American Street







Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Genres: Young Adult, Magical Realism
Read: Jan. 2018

Ibi Zoboi! Way to rip my heart out and stomp on it! What even? I was not expecting this.

This was the last book in my January Challenge to read 3 books about immigration. I read Girl in Translation and Pachinko earlier this month and loved both of them. American Street was a whole different kind of story, quite unlike either of the others. It was probably my least favourite of the 3 books, but still really good.

Fabiola Toussaint was born in America, but raised in Haiti because her mother didn’t have citizenship. Her Aunt Jo and her 3 cousins, Chantal, Pri, and Donna all live in Detroit and regularly send money back to Haiti to help out Fabiola and her mother. When Fab is entering her junior year of high school, they send enough money for her and her mother to finally move to America for good. Fab has American citizenship, but her mother has to get all the necessary visas to “visit” America. Unfortunately, when they enter America, Fab’s mother is detained at the border and she is forced to go on to Detroit without her.

Her aunt and cousins live at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Fab has been desperate to come to America to live in the land of the free, but she doesn’t feel very free with her mother detained in an immigration prison in New Jersey and navigating her cousins’ world is scary and overwhelming. Her cousins are notorious at school and a little rough around the edges. Fabiola is pulled into their world and discovers the dark underside of what it costs to chase after the american dream.

Like I said, this was really different from any of the other immigration books I’ve read this year. I think Zoboi really captures Fab’s Haitian spirit and what it’s like growing up black in Detroit. She intertwines some cultural elements, like Haitian vodou, which is very much a spiritual thing for Fab, but is usually interpreted more like witchcraft in modern society. She weaves in some magical realism which surprised me and first, but I thought really worked with the story.

Voice was key for me in this novel. I’m a privileged white girl who grew up in a predominantly white town, so I definitely can’t relate to Fabiola or her cousins, yet their voices rang so true. I had no trouble believing in Zoboi’s characters. Fab’s uneasiness when she first arrives at her aunt’s house; Chantal’s desire to chase education but her reluctance to leave her family; Donna’s inability to say ‘enough is enough’; and Pri’s fierce and protective love for her sisters. My only complaint would be that Zoboi didn’t actually go deep enough into each of these characters. She formulated some really excellent characters, I just wanted more of them.

I really wasn’t anticipating where the plot of this story went. I thought it was mostly going to be about Fab trying to re-unite with her mom. While this was definitely an underlying conflict throughout the entire novel, Zoboi tackled a lot of other issues in this story. Although I would have liked to have heard her mother’s story as well and learn about what it’s actually like to be detained. I never really knew where the story was going and felt quite out of my depth with some of the content, much as I imagine Fabiola must have felt arriving in Detroit and trying to fit in with girls attacking each other over boyfriends and drugs passing hands on the sly. But Zoboi was quite unflinching in her delivery. I really did not see the end coming in this book and parts of it and brutal.

So like I said, probably my least favourite of the 3 books that I read, but actually very complimentary because this offered a totally different perspective than the other two. The characters in Girl in Translation and Pachinko are very meek and I loved Fabiola’s strength in this novel. She makes some pretty big mistakes, but she’s not afraid to chase after what she wants and she is very brave and courageous. Her culture shock was quite different and I liked getting another perspective. She could have let herself be pushed around, but she wouldn’t stand for it and decided to make her own place. Family is a central theme to this novel and I enjoyed the messiness that was the Francois sisters and Fabiola’s relationships with them.

Way to go Zoboi, this is a great debut novel!


On the Jellicoe Road






Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

As usual, all the stars in the world for this book! Can’t re-call if this is my 4th or 5th time reading On the Jellicoe Road, but it is still just as beautiful and moving and leaves me tearing up on the couch, feeling so emotional!

I’m pretty sure I will never stop loving this book. It is just the most gorgeous writing and story! Melina Marchetta knows how to crack your heart open and writes the most moving characters!

On the Jellicoe Road is a bit of an older YA book now, published in 2006, and is set in rural Australia. It definitely has one of the more bizarre-sounding plots, and I will admit to being a little bit confused the first time I read it because there’s a lot of characters and I didn’t realize at first that the story was switching between two different points of view, so I’ll warn readers about that up front. The main story is told by Taylor Markham, but everything that’s italicized is a different point of view.

The novel is set at a boarding school called Jellicoe, which is located about 7 hours drive from Sydney, right next to Jellicoe Town. Every year from September to November, a group of cadets come to Jellicoe to practice their outdoor skills and set up camp in the woods for 6 weeks. There are three main factions: the kids boarding at the Jellicoe school, the Cadets, and the Townies, who live and go to school in Jellicoe Town. During the 6 weeks that the Cadets visit every year, the Townies, Cadets, and Jellicoe School have a secret war going on behind the teacher’s backs and duke it out to win territory from each other.

This year Taylor has been selected as the leader of the Jellicoe School. Taylor has an unfortunate history and was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was just 11 years old. She was picked up by Hannah, who lives in a small house next to the school and spends the next 5 years attending the school. Taylor knows very little about her past and struggles with the pain she feels about being abandoned by her mother and hesitates to let anyone into her life. She is tested when at the beginning of term, Hannah, the only person who’s ever been there for her, disappears. Taylor wants more from the people in her life, but she’s afraid to love or let anyone in lest they abandon her too.

The only thing Hannah leaves behind for Taylor is an unfinished manuscript about 5 kids and a tragic accident that happened on the Jellicoe Road 22 years earlier. Taylor is confused by the story, but starts developing an attachment to Hannah’s characters, wondering if they might have more to do with her past than she realizes.

Every single thing about this story is beautiful. The best thing I’ve always loved about Marchetta’s writing is the bonds and relationships she creates between her characters. Marchetta really understands friendships and our need as humans to belong to something. Taylor is slowly falling apart in this novel and I love watching the relationships she builds with the other kids in the story and how they become friends and support each other. I love how each character has this incredible backstory that brings so much depth to the novel. I love that even Marchetta’s minor characters are fully realized individuals and that every character matters. There are never throw away characters in Melina’s novels.

This is ultimately a story about growing up and self discovery. As someone who has been shuffled around, Taylor craves history and I love the history Marchetta creates between each of the characters. Many of them are very broken people and I love watching them grow throughout the novel. Plus, the writing is so dreamy. I think the manuscript is really well written, but I also love Taylor’s inner monologue. There are so many great quotes in this book and it hits me right in the feels every time I read it.

You do not have to be a teenager to enjoy this book. It actually has some pretty dark and mature themes and I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone! Please read, it is by far one of my most favourite books of all time!

Looking for Alibrandi






Rating: ⭐
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Read: Jan. 2018

This is a tough one to review because I’m not quite sure how I felt about this book. Looking for Alibrandi was Melina Marchetta’s first book and it’s been on my TBR for a very long time. On the Jellicoe Road is the first Marchetta book I read and it still remains my favourite of her books (and one of my favourite books of all time). I keep hoping that one of her other books will be better than Jellicoe Road, but they never are.

This was a fun book. I really liked Josie. She was spunky and I laughed out loud at her more than once. I haven’t read a YA book like this one in a while and sinking into Marchetta’s writing is like sinking into a hot bath. It feels so nice and comforting. I didn’t love Looking for Alibrandi and I did take issue with the main romantic relationship in the novel, but I also appreciate what Melina did with this book.

Josephine Alibrandi is in her final year of high school and she’s determined to do well on her HSC exams so that she can become a barrister (it’s set in Australia). Josie has never quite taken herself seriously and sees herself as an outcast because of her heritage. Her grandparents moved to Australia from Italy in the 1940’s and she’s been raised heavily Italian. Her mom became pregnant with her at 17, alienating herself from her family, and raised Josie on her own, without any support from Josie’s father.

Josie struggles to belong because of her heritage and because she goes to a catholic high school, she is largely shamed because of her single mother. She’s had a crush on do-gooder John Barton for years, but she finds herself enamoured with the rough-around-the-edges Jacob Coote after she meets him at a regional school event. To top things off, when her father unexpectedly shows up in Sydney, she knows she’s in for a whirlwind senior year.

There were a lot of things I liked about this book, the biggest of which was the insight Marchetta provides into race relationships in Australia. Many of the Australians are actively racist against the families that immigrated from Italy and Greece in the 1940’s and 1950’s and there’s an interesting dynamic between Josie and some of her classmates. I enjoyed when Josie learned about her Italian heritage and how she learned to accept it and appreciate it.

I also liked the relationship she built with her father and the dynamic between her and the rest of her family. Her relationship with her mother and grandmother felt very real. At first you wonder if any of them actually like each other and they all seem a bit bipolar in how they treat one another, but when I think of my family and how we can one minute all be screaming at each other and the next minute happily sitting down for dinner, it rings true of that special bond that you can have with your family that I’ve never experienced in any other friendship.

The reason I liked Josie’s relationship with her Dad though is that it was so anti-dramatic. Children finding their birth parents always has a super dramatic and emotional narrative, but I loved that Josie was so secure in herself and her family relationships that meeting her father was just an event that happened to her. She never felt like she was lacking anything and when she finally did meet her father, it was just this interesting opportunity to get to know him. I never felt emotionally manipulated by the author in any of the relationships.

Now, to the part I didn’t like: Jacob Coote. Am I supposed to like this character? He reminded me a little of Rhett Bulter in Gone With the Wind in that he never conformed to what Josie wanted him to be and was the only one her called her out on her bullshit. I feel like we’re supposed to like him for refusing to change himself, but I never liked Rhett and I didn’t like Jacob either. He was just straight up not reasonable and in my opinion, not really respectful either. He gave Josie shit about stuff that I didn’t think was any of his business, like her relationship with John Barton and her opinions of when to have sex. And when he complained about meeting her mom and then kicked up a stink when she didn’t want him to meet her grandmother? Get over yourself Jacob and respect Josie!

Anyways, I was still pretty pleased with how this book went and it’s given me a huge hankering to re-read Jellicoe Road. The Piper’s Son is now the only Marchetta book I haven’t read, so I’ll need to get around to that one too!

My recommendation would be to skip this book and go straight to Jellicoe Road!

History is All You Left Me


Rating: ⭐
Author: Adam Silvera
Genres: Young Adult
Read: Aug. 2017 on audiobook


History is All You Left Me has been getting a ton of great reviews, but I had a hard time getting into it.

This was my second audiobook, and while I definitely enjoyed it more than my first audiobook, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I still didn’t love it. However, my dislike for Beneath a Scarlet Sky had to do with the writing, while I fear my dislike of History is All You Left Me may have been because of the narrator. I really didn’t like the narrator for this audiobook. He was whiny and annoying to listen to and I felt like he didn’t get the tone of the book right. I almost want to read a hard copy to see how I interpret the tone, but I know I’ll never be able to sit through it again.

It’s definitely a sad book. Griffin is dealing with the loss of his best friend and first boyfriend Theo. He broke up with Theo prior to his death, but anticipated they would one day get back together and was still in love with him. In his grief, he turns to Theo’s new boyfriend Jackson for comfort, but forsakes his other friends who are also grieving for Theo.

I think this was a good book about love, loss, grief, and moving on. But it also had a side story about Griffin’s struggle with OCD that I couldn’t really get into. I’ve never had OCD, so I have no idea how well it was portrayed, but I felt Griffin’s struggle with OCD could have been a story on it’s own and I’m not sure it worked for me in this book. But maybe it’s inclusion meant a lot to readers with OCD, so I don’t want to dismiss it.

In the end I’m giving it 3 stars because I do think it was a decent book, but the narrator kind of ruined it for me, so I would definitely recommend reading over listening for this one.

Note: I moved this review over from my goodreads account. I have read several more audiobooks since I read this book and I’m finding that I don’t really like listening to fiction, so that may be a factor in my dislike of this book. I’ve switched to mostly listening to non-fiction and have found it a lot more enjoyable.

Far From the Tree


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Robin Benway
Genres: Young Adult
Read: Oct. 2017


I loved this!!

I don’t give very many books 5 stars. I’ve usually read most of the book before I realize it’s one of those really special books that deserves the extra star, but every now and then you find a book that you know you are going to love right off the bat. That’s what Far From the Tree was like for me.

I thought this book had the strongest start. It tells the story of 3 teenagers that had all been put up for adoption by their birth mom. Joaquin, the eldest, actually lived with his mother for a short period of time, but ended up in the foster care system for his entire life. He’s been in and out of over a dozen homes and has a very low self-worth, believing himself undeserving of any good thing.

Grace and Maya were luckier and we’re adopted by loving families at birth. Maya is the youngest and just a few months after she was adopted, her mom became pregnant with a miracle baby, Lauren. Lauren looks just like her parents and Maya struggles to fit in when she looks so different from the rest of her family. Grace is the middle child and is heartbroken after becoming pregnant at 16 and deciding to give her own baby, who she refers to as Peach, up for adoption.

The novel opens with Grace giving birth and then alternates each chapter from the point of view of each of the siblings. In the beginning, none of the siblings know each other. After giving up her baby, Grace is inspired to search for her own birth mother and discovers the existence of her 2 siblings and reaches out to them. Grace’s first chapter was so incredibly well written and heartbreaking that I immediately knew I was going to love this book. Funny enough, I read Robin Benway’s debut novel, Audrey, Wait! when I was actually a teenager and it was one of my favourite books at the time, but I stopped reading Benway after her second novel, which I found very disappointing. So it was a pleasant surprise to see this book nominated for the National Book Award (which it won) and I decided to re-visit her work.

Honestly, 2 of the first 3 chapters could have been standalone short stories and they still would have been fantastic. Grace and Joaquin were the most moving stories, but Maya still had a really interesting story arc as well. The emotions are just so well written in this book. Even though I’ve never been in the foster system or given up a baby at 16, their pain and heartbreak was so tangible and relatable. Benway tackled a lot of issues in this book and I felt every second of the story was important and meaningful.

To conclude, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing in this story and would highly recommend Far From the Tree to anyone and everyone!