Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Year Published: 2016 (UK) 2017 (US)

My Rating: ★★★★1/2

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a non-spoiler review.

TRIGGER WARNING for self-harm and depression.

This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2017 and boy oh boy was I right in anticipating this. The reason I was anticipating this book was because the blurb indicated it was a story about a main character with agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s home or ‘safe space’), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), extreme anxiety, and depression. These are all things that I have suffered from, so to see a book that was coming out that explored all of these things in one character really had me intrigued. I wasn’t disappointed.

In a nutshell, this YA contemporary follows our main character Norah, a 17 (?) year old teenager living in California who suffers from all of the above mentioned. The reader follows her day to day life and how she deals with the illness she suffers from. It explores her relationship with her mother, as well as her therapist. There is also, of course, the love interest as well. The love interest comes in the form of Luke, a boy who has just moved in next door and is intrigued by Norah: the girl who sits in the open doorway of her house, watching the outside world while her mind keeps her trapped inside her house.

Right off the bat, hearing that there is a love interest to someone who has agoraphobia, or any other invisible illness, may make a reader hesitant. Is this just another book about the love interest fixing the mental illness of the main protagonist? Because that in itself is very unrealistic.

You may think this at first, but this book is far from that. The love interest in this book definitely does not fix Norah’s illness. In fact, she still has a very long way to go by the time the end of the book comes about. What he does do, and what her mother and therapist also do in this book, is help Norah deal with the day to day hurdles she has to jump through. They help her grow.

What really amplifies Norah’s internal struggles in the book is the knowledge that the author herself has suffered from all of these things. This therefore makes it an own-voices book (a book in which the author identifies with the same characteristics of the main character). Norah’s story suddenly becomes all the more real with this piece of knowledge and it really authenticates the story in this way. It authenticates that people with this mental illness think about things such as the following daily:

-Self-harm
-Low self-worth
-Wondering if this illness will ever let them have a life
-Thinking every worst situation possible will happen if they step outside their door
-Overthinking every word a person has communicated to them
-Overthinking pretty much everything in general to the point where it makes them sick

We, the readers, discover that Norah thinks about these things daily. Her struggle with these things, and slowly but surely overcoming them only to find something else blocking her path to recovery, is what this book is really all about. The romance is a cute subplot, but again, it is not the main focal point of the story.

The only thing I would have to complain about this book was that a lot of the pages that contained Norah’s internal thoughts were overflowing with metaphors and similes. A lot of what Norah would be thinking about was compared to something else. I understand that it is hard to write a book that comprises mostly of the narrators thoughts without metaphors and similes, but I feel as though the book would have benefited more if there was less of this.

Other than that, I highly enjoyed this novel. It, in my opinion, should be required reading of any teenager in high school. It really opens up the subject of mental illness and even shows that it is more common than one may think. Students, and pretty much any one of any age, will learn that they are not alone in reading this book…and I think that’s one of the most important things to remember when you have a mental illness: that you are not alone.

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Book Review: The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2016

My Rating: ★★★1/2☆

I went into this book not knowing much about it. I thought it had something to do with some sort of buried secret, and in a way, it did. However, it wasn’t the secret at the end of the novel that was revealed that really made this an interesting read for me. What made it interesting was the uniqueness of it. I have never come across a family, in reality or in fiction, as disturbing as that of the Cresswell’s. More specifically, the father of the family. The fact that it was so disturbing really lifted the rating of this book for me, because I have not come across a book in my lifetime that has done so.

I admired our main character/narrator and her role in breaking her family out of the religious cult that her father built for the family, but in the end I think she was just a means to an end. I wish she was a little more rounded as a person. For example, we could have had her explain when the questioning of her family’s ways began; if it started early on, or if only just now the thoughts began to creep into her head. That way, we see some sort of development into the person she becomes: someone who has become openly defiant of her father and the control he has over them.

In the end I would have to give this book a 3.5/5 stars. This is because I felt as though it had the potential of being much longer, allowing the reader to get to know the characters more and what their lives have been like. Also, some of the characters seemed ambiguous in their beliefs, especially the main character’s siblings. They would defy their father, but then they would go back to submitting themselves to his will. There wasn’t much consistency there. Otherwise, I thought this was a very thrilling and different read. I would not, however, recommend this to certain people, as religion can be a touchy subject, despite the fact that it was portrayed in such a radical way that it wouldn’t usually offend anyone. However, in the end, I felt as though things were handled quite well and it was a solid read.

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Book Review: Solitaire by Alice Oseman

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2014

My Rating: ★★★★★

Brief Summary: Teenager Tori Spring has always felt somewhat outside of her friends. She likes to blog and she likes to sleep. One day, two things appear in her life that change all of that. The first is Solitaire, and the second is Michael Holden. The cover does not lie; this is not a love story. Tori faces battles at home, at school, with her friends, with Michael Holden, and most importantly, with herself. Solitaire is a coming of age novel that explores the type of teenage years that many teens today experience; something that people who are older may not understand.

Review: I really enjoyed Alice Oseman’s writing in this novel. It was simple and to the point. I really felt as though I was inside Tori’s head the whole time. I had a very clear understanding of who she was as a person: cynical and pessimistic, yet not entirely helpless in either of these areas. The plot also came from someone that was near the age group of the main characters in the novel, which made it more credible. Often adults are writing novels about teenagers and thus cannot be 100% accurate about how teenagers act today, but because of Oseman’s young age, the writing and the story was absolutely believable.

The characters were fantastic as well. Each of the main characters—Tori, Michael, Becky, and Charlie—were deeply developed. We learned each person had their own fatal flaw and we observed those flaws through Tori’s eyes, and along the way, Tori began to see her own by means of observing others. She was very self-aware of her personality. As the novel progressed you could see her deteriorate mentally, and in the end, the beginning of her revival. How she came to that endpoint, I will not go into, but the book is definitely worth the read to find out how this develops between Tori and her friends.

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Book Review: Paper Towns by John Green

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2009

My Rating: ★★★★★

(Very vague spoilers in this review, nothing important or plot-spoiling).

This book surprised me. I have to admit, after reading An Abundance of Katherines, it was a major relief. I think that both novels were exploring the theme of growing up and learning about oneself, but Paper Towns succeeded far more than An Abundance of Katherines did.

Q and his friends had one hell of a journey ahead of them, and I never knew what was going to happen next or whether or not the next paper town Q turned into would contain something good or something bad. That excited me. Nothing was predictable.

I also loved how quirky the characters were, and found it extremely hilarious about the collection of black santas that Radar’s parents have. Their interactions with one another and just the story in general was different, but not so different that I found their story unreasonable or unrealistic. It was a relatable-different, as I the reader can definitely relate to things like the high school system, fear of adult vs. childhood imagination, etc.

I did get annoyed a few times at Q for when he complained about Ben, but I suppose he came to terms with things in the end. Also, I felt like the ending was very abrupt and could have taken a little bit more time to wrap things up.

In the end, however, I was pleased with Paper Towns. It was the type of book that I couldn’t put down, but when I did, I immediately wanted to get back to it. The writing was fluid and easy to get through, while not being so simple that it suffered from lackluster. It was an overall good read that I would recommend.

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Book Review: Not If I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★☆☆

I received an advanced reader copy of this novel courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Not If I See You First is a young adult contemporary novel that follows the perspective of high school-er and protagonist, Parker. Parker is blind and has recently lost her father, her mother also dead from a car accident that left Parker without sight years ago. Her aunt and cousins move in to live with her, and this book follows what goes on in her life as school begins and new and old loves arise, as well as when friendship issues occur.

The author, Eric Lindstrom, did an excellent job telling the story in the perspective of someone blind. That in itself was a very unique and intriguing concept. Not only that, but we also learn that our main character is a fantastic runner despite being blind. The story of how her mother caused the accident that resulted in her loss of sight and the unsure truth of why her father died is also quite interesting. I desperately wished all of these things were explored further

Unfortunately, all of these intriguing story lines were set aside for the novel to be about Parker and her dating this guy who turns out to be best friends with the boy she was in a relationship with when she was 13. This novel had a lot more potential than what it ended up being. Often, I felt as though all Parker did was complain. I found her to be very self-centered and very dramatic. To say that her boyfriend of 2 weeks when she was 13 could have been her soul mate and falling into deep despair because of that was annoying. I understand that being blind is something that requires a little extra attention from people, but Parker’s whole storyline is revolved around the issue with Scott and other smaller issues that appear between her and her cousin, as well as her friends.

This book had a lot of potential to explore the growth of a young girl who has experienced so much tragedy, yet chose to continue her life and do her best to focus on one of the things she loves to do most, as well as her family, friends, and possible significant other. Perhaps if I was younger (not 21 years old), I would have connected to this book more. But, unfortunately, I am not and I could only see Parker as an annoying, self-centered, dramatic teenager that has an extremely unfortunate disability she must learn to deal with every day.

Because of it’s interesting premise, I’ll give this book a decent rating. But on the whole, I admit I did not enjoy it as much as I was hoping to.

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Book Review: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT

Year Published: 2012

My Rating:★★★★★

Everyone needs to read this book immediately. It’s so important. Friends, family, teachers, professors. Everyone please read this book.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz is a coming of age young adult novel that explores the relationship between young Mexican-American teenagers Aristotle (Ari) Mendoza and Dante Quintana. The story begins with their meeting at the pool during the summer of 1987 where Dante offers Ari swimming lessons. From there, the story blossoms into a tale about two young boys trying to figure out who they are and who they are growing up to be. While Dante is more open with who he is, our narrator Ari is less so. However, his friendship with Dante, which may bloom into something more, brings out who he is truly becoming: a man that is brave, loyal, and loving. This novel is truly one for the ages and will definitely attract readers who enjoyed books such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and the classic The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

I did not expect this novel to hit me as hard as it did. Seeing these two boys grow up in 1987 was a truly magnificent experience because as a reader living in the 21st century, it was refreshing to see how a friendship can become so strong without the major technologies of today. Not only that, but their exploration of love and everything that comes with growing up (alcohol, drugs, and the opposite/same sex) was very tastefully done. It did not seem extreme, as many young adult authors tend to overdue in their attempt at reaching a younger audience. Not only that, but the theme of family and the importance of a family dynamic was truly beautiful. Seeing Ari and Dante’s parents come together to support their sons while also revealing something about themselves really shows that how one interacts with their family is just as important in growing up as how one interacts with their friends and peers. Without the theme of family, this book definitely would have fallen flat. Luckily, it didn’t, and I can personally say that the author managed to put everything in perfect balance, even if the characters themselves weren’t.

This is a book that needs to be read by every high school student and teacher. In fact, it needs to be read by every parent and professor as well. We can all learn something from this little book about two boys trying to discover the secrets of the universe; secrets that aren’t as secret as they may think. Growing up is in itself a secret, and Ari and Dante discover this secret as they grow up during the course of the book. The reader grows up with them, and with that, the universe opens up not only to the characters, but to us as well. The conclusion was just right, and if you are with Ari and Dante from the beginning, you’ll know that it could not have ended any other way. The story: timeless. The lesson: irreplaceable. You need only to read this young adult masterpiece to know just how much of a triumph it truly is.

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Book Review: Skink–No Surrender by Carl Hiaasan

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery

Year Published: 2014

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I received a digital copy of this book thanks to the publishers and Net Galley. This review is free of spoilers. Very vague wording is used.

I really looked forward to reading and reviewing this book, which from what I understand is considered to be Hiaasen’s first YA book. Unfortunately, I have to say that I am disappointed. I think what Hiaasen accomplished here is certainly quirky, as are a lot of his books, but I don’t think that his goal to reach out to older teens in the YA genre worked.

I know that Hiaasen was trying to make the situation that Malley was in dire, but once the antagonist was presented, he was almost laughable. Also, the attempted use of modern day terms such as “YOLO” and “chatroom” were overused. I understand that the book was to be written for modern teenagers, but it didn’t succeed. Not many teens actually speak like this on a daily basis. The only thing that is holding this book back from being a middle school/preteen novel are all the hints that Richard gives of what T.C. could have done/be doing to Malley and words like “dumbass” here and there.

The pace of the novel was also very slow and the whole adventure seemed very nonchalant. This is especially true of T.C.’s ending. He left the novel in a very, let’s say, ungentle way. You would think that the characters would have been more taken aback, but they seemed for the most part unaffected by it.

The only thing that saved this book was the character of Skink. The rest of the main characters needed as much character development as he had, and I feel like the story as a whole would have been better if this was done.

I give Hiaasen credit for writing this novel and trying to reach out to the YA genre, but as someone who loves YA and has had some of her favorite books come from YA books, I am truly disappointed.

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