Sadie

Rating: 
Author: Courtney Summers
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub date: Sep. 4th, 2018 (read July 2018)

I have a copy of one of Courtney Summers other books, All the Rage, that’s been sitting on my shelf waiting for me for awhile, but I’ve been hearing a lot of hype about this book and St. Martin’s Press was so kind as to send me an advance electronic copy in exchange for an honest review, so I decided to read this one first.

As usual, I barely read the synopsis for this one and picked it up mostly based on the hype, so I went into this blind. Sadie is the story of 19 year old Sadie Hunter and her younger sister Mattie. The book starts with Sadie’s disappearance after Mattie is found murdered. The girls mother was a drug abuser and did little parenting of her two daughters. They grew up with their surrogate grandmother, May Beth, but Sadie ultimately took on the responsibility of raising Mattie. She loved her sister with every fibre of her being, even though Mattie sometimes drove her crazy, so her death tears Sadie apart.

Sadie believes she knows who murdered Mattie and runs away from their home in Cold Creek to find him. The story is told from two different perspectives and played a big role in why I liked this book. Half of the story is told from Sadie’s perspective, but the other half is the transcript of an 8-part podcast called the girls, narrated by journalist and radio personality, West McCray. I thought the podcast transcript was brilliant and totally set the scene for this book. I literally never listen to podcasts, but my partner does and this read just like Serial, which I’ve heard him listening to on occasion, and reminded me of the old town crime mystery documentaries that I used to watch on TLC growing up.

So we get two very different perspectives from this novel. Sadie’s perspective is deeply personal and emotional. She is very much a girl who’s entire world has been torn apart and she starts to damn the consequences in her desperation to find her sister’s killer. Then there’s the other perspective from West McCray, who is more clinical about Sadie’s disappearance and is always two steps behind Sadie as he tries to track her down (side note: I know West is a man, but for some reason I pictured him as a woman throughout almost my entire reading. Anyone else get that vibe?). I thought that both narratives were incredibly strong and together made this a strong novel. Most of the double narrative books I read are split timeline historical fiction novels and I almost always find the modern day timeline boring compared to the historical one, but with this book, I found both narratives extremely compelling. Sadie’s story had depth and McCray’s was intriguing. I just felt so transported during every “podcast episode” that I couldn’t help but love it. Plus it was different from anything else I’ve read.

That said, parts of this book are tough to read. “Girls disappear all the time”. It’s a sad statement, but a true one. There is child abuse in this novel and Summers tackles some disturbing topics. I appreciated though that while Summers didn’t hold back the punches, she’s not graphic. “I’ve decided the gruesome details of what was uncovered.. will not be a part of this show,.. it’s violence and brutality do not exist for your entertainment.” Many books and shows are needlessly gratuitous when it comes to describing violence, so I’m glad she left it out. What she’s not afraid to tackle though are Sadie’s brutal thoughts. She shocked me several times, but she was determined that no one else suffer what she and her sister suffered, even if she had to destroy herself in the process.

The ending killed me. I won’t give any spoilers. It’s brutal, but it’s also exactly how it should be. I flew through this book in a single long weekend camping trip and I would definitely recommend it. I’m feeling a bit more of an itch now to finally pick up my copy of All the Rage.

Sadie’s publish date is Sept. 4th, 2018 if you want to pick up a copy!

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The Astonishing Color of After

Rating: .5
Author: Emily XR Pan
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Mar. 2018 (read May 2018)

I’m not a big lover of magical realism, so when I first read the synopsis for this book, I was not at all into it (despite the absolutely gorgeous cover). But I literally haven’t heard a bad review of this book so I decided to give it a try.

I’m not going to lie, it did take me a while to get into this book. It was definitely a slower read for me and I did even take a break in the first third of the book and read a complete other book before returning to this. There was no part of this book that I didn’t enjoy, it’s just one of those slower paced books that took me a little longer to get through, but not from lack of enjoyment.

The Astonishing Color of After is about American-Taiwanese teenager Leigh and her mother who has just committed suicide. Leigh is devastated by the death of her mother, but when she is repeatedly visited by a red bird she believes to be her mother, she is set on a path to discover the secrets of her family and Taiwanese roots. Leigh has never met her Taiwanese grandparents and the bird sets her on a trip to Taiwan to try and remember those things which her mother never shared with her.

While Leigh gets to know her grandparents and searches for her mother in Taiwan, we get flashbacks of the last 2 years. We learn about the decline of her mother’s mental health, the disappearance of her father within her everyday life, her great love and aptitude for art, and her lifelong friendship with Axel that has started to develop into something more.

First off, the writing in this book is fantastic. I loved Emily Pan’s style of writing and her descriptions of emotions turned to colour are gorgeous! As children, Leigh and Axel constantly describe their feelings and emotions to one another at any particular moment through different colours, such as the emerald green of jealousy, the burnt orange of desire, or the colourless absence of grief. Pan consistently uses colour throughout the novel to convey emotion and it made for the most breath-taking writing and journey.

This reminded me a little bit of Hour of the Bees, which is a middle grade book I read a few years ago and really liked (and one of the few magical realism books I’ve read). I actually didn’t have any problem with the whole ‘reincarnated as a bird’ idea (it played out a lot differently than I was expecting) and I really liked how the author used magical realism to transport us through memories. I also loved that this was mostly set in Taiwan and how the author integrated in several Taiwanese cultural elements to the story, such as Ghost Month.

This is primarily a story about mental health and grief. The author states in the afterward that she didn’t want to set out any one reason why Leigh’s mother may have killed herself and I really appreciated that. She wanted this to be more of a story that shows that depression can affect anyone and have no rhyme or reason. There’s generally not a specific cause to which you can attribute depression or a specific way in which people react or heal. Depression was something Leigh’s mom struggled with for many years and I thought Pan took us on a beautiful emotional journey, showing us both positive and negative memories that Leigh has of both of her parents.

I was in love with the flashbacks though. I loved Leigh and Axel’s relationship and their gradual transition from friends to something more. I thought it captured so well what it’s like being 15 and starting to develop feelings for someone – the embarrassment of being a teenager with changing hormones, the want for something more, the confusion of figuring out each other’s feelings, the fear of rejection – so accurate. I also really liked how she tied art and music into the story and the theme that liberal arts are still viable careers and that you shouldn’t be afraid to pursue things that bring you great joy.

Overall I think this book is super well written and strikes the perfect balance of sadness and sweetness. Like I said, it wasn’t the fastest read for me, but definitely worth it! 4.5 stars!

Aristotle and Dante Discovers the Secrets of the Universe

Rating: 
Author: Benjamin Alire Sàenz
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Feb. 2012 (read Apr. 2018)

Yay! I loved this!

I’ve been having a lot of success with YA lately. For awhile I thought I’d maybe finally outgrown the genre, but there’s still some really great contemporaries out there! This was the second book in my monthly challenge to read 3 award winning books. This was one of the soft spoken books that isn’t very plot driven, but develops some really beautiful characters.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is set in 1987 in El Paso, Texas. It’s summer and Ari, who has never been very good at making friends, is trying to pass away the time on his own when he meets Dante at the local pool. Dante seems to get a long with everyone and is well liked, but he’s never really been great at having friends either and the two boys strike up a friendship. Ari struggles to connect with people and is frustrated by his parents refusal to talk about his older brother who has been in prison for most of his life. Dante has a close relationship with his parents, but he struggles with his identity – who he is, what he loves, and what it means to be Mexican.

Like I said, it’s not a plot driven novel, although it does have some shocking plot elements that push the story forward. But ultimately it’s a coming of age story about friends, family, and identity. I love YA books that have a strong family element, especially one that built around understanding and love, rather than conflict and rebellion, which I’d say is probably more popular in YA. I love Ari and Dante’s parents in this book and the relationships that they all built with one another, how they developed and grew over the course of the book. In some ways it felt like a slow-build kind of book, but at the same time I found it hard to put down.

I don’t want to give any of the story away, I think it’s a good book to go into blind. I did and I really enjoyed the experience.

Love, Hate & Other Filters

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Samira Ahmed
Genres: Young Adult
Pub Date: Jan. 2018 (read Apr. 2018)

This was disappointing. I picked this from my library’s limited selection of audiobooks because I’ve been having a lot of success with Young Adult audiobook’s lately and I’ve been seeing some buzz about it.

To be honest, I didn’t even look at the synopsis, I just new it was about an Indian teenager who was into film. I didn’t like the Maya’s voice from the beginning and I found her such a whiny narrator to listen to. When I hit the 20% mark and this book was still just a surface level romance novel, I debated DNFing and went back to look at the synopsis. When I realized the main premise of this book was actually supposed to be about a terrorist attack and the struggles many Muslim people suffer to be accepted after any terrorist attack, I decided to stick it out.

I appreciate what Samira Ahmed was trying to do with this book. She addressed several different themes: the struggle of Indian daughters to breakaway from their parents expectations, the struggle of any teenager to pursue a career in something as unstable as the film industry, and the xenophobia and hate against Muslims and those who are “othered” in the United States. These are all great themes and I was interested in exploring the different ways people react in the aftermath of a tragedy and how some people let their hate overcome them, while others fight for those who are marginalized. But I thought the execution in this book was terrible.

Honestly, this was a romance novel with a brief look at some of the themes I’ve discussed above. It didn’t explore any of these themes in any great depth and I thought all of the characters emotions were very surface level. This book had more unyielding parents (I’ve read a lot of books of this nature lately), but the drama felt really forced and not authentic. In theory I understood that Maya’s parents were trying to protect their daughter in a world that is not very kind, but no one used any reason in this book (Maya included), except for her Aunt, and everyone felt extremely 1-dimensional. The main story was ultimately a romance and it wasn’t a very well written one. It was so cliche and I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes through the entire thing. This book just had so much more potential, but it got bogged down with a heavy romance and the author barely explored any of the complex themes she introduced into the story.

Even though this tacked something I haven’t seen addressed much in literature, I would not recommend this book. It was too poorly written and executed. Pick up I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterThe Nowhere Girls, or The Poet X instead.