Radio Silence

Rating: 
Author: Alice Oseman
Genres: Young Adult
Pub date: Feb. 2016 (read Aug. 2018)

Okay, this was pretty fantastic. I cannot believe the author is currently only 24 FREAKING YEARS OLD! I opened up this book and caught a glimpse of her author pic and was like, omg this girl looks like she’s 12. But never underestimate young people because seriously, who can write teenagers better than someone who was basically a teenager when they wrote it.

There’s a lot of really great things happening in this book, but what struck me most is how honest these characters are. After I finished this I immediately picked up a copy of Gretchen McNeil’s Ten, which is a young adult mystery/thriller, and spoiler alert, the dialogue and characters are really bad. Coming out of this book, I immediately noticed that McNeil’s characters were more like caricatures of teenagers rather than actual teenagers. This isn’t a review of Ten, but it was such a contrast to Radio Silence, that it really highlighted to me how great the characters are in this book.

Radio Silence primarily features two teens, Frances and Aled. Frances is head girl at her school and has worked insanely hard her entire life with the end goal of getting into an English Lit program at Cambridge University. Likewise, Aled felt a huge pressure from his mom to succeed in life by attending a prestigious university and has been accepted to a program starting in the fall (he is one year older than Frances).

However, Aled’s secret is that he is the creator of a mildly popular science fiction podcast called Universe City. Frances’ secret is that she’s a huge fan of the podcast and posts fan art to Tumblr under an alias. Aled and Frances both feel pressured to be different people in their real lives than they are in private and Frances regularly acknowledges that she has a school persona and a real persona. When a chance encounter leads them to discover they both love Universe City, they collaborate on the project and develop a really close friendship.

This book features a super diverse cast of characters, both in racial and sexual identity. But my favourite part of the book was the platonic relationship between Frances and Aled. Oseman tells us from the start that this will not be a love story. It’s such a brilliant move because it acknowledges all of the different types of relationships that exist between people and that you don’t have to write a romantic relationship to write a good story. Frances and Aled genuinely both really cared about each other and I loved that this novel showcased that.

My second favourite part of this book was the realistic portrayal of the amount of stress society places on young people to go to university and succeed academically. I suspect there’s a large contingent of people out there that can’t relate to Frances and Aled’s need to be top of their class and the pressure to go to an ivy league university, but I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that don’t excel academically and are made to feel inferior by either not getting into university or not wanting to go.

In some way or another, I think everyone feels insecure in high school. Some people feel the need to excel in academia, others in sports or in the arts. Some people don’t care about any of that and just want a group of people in which to belong or an escape from their sometimes less than ideal home situation. We have a tendency to compare ourselves to those around us, especially in the social media age, and there’s a huge amount of pressure to fit in. There are not many novels written about college or the transition to college, and I thought this was a wonderful portrayal about that period.

In addition to Frances and Aled, Radio Silence features a wonderful cast of secondary characters. I thought Frances’ mom was wonderful and I loved how she supported Frances and in return, how Frances was always very open and honest with her. I loved how the friendships developed in this novel and how Frances eventually came to be close with both Daniel and Raine as well.

Overall I thought this was a fantastic book. It’s captivating in it’s honesty. Every character was portrayed so well and I had no problem believing in the authenticity of each of these people. Well done Alice Oseman, I’m excited to check out her new book, I Was Born For This.

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Leah on the Offbeat

Rating: ⭐⭐.5
Author: Becky Albertalli
Genres: Young Adult, LBGTQIA+
Pub date: Apr. 2018 (read Aug. 2018)

I really wanted to love this…. I may be the only person on the planet who liked, but didn’t love, Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda, and that’s pretty much the same way I feel about Leah on the Offbeat.

All of Becky Albertalli’s books are fantastically diverse and I’m so glad they exist, but this was just so predictable and it doesn’t have all that much going on in the plot. This book follows Simon’s story and is focused on his best friend Leah, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to have read the first book. Even though Simon came out as gay, Leah struggles to come out as bi to any of her friends. She’s in her senior year and as much as she hates to admit it, she is really sad that she’s going to have to say goodbye to all of her friends at the end of the year and becomes defensive and confrontational with many of the people in her life.

I know teenagers are moody and that Leah starts pushing everyone in her life away to avoid having to feel sad about saying goodbye to them, but I thought she was a bit mean at times. She’s pretty hard on her mom and the smallest comment from any of her friends would set her off. It just bothered me that she made this huge deal out of Morgan’s racist comment when she was throwing tantrums about anything said to her that she deemed to be the least bit offensive. Was Morgan wrong, absolutely, but I feel like white people also feel this right to be offended by everything and Leah definitely embraced that little bit of white privilege.

I just felt like Leah’s character was super inconsistent and kind of mean, but there were never any consequences for her. I thought she was unreasonable at times and I thought several of the characters made questionable and sometimes problematic choices that were never really acknowledged. Leah lies to Garrett and never apologizes, she totally drops Anna from her life and basically forgets about her and Morgan, Nick’s entitlement to be mad at Abby and then be a total hypocrite about her feelings, and basically everyone being mean to Taylor. She was in Leah’s band… like they must somewhat be friends, but apparently everyone seems to hate her. Plus, Leah is super rude to her mom, who is supposedly like her best friend. I liked that her mom called her out on just giving up on life whenever something doesn’t go her way, but she basically just continued to do that I just wanted to yell at her whiny ass to get over herself.

I loved that Leah was an ally, I loved that the story had gay and bi-sexual couples, I loved that Leah was a fat girl who didn’t feel bad about being fat or feel like she needed to go on a diet. But I felt like Albertalli was just throwing her progressiveness in my face. It’s weird for me to feel this way because I believe wholeheartedly in everything Albertalli was trying to do with this book, it just felt really forced to me. I don’t need Leah to tell me she’s an ally, or that she loves her body, just show me that she’s an ally who loves her body. Readers are pretty smart and it just irked me that everything was spelled out for me. SHOW DON’T TELL.

I know I’m no longer in the intended audience for YA books, but I usually don’t have a problem with well written YA books as I feel they can still be relevant to people at any age, but this one just felt a little too juvenille or me. Anyways, it’s just a personal opinion. I know a lot of people love this and I’m really glad it exists for teenagers. But it just wasn’t a favourite for me.

My Plain Jane

Rating: 
Authors: Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pub date: June 26, 2018 (read July 2018)

I was really expecting to like this a lot more than I did. I don’t know if I just had too high expectations after My Lady Jane, but My Plain Jane just didn’t seem to have quite the same flair as it’s predecessor.

If you haven’t heard of this book, it’s the second book in The Lady Janies series, although they are all standalone books, so you don’t have to read them in order. They are authored by 3 YA authors and are basically historical and fantastical retellings of Janes throughout history. The first book was about Lady Jane Grey, who was known as the 9 days queen since she ruled England for only 9 days before losing her head. My Plain Jane is essentially a retelling of Jane Eyre, but with Charlotte Bronte re-imagined as one of the characters in the story (or rather, re-imagining the cast of Jane Eyre as real people that Bronte interacted with and inspired her classic novel).

Most importantly, these books are full of hi-jinx and hilarity where the authors frequently directly address the reader. Lady Jane Grey was really funny and a ton of fun to read (The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is another book of very similar style), but while I chucked at parts of My Plain Jane, it just wasn’t quite as engaging for me. The first half of the novel pretty much just seemed to be a re-telling of Jane Eyre, with a few ghosts thrown in, but it wasn’t until the second half of the novel that I felt the authors finally started switching things up a bit and the plot got more interesting. There’s a lot of build up to not a whole lot of action.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed this and I will definitely be returning for the third and final book, but this definitely couldn’t compare to My Lady Jane in my opinion. There were a lot of fun pop culture references thrown in here though that I did enjoy. The only problem is you kind of need to have read Jane Eyre to catch on to some of the jokes. I think there were a bunch of jokes in reference to other classic works as well, but I didn’t pick up on a lot of them, I did appreciate them whenever I did catch on though.

So not a big winner, but a solid 3 stars. I still got a few laughs out of this and it was nice to pick up something so lighthearted.

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!

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!