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.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree

Rating: ⭐
Author: Ingrid Rojas Contreras
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: July 31, 2018 (read June 2018)

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a free advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

I’m not sure where I first heard about this book, but as soon as I found out it was historical fiction about Colombia I was super interested in reading it. I decided to include it in my June Monthly Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I was intrigued with this book because I haven’t read very much historical fiction from South America, much less anything specific to Colombia, and I saw this as a great opportunity to educate myself.

The author did grow up in Colombia and immigrated to America as a result of the violence she experienced. Fruit of the Drunken Tree tells the story of a young girl, Chula, and the relationship she builds with her maid, Petrona. The story is semi-autobiographical, which made it all the more interesting.

There are some interesting class dynamics in this novel. Chula and her sister Cassandra are growing up in Bogota, which experiences a lot of drug and gang violence relating to Pablo Escobar, the looming villain of Chula’s childhood. But Chula and Cassandra grow up in a wealthy, gated neighbourhood and are mostly separated from the violence until it starts slowly infiltrating into their daily lives.

Their father works for a large american oil firm, so he makes good money, but he is away most of the time. Their mother is constantly hiring and firing new maids and when she hires the meek Petrona, no one thinks she’ll last the month. But to their surprise, Petrona does last and Chula starts to develop a relationship with her that ultimately interrupts and changes the lives of everyone around them.

I liked, but didn’t love, this book. I learned a lot about Colombia that I didn’t know, but I did find the novel a bit slow moving and I thought it lacked explanation and balance. I say it lacked balance because it is told from the point of view of a 7 year old, wealthy girl. I know this is part of the charm of the narration, that Chula is a child and ignorant, but she didn’t really understand how different her live was from Petrona’s and I would have liked to see more narration from Petrona and what it was like to grow up poor and heavily influenced by the drug cartels. I found Petrona’s story a lot more engaging than Chula’s, but we don’t get that much from Petrona’s narration. I know the author is writing what she knows, and I think that is super important in literature and I do think she shouldn’t write too much from a perspective she doesn’t really understand. But I was more intrigued in the intricacies of Petrona’s life and the politics of the cartels against the government.

I say it lacked explanation because there’s a lot of political stuff going on in this novel, but I sometimes struggled to understand what was going on because I just didn’t have enough context. I found the author’s note at the end super helpful because I really didn’t understand what was happening in parts of this novel and it only became clear after I read the author’s note. I wasn’t really sure what was motivating Petrona or why her boyfriend was so interested in Chula.

Kidnapping was a large part of the violence perpetrated in Colombia as wealthy individuals and children were often kidnapped and held for a ransom that, if paid out, often still didn’t result in release. I thought this story was a good debut and insight into the author’s experience, but I struggled with the plot, which was a bit meandering and lacked drive. I didn’t feel like there was anything propelling this plot and I often found myself getting a bit frustrated with Chula. That said though, I think novels from the POV of children are hard to write and I often don’t love them. But I do think the author did a good job capturing how confusing it is to be 7 years old and how defining certain events can be on your life.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree will be available in stores July 31, 2018

The Authentics

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Abdi Nazemian
Narrator: Kyla Garcia
Genres: Young Adult, Fiction
Pub Date: Aug. 2017 (Read Mar. 2018 as an Audiobook)

I am tearing it up with audiobooks this month! Granted this one was half the length of the audiobooks I usually listen to, but still.

I admit, after listening to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, I totally did a search on the narrator Kyla Garcia and found that she’d narrated another book on my TBR, which is the main reason why I decided to read The Authentics. Garcia did a fantastic job narrating this book as well, but sadly this was not on the same level as I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter.

This is young adult literature that definitely reads like young adult. I usually don’t have any trouble reading YA because there are some really great YA authors out there who tells stories that have a lot of depth and themes that are applicable to everyone, not just teenagers. This book definitely still had themes that anyone could enjoy, but the story felt pretty juvenille. It actually has a pretty surprising twist early in the novel that I would have been completely pissed about if I was Daria, but in my opinion this book was missing the emotion. It lacked tension and grit and I feel like the author was afraid to go there and instead wrote more of a “feel-good” family novel. There’s nothing wrong with “feel-good”, but I thought this story had a lot of potential and it just lacked impact and execution.

Daria is a 15 year old Iranian-American teenager. She was born in America and has never been to Iran, but she is very proud of her culture and her and her friends, who come from very diverse backgrounds, do their best to always “be authentic”. This all changes when their English teacher challenges them to do a presentation about their heritage and Daria learns something shocking about her family’s past. Daria begins to question everything she thought she knew about herself and her parents and finds it increasingly difficult to be authentic.

I don’t want to give anything more away about the story. There’s several different plots throughout the novel between Daria’s feud with her former best friend, her conflict with her family, and a new love interest, but I thought they were all mediocre and pretty surface level. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I like to give teenagers a bit more credit than I think the author does in this book. Everything about Daria’s fight with Heidi felt childish and the romantic relationship made me cringe. Teenagers have more depth than this and the whole thing just felt lacking.

That said, I really did enjoy the opportunity to read about Iranian culture and I do believe that diverse stories like this need to be told and are incredibly important. I just really wanted more from this. It may be unfair to keep comparing it to I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, but it’s hard not to when they deal with a lot of similar themes (the daughter that can’t live up to their immigrant mother’s expectations) and the latter was so much better written and had so much more depth.