely not the guy she thought he was. At all. I didn’t really… like that. I didn’t think it was necessary for him to magically show up. I think she could’ve appreciated Jason on her own, without the contrast of “Oh, Mark sucks, so Jason is clearly the only choice.” I wish she would’ve made the choice on her own, instead of basically having it made for her.
Regardless, this was a completely enjoyable book. The descriptions of London are so vivid and real. I even made myself watch a YouTube video of a trip on the London Eye because it was described so well in the book that I had to see it myself! Sadly, I’ve never been to London. I’ll get there someday, though, and this book gave me a few places I’d like to add to my sightseeing list!
Title: These Broken Stars
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: December 2013, Disney Hyperion
Main Characters: Lilac, Tarver
Synopsis: Tarver Menderson is a soldier. He accomplished something recently that propelled him into “hero” status, but even with that he doesn’t come close to the magnificent star system that is Lilac LaRoux. Lilac LaRoux is… rich. Beyond measure. A princess, by any futuristic standards. Why, her father built the spaceship that she and Tarver are both sailing on. (Spaceship? More like, colossal luxury cruise ship IN SPACE.) Except… Tarver doesn’t know who she is. He’s heard of her, of course, but he doesn’t recognize her on sight. So when he chats up the beautiful redhead in the ballroom, he has no idea that he’s speaking to the daughter of the most powerful– and dangerous– man in the universe. Well, that’s awkward. But there are worse things than incurring Mr. LaRoux’s wrath. Worse things like the ship bucking out of space and time itself. In a cruel twist of fate, Tarver and Lilac help each other escape the tormented ship. Their escape pod careens into the forest on a nearby planet, and they watch together as the behemoth of a space cruiser, dying and aflame, slams into the surface of the planet.
Review: This is one of those books that you start off knowing how it’ll end, but that doesn’t make the journey any less fun.
This was just such a fun story! The opening scenes on the ship do a great job for establishing the characters. You learn quickly about their personalities, even if you don’t know their background stories yet. The action of the ship going down is brilliantly paced.
The book starts off with what can only be interpreted as someone being interrogated. You’re able to figure out a couple chapters later that it’s Tarver. But who is interrogating him, and why? The actual story, then, is a flashback as told by Tarver. (Except somehow the chapters alternate POVs. Hmm.) This also sort of answers a question you didn’t even know you had: when they crash-land, when all this bad stuff is happening to them, do they manage to make it off the planet alive? Well, clearly, yes. Because Tarver is giving a debriefing about it.
Their trek across the planet to reach the fallen Icarus comes off as a bit slow sometimes. (Are they there yet?) But the authors do a really good job of filling the silence. That’s when all of the character backstory comes out. The characters don’t tell all of it to each other, but we as the omnipotent reader get to see what’s going on.
You learn a lot about the planet through their separate reactions to it. Obviously, this book is set in the future. This society has the ability to terraform (and then colonize) planets. This planet that they’ve landed on is definitely terraformed: Tarver has been on many terraformed planets, and he recognizes the specific elements, like the type of trees used, the way the air is breathable. But the trees are taller than he’s ever seen… and, even stranger, there are no colonists. How long has this planet been terraformed? Why are there no colonists? What the hell happened here?
The love story takes a back burner to the larger mystery, which is quickly noted as being a mystery but slow to be fleshed out. Why is Lilac hearing voices? Is she simply crazy (or in shock), or is there something else going on here? Seriously, why are there no colonists? Are they ever going to confess their feelings for each other??
This review came out a bit more sarcastic than I intended, but I truly did enjoy the book. I read it in less than a day, it was that enthralling. It’s an adventurous, futuristic love-story mystery novel. What’s not to like?!
Title: Everything Leads to You
Author: Nina LaCour
Genre: YA Fiction
Published: May 2014, Dutton Juvenile
Main Characters: Emi, Charlotte, Ava
Synopsis: Emi, a Los Angeles native, has just graduated high school. Thanks to her older brother, Toby, she’s got an awesome job: she’s interning at a movie studio. She’s in charge of designing a set! Just for one scene, which is a tall order for an intern, but Emi is very, very good. The job isn’t without its perils, though; she’s working with her love interest, Morgan, who has just dumped Emi… for the sixth time. In her attempts to avoid Morgan, Emi avoids the studio. She’s looking for furniture for her set design anyway. However, she finds something at an estate sale that will completely change her life– and a few others’ along with it.
Review: I love falling in love with characters. I love falling in love with the way a book makes me feel. I loved falling in love with this book, maybe more so than I even like falling in actual love.
This is a beautiful, beautiful story. At its heart it’s a love story, of course. But Nina LaCour crafts the book so beautifully, I can’t help but compare her to Emi and her careful eye as she constructs a set. Every little detail matters, whether it’s the way a picture frame tilts just off kilter, or the way the light hits Ava’s hair. Obviously Emi and Nina are of the same brain… but it’s different, somehow, this time. I could get lost in the way things are described. I picked out a few of my favorites and posted them above. The way she describes the couch, for instance. I mean, it’s a couch! But the couch is Emi’s job: she finds the beauty in the details, she knows how important the subtleties are, and all of that comes across in the writing. You and I, we look at a couch and think, wow, that looks comfy. (Or… maybe not, depending on the couch!) But Emi looks at a couch and sees how it needs to connect with the story. The golden thread, the character’s golden hair. A fairytale forest, full of ominous danger, because that is where the character is headed in the story.
I loved the emotion weaved into the story, too. There’s a particularly poignant moment in the story after Ava confronts her adoptive mother, Tracey.
Without warning, Ava pulls onto the side of the road. She pulls up the emergency brake and leans into Jamal, buries her face in his shoulder, her body quaking. She trembles and trembles and when she finally cries it doesn’t even sound like crying. Nothing like that night in our living room with Clyde Jones on the screen looking out at her. Not like a few minutes ago, on Tracey’s front lawn. Not even close to that. It’s this gasping that makes Charlotte and me lock hands, makes me have to struggle against crying myself. It isn’t my tragedy. It isn’t me who knows for certain in this moment that I’m alone in the world. She has us, I know, but for all people talk about friends as being the same as family, I know that, really, they aren’t. At least not when you’re eighteen. Not when sometimes you need your mother.
I can completely identify with that feeling. Last year, I moved to a completely new place by myself. I didn’t know a soul, and my workplace was not conducive to making friendships. I didn’t know anything about the city I was in, and going out was always a pain in the ass because of traffic, so I pretty much always stayed home. It got to a point where my anxieties had completely overwhelmed me and I was becoming a bit of a hypochondriac and I was crying multiple times a day and… I just really needed a hug from my mother. But she wasn’t there. She was three thousand miles away. I know it’s completely, 100% not the same thing as being abandoned on purpose, but that sense of alone-ness, of not having anyone there to comfort you in your darkest moments when you absolutely need them… that, I get.
I feel like there’s a bit of “manic pixie dream girl” dismantling going on here, too. When Emi first meets Ava, she thinks she’s perfect. The girl is a mystery. Ava doesn’t even know anything about her own life! Emi’s dramatic flair takes over, and she wants to solve this mystery. She wants to help Ava in her rags-to-riches fairytale. She wants to be the one who made her. Emi wants to direct the movie of Ava’s life, frame the situation. That the tragedy is in the past and now Ava can be free and live her life in the spotlight. Except… that’s not how real people work. I found this passage particularly beautiful.
I want to confess. I thought that her story was composed of scenes. I thought the tragedy could be glamorous and her grief could be undone by a sunnier future. I thought we could pinpoint dramatic events on a time line and call it a life.
But I was wrong. There are no scenes in life, there are only minutes. And none are skipped over and they all lead to the next. There was the minute that Caroline set Ava down and the minutes it took her to shoot up. There was the minute that Caroline died and all of the minutes before Lenny discovered them. The minute he left Ava there, still crying, and the minutes before the ambulance came. And all of the minutes that followed that, wherever she went next, whoever held her, so many gaps in memory that must have been filled by something important. I want to apologize for not realizing sooner that what I felt in Clyde’s study was not the beginning of a mystery or a project. She was never something waiting to be solved. All she is– all she’s ever been– is a person trying to live a life.
I also want to add that it’s really refreshing to read a book with queer characters that… isn’t about being queer. Emi is gay, obviously, but it’s not her defining trait at all, just like a regular human being. It’s just one facet of her being. So many “queer novels” are about the gay struggle: coming out, getting kicked out of the house, telling your friends, what have you. And those are… important, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of the genre. The world needs to recognize that queer people can lead just as normal lives as anyone else, and that’s who Emi is. She’s a normal teenage girl with an awesome job, a family, a best friend, and a car. Her love is the same as anyone else’s: timid, nervous, afraid of messing up, but passionate. It’s what we all strive for in a relationship, no matter what gender the person we search for it in.
In short, I’ll leave you with this. If you want a completely beautifully written story, with colorful, relatable characters, and fantastically interwoven plotlines to boot, please pick this book up. Do yourself the favor. It’s $11 for your Kindle and you don’t even need a Kindle to read Kindle books! Just get the free app on your smartphone. Seriously. I promise you won’t regret it.