Archive for the ‘Young Adult Reviews’ Category

I was on a book buying binge to heal some sadness this past week when I randomly stumbled upon Time Bomb by Joelle Charbonneau. I was a huge fan of The Testing trilogy, so it was a no brainer to bring this one home with me as well. And true to my love of Charbonneau’s writing, I devouring Time Bomb in less than four hours, pretty much straight through.

Time Bomb is very well paced. I was never bored; clearly, since I blew right through it. We follow a handful of characters–Diana, Z, Rashid, Cas, Tad, and Frankie. All of them have secrets, different reasons why they are at school that day, but they need to work together to escape school after bombs explode. Six characters is a lot, but the balance was on point. We never spent too long with any one person, but it wasn’t too short either.

I heavily appreciated the character building, particularly with Rashid. It was nice to see a strong, positive Muslim character with their feelings honestly portrayed on the page. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to have people look at you and assume you’re a terrorist just because of how you look and what you believe, but Charbonneau makes a strong and effective effort to bring the reader a little understanding. I also liked Frankie in that his ending was not a perfect bow. It’s not easy being LGBTQ, but Frankie and Tad’s undefined relationship touches briefly on these difficulties. I would have loved more there, but that’s hard with six people to follow.

Cas fell a little flat for me; I wanted to know more about how she got to the point she did–bullying seemed to just be thrown in as an afterthought, an “oopsie gotta have a reason why Cas is the way she is!” We didn’t really get a lot of the background with Cas the way we did with some of the other characters.

Here’s what I DIDN’T like. Time Bomb is good. Very well written. But it’s nothing new. And I predicted the bomber in the first twenty pages, and was absolutely correct about my entire theory. Charbonneau tried to plant red herrings; she gave everyone a backpack with suspicious unnamed items inside. But it wasn’t enough. The bomber was so darn obvious right from the beginning, though my knowledge didn’t deter me from my overall enjoyment of the plot. I’m curious if people not as well read in YA had this same issue? Hit me up!

Overall, this is a 3.5 for me. It’s a good, fast read and a strong thriller. It’s just like a lot of others of its type for me. Had I read it five years ago, I am sure I’d rate it higher. Pick it up if you need a good fast read, but don’t expect something you haven’t read before.


I’ve been very into books about girls in STEM over the past year. It’s a safe bet that if a book talks about girls and coding, I’m probably going to pick it up. (Click is a great middle-grade read on this topic if you’re looking for something for a younger audience.) When I got an email from Netgalley about More Than We Can Tell, by Brigid Kemmerer, I immediately clicked to request it. I have not read her debut Letters to the Lost, and while I understand that it uses many of the same characters, both books function as standalones. I’m glad for that, because More Than We Can Tell was a read I devoured.

Emma’s father is a video gamer creator, and she followed in his footsteps–but she can’t tell her family until the game she created is just right. So when the security of her game is threatened, she feels like she has to solve the problem on her own. Rev, the insta-love interest, (stick with me here, because it’s an insta-love that I actually bought into, so you know it’s good), has some problems of his own; he has been adopted by a wonderful family but still can’t shed the demons of his abusive past at the hands of his father. Emma plus problems, meet Rev plus problems. Insta-love!

Here’s the thing though–it works. Somehow, it works. Emma is a great protagonist–I enjoyed reading about her working on the game, though I wish more effort had been put into researching the way it was built. Rev is also an amazing protagonist! It’s easy to see that Kemmerer put a lot of time and love into the construction of her characters, from the way that they interact with others to the way they express emotions differently based on their different upbringings. It’s refreshing to see a character that has been abused struggle to swim through life but not actually sink–generally, we either see survivors sink or just bypass the effects of the abuse entirely in YA (and let’s be real, it’s mostly the former). I loved watching Rev grow over the course of the story as he learned how to trust the people around him. Rev was a deep character that I was invested in every step of the way.

The side characters in this are also on point. Rev’s foster brother, Matthew, functioned as a mirror to help show Rev how to be solid within his own life. And Emma’s best friend, Cait, stood as a strong foil to Emma in that she has her hobby but is able to share that with and be supported by her family.

My main issue with this book was Emma’s terrible attitude. First off, her story functioned as a bit of a dumping ground for everything that is wrong with the video game industry. While I totally get that all those things do happen (and as a girl who likes video games, I’ve seen some of them firsthand), it was just a lot at times–and I found it difficult to believe that she had absolutely zero supervision online. She created an entire MMO and NOBODY in her family knew? I find it hard to believe she couldn’t lean on ONE person in her life when she had so many people available to support her–and if she truly couldn’t, then I needed a little more reason as to why. Emma’s continuous chip on her shoulder is never properly justified by the narrative.

My secondary problem is that I felt the ending was a bit unbalanced–I wanted more of Rev’s wrap-up, but we get left with mostly Emma. And while it was good, I wanted more.

4 stars.

**Thank you to Netgalley and to Bloomsbury Children’s for sending me a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

What can I say about The 11th Hour by Kristine Scarrow, other than “okay then?” Reading this book was a process for me that I can break up into four distinct emotional phases:

1) I don’t like getting dumped into the middle of the story so I lack investment in these characters.

2) Okay, I’m beginning to feel this.

3) Yes! Yes, I’m rooting for these characters!

4) What the actual heck did I just read….*texts roommate to complain*

First the good!

Once we got past the awkwardness of being dumped right into the action (I need details to learn why Annika would want to run away with such a jerk boyfriend, Dylan!!!), I actually fell in love with Annika. She’s so sweetly naive, a fairly typical seeming teenager that doesn’t realize how good her family is until she leaves them behind to run away (and get married? Start a family? Become hermits?) with Dylan. Dylan, the total abusive jerk boyfriend. Dylan, who made Annika give up everything in her life that took time away from him. Dylan who is that boy you just want to hate. Funny thing is, Scarrow crafted Dylan in such a way that I wanted to love him too. I didn’t; I hated him; but I definitely felt sorry for him. The chronology of the narrative, minus its clunky beginning, works in the way that it goes back and forth to help us understand how Annika came to love Dylan and why she would run away with him. These characters are beautifully crafted and beautifully put together within the confines of the story.

Now the “hmmmm.”

I personally don’t care for the whole “mental illness makes people do crazy things” trope. Scarrow handles this pretty well, though there are some moments where the writing comes close to crossing that fine line. Not every mentally ill person is violent, and not every violent person is mentally ill. As writers we must be careful to not lean heavily on this. Scarrow mostly tackles this well, minus the ending segment.

Which brings me to the bad.

That ending though. Don’t read this if you want something that wraps up in a bow like a fairytale!! The ending was much too abrupt for my taste, and while Scarrow was clearly going for a realistic portrayal of dating violence, it took a character I loved to a weird place (spoiler free, of course!) and then dumped me as the reader by the side of the road. I didn’t have time to process the shortness of the surprise.

So all in all, The 11th Hour is a decent read for high school aged readers. Good plot, carefully crafted violence in that it isn’t graphic for teens, and characters that are well portrayed. The chronology of the narrative is hard in the beginning, but gets better once it’s rolling. The book is a 3 out of 5 star read for me, though it would perhaps be higher if I was younger. It’ll be good to teach young teens what red flags to watch for in a relationship, because Scarrow displays every single one of them in the work. But if you’re a parent giving this to your child, be prepared to discuss the ending.

**Thanks to Dundurn and Netgalley for providing me a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

I picked up Words on Bathroom Walls fresh off of the devastating DNF that was Made You Up, by Francesca Zappia I had just finished Eliza and Her Monsters, which is a beautiful masterpiece of literary fiction, and I had such high hopes for Zappia’s first book. I was disappointed to discover that Zappia had not really researched schizophrenia at all. This all to say, going into Words, my expectations were not high.

I found myself pleasantly surprised.

Walton’s first book is a treasure, and it’s everything I wanted Made You Up to be. Main character Adam is schizophrenic. He’s received the go ahead to start a new clinical trial for a drug that will help him to manage his symptoms in conjunction with weekly visits to a therapist that he’s not willing to talk to. Rather than talk, Adam writes detailed journal entries that are letters to this therapist, both describing his journey within schizophrenia and answer any questions that come up within sessions when he doesn’t see the point of talking out loud. Adam leans heavily on the new drug, hoping that it will allow him to live a “normal” life, go to school, have a girlfriend–and that no one will ever know about his schizophrenia.

What I love most about this book is that it’s not pretty. It doesn’t wrap up with a pretty bow that says “schizophrenia is easy to handle.” Staying spoiler free, nothing outside of the Goodreads summary on the book’s main page, but not every medication works for every patient. I love how believable Adam is, how we get to watch his struggle, in his own words, as he adjusts to the med and all of the ups and downs that come with his hallucinations. Some days are good; some days are bad–and that’s the true story about mental illness.

The side characters in Words are also incredibly well crafted. Maya is top notch, as is the therapist–but the truly masterful thing is how we see them through Adam’s eyes in his journal entries. Walton creates entire characters through Adam, and it’s beautiful.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about schizophrenia in an easy to digest way. I commend Walton for the clear effort that she put into researching this book, and for the way that it doesn’t seem like any work for her at all. I would recommend this book to people with mental illness, if for nothing else than to show that there are people out there who 100 percent care about portraying it right. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves books. Just don’t expect a book that’s all flowers and rainbows all the time, because that’s not what Walton was going for. However, even in the darkest parts of the book there is still light.

Five stars.

I had high hopes for Chelsea Sedoti’s As You Wish. The plot concept struck me as refreshing: In the town of Madison, everyone gets one wish when they turn 18 years old; that wish can be for anything they’d like–with some restrictions, of course. The most notable restriction is that they can’t make a wish that will lead others to discover wishing. Kids are so excited for their wishes. Except Eldon. Eldon can’t decide what he wants to do. Should he wish for himself, or should he wish to help his family? Or should he be only the second person in the history of Madison to not wish at all??

Spoiler free, as always, read on safely!

My biggest problem with this book is that I absolutely hate Eldon. I read a few other reviewers, and that seems to be the most common complaint. Sedoti’s writing is excellent. I heartily appreciate her style of world building and the way that she spreads the details out through historical journal notations of previous wishes. The background is natural and never seems forced. I like the side characters. Norie is my favorite; Merrill is also a hit. But when they’re up against Eldon, it falls apart for me.

See, Eldon is a jerk. Not just a little jerk. He’s a huge jerk. He takes his frustration out physically on the people who wrong him. He’s selfish and doesn’t think of others. He clearly thinks the entire world is about him. Now, that’s fine for a protagonist normally when you see an element of growth to follow. But Eldon doesn’t grow. What small growth does appear at the end of the book is too little too late. It isn’t a developed enough change to make it worth the end result.

Eldon is a character who muks up everyone else writing wise. Merrill is a strong tongued fun loving guy, but his character continuously caves to Eldon in a way that doesn’t agree with how he’s written in the beginning of the book. And Norie seems to lose a lot of her religious gumption whenever she’s with Eldon.

I guess what I’m saying here is that Sedoti’s writing is good. Her world building is A plus. But it all lost the pay off for me when I didn’t get to see Eldon grow. I wish there had been a more extended time spent at the end of the book showing us the results of everything, giving us a reward for suffering Eldon for so many pages. Alas, it’s not there, and I am sadder for it. I am, however, interested in what Sedoti comes up with next.

2.5 out of five for me.

Corrie Wang’s novel, The Takedown, takes our current technological society and multiplies it by 1000. Take what you know about the Facebook currently works–if you post a photo, it scans the faces in that photo and suggests that you tag the person it thinks it sees in that picture based on some facial recognition algorithm that I can’t begin to claim to understand. In The Takedown’s equivalent, Connect Book, this idea goes to a new level via something called Woofer. Woofer scans the photos and videos EVERYONE posts and tags EVERYONE in them, and it’s completely legal due to the user agreement everyone signs when they create their account. Taking a selfie at the mall on the escalator? Woofer is tagging everyone on that escalator with you. Making a video of the latest and greatest subway musician? Well Woofer is tagging every person crowded on that train platform. Sounds fun, in theory, and protagonist Kyla Chang agrees. At least until a video surfaces of a teacher and a girl in a classroom having sex–and when that girl turns to the camera, it’s Kyla.

Only it isn’t. 

Someone has taken Kyla’s face and put it on someone else’s body in a perfect edit, and Kyla’s entire life explodes. Her school tries to suspend her; the organizations she belongs to disconnect from her, and no college will accept her. The video attaches to absolutely every aspect of her life, and Kyla has to figure out where the video has come from so that she can take it down before her life, and the lives of everyone attached to her, completely explodes.

I love this book for a lot of reasons. First off, Kyla. I want to hate her, but I also want to love. She’s that super popular girl in high school that all of us non-popular people want to despise. She’s written in a very two layered way–that girl we wanna hate is right there, but there’s also the girl below that that is every one of us. Kyla is just as insecure about her place in society as anyone else, just in a different way and for different reasons. It’s harder to be at the top than it looks, and Wang writes from this perspective masterfully. Audra, one of Kyla’s best friends, was, by comparison, underwritten. From a feminist perspective, she could have been played up much more. While the focus of the book is clearly Kyla, an opportunity comes with Audra (staying spoiler free!) that could be played up and written more. As women, what does in mean to be in control of our bodies? What does in mean to ask others to respect them? How does the gaze of others change us? There are a lot of questions here that, while responded to by Wang’s text, don’t go as in depth as they had the potential to.

The Takedown also makes some strides in terms of diversity. I love how broad it is in terms of race, but I more love how that’s absolutely not the focus. It’s more just how it is. Wang doesn’t make a point of saying “this person is white, this person is African American, this person is Asian.” They just are. 

The society in The Takedown is fantastic just because of how clearly it aligns with the path of our current lives. In a few years, this could be where we are. Many people still think that it doesn’t matter what you do online, that no one sees it. That’s just not true–people do see. And in the future, everyone will see, much like Kyla’s situation. This book is going to be great for teens in that, though it’s not tech currently available to us, it still promotes a message that will make people think. Think about what you say, what you do, what you post. You never know who’s watching. All in all, if you are a teen who uses the internet (every teen ever) or if you have a teen who uses the internet, pick this up. This isn’t us today, but it could be us tomorrow. 

5 stars.

Hey, y’all! It’s been a while. I’ve been inspired by BookCon to get back on the writing book reviews train, so hopefully the motivation sticks! It got to be not fun for a while there, being REQUIRED to review books. So for a change of pace, I’ll review a few I am absolutely not required to! Starting with this gem!

I had a fantastic time at BookCon. The most notable event for me, was, of course, meeting Sarah Dessen. I’ve read her books since her beginning as a writer, and I was very excited to tell her so. For her part, she was super sweet and wonderful. And her publicist handed out flowers. It was amazing. Ignore my messy hair and weird eyes in this photo, but please share the joy:

I was super stoked to get Once and For All a few days early, so that I could have it done by the time the rest of the world got their hands on it. The book follows the standard Dessen formula: girl meets boy; girl rehashes some past traumatic event; girl avoids getting with boy we all know she should be with; girl ends up with boy, “healed” from trauma. We all know that I am not a romance person. But for some reason, Dessen and her formulaic approach to contemporary romance just really work for me.  I love her writing, her stories, her characters…etc etc. Clearly I am a fan.

To the specifics of THIS book!

I love Louna as the protagonist. I love her name, for starters, the combination of Louis and Natalie. Louna is a strong girl, but she’s damaged in the typical Dessen fashion. A romance set in a wedding planning society is a fun concept, but with massive cheese potential. Once and For All, does not, however, stray to the land of the cheese. The wedding planning aspect forms a nice background to the story–damaged girl sees everyone else falling in love, but she remains cynical after the terrible events that befell her first epic romance. Louna doesn’t wish. Louna doesn’t have expectations. She comes to work for her mother’s company, and she makes weddings run smoothly, but she does not believe in true love. 

“‘Do you believe that true love can last forever?’ … I knew she wanted a yes or no, something concise and specific and if this were any other question, I probably would have given it to her. But instead, I just sat there, silent, as I tried to put the image in my head … into any kind of words”

Enter Ambrose. He is the fairly typical Dessen male counterpart to the female protagonist. I have to be honest and say that he didn’t totally ring true for me. I wanted to like him, so badly. The text itself screamed at me to like him, especially when he saved the dog (read the book to find out more, that’s as spoiler-y as I get!). But there was something about him that didn’t ring true to me. I think it’s that, while we see Louna come full circle as a character, we don’t see Ambrose actually change. He is A one minute, and he is B the next. Others may disagree, but his evolution is too abrupt in my opinion, especially when laid beside the evolution of our lead. Louna gets there in a legit way for me. We can follow the gears in her head shifting:

“Everything in weddings and life had its phases, and if you were smart, you learned to appreciate them all. What really mattered, though, were the people in those moments with you. Memories are what we have and what we keep, and I held mine close … I was choosing to believe we had time, plenty of it.”

I just love Louna. This is the same for me for all of Dessen’s female protagonists, and it comes from the way she crafts them–Dessen’s writing of her lead is so strong that she gets us inside their heads. We follow them every step of the way down their healing path, and we’re so inside their point of view that we feel with them when they get there. I think this love is, largely, what makes Ambrose a weak counterpart for me. 

Long story short, because you’ve figured out by now that I can rave about Dessen all day long, if you like romance that’s a cut above the average, then Dessen is for you. If you like weddings and reading about behind the scenes bridal shenanigans, then Once and For All is DEFINITELY for you. Pick it up; you won’t be sorry.

4.5 stars on the Goodreads scale, .5 deduction solely for my Ambrose dislike. Agree? Disagree? Hit me up.