Books, YA Fiction

Kids of Appetite, by David Arnold

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5 Stars

It’s rare that I finish a book in so little time, simply because nowadays I’m always preoccupied with something else. However, the fact that I neglected all worldly matters to keep reading is a pretty big deal these days.

I won an ARC of this book at Barnes and Noble’s B-Fest Trivia Challenge (Not to toot my own horn, but I won rather easily, probably due to my unfair advantage of having a blog 😉 ). I didn’t plan on reading it immediately, but I opened to the first page out of curiosity. Then I flipped to the second page, the third page, and the next thing I knew I was lying on my bed full of philosophical and happy thoughts with 5 hours of my day missing.

Suffice to say, Kids of Appetite was a beautiful novel that unexpectedly turned out to be poignant, poetic, moving and infinite. It is about acceptance and love and grief and more, and I can say with absolute certainty that it is probably my favorite novel of this year.

Finally, onto the actual review. Kids of Appetite is about Vic, a teenager with Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological condition that causes facial paralysis, and Mad, a teenager struggling to find herself under an abusive uncle. However, these personal struggles are not what the book is primarily about. The story is about Vic’s quest to scatter his father’s ashes (Who’d died two years prior) according to a coded message written by his father before he died. In order to fulfill his father’s dying wish, he, with the help of Baz, Nzuzi, Coco, and Mad, a quirky and fun group that later becomes the Kids of Appetite, travel around the state spreading ashes.

The characters were quite possibly the strongest point in this novel. They were brilliantly written, and each had their own personality and struggles, despite the novel only being told from Vic’s and Mad’s point of views. The book covers very real issues as well, and along with the obvious message about Moebius and discrimination, there is also addressing of the 1997-1999 conflict in the Republic of the Congo, and the struggles those refugees went through. I applaud Arnold for bringing both these more obscure issues to light with his work here.

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Books

Infinite In Between, by Carolyn Mackler

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2 Stars

The Breakfast Club meets Boyhood in this striking young adult novel from Printz Honor author Carolyn Mackler, which chronicles the lives of five teenagers through the thrills, heartbreaks, and joys of their four years in high school.

Zoe, Jake, Mia, Gregor, and Whitney meet at freshman orientation. At the end of that first day, they make a promise to reunite after graduation. But so much can happen in those in-between years. . . .

Zoe fears she will always be in her famous mother’s shadow. Jake struggles to find the right connections in friendship and in love. Mia keeps trying on new identities, looking for one that actually fits. Gregor thought he wanted to be more than just a band geek. And Whitney seems to have it all, until it’s all falling apart around her.

Carolyn Mackler skillfully brings the stories of these five disparate teens together to create a distinct and cohesive whole—a novel about how we can all affect one another’s lives in the most unexpected and amazing ways. Infinite in Between received four starred reviews, was listed on several best books of the year lists, and is perfect for fans of books by Jandy Nelson, Sara Zarr, and E. Lockhart.

I’m afraid Infinite In Between is another example of a good concept being poorly executed. The book is nearly 500 pages long, but nothing actually happens. Here, let me explain.

The basic plot follows the 5 teens meeting at a freshman orientation, where they write themselves letters and promise to meet again at graduation and open the letters they wrote. After that, they story takes us through the lives of the teens, from freshman year to senior year. It’s a heavily character-driven concept, yet none of the characters particularly stand out or have a purpose in driving the message of the story.

Honestly, I think Mackler took on more than she could handle. Describing 4 years of high school through 5 POVs is ambitious and increasingly difficult, since the character development has to be realistic and actually present. Characters should not be used as plot devices to more along the story, which is exactly where this book does badly. There are instances in which some pretty awkward moments are created in order to connect the characters and get the year or summer over with. Some examples would be when Whitney acquires pneumonia and how Mia and Jake meet. These issues/events are described so quickly and carelessly, and somehow they are never brought up in the story again. It felt like the author was just putting in filler, which shouldn’t happen.

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Books, YA Fiction

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan

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4 Stars

Will Grayson meets Will Grayson. One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two strangers are about to cross paths. From that moment on, their world will collide and lives intertwine.

It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old – including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire – Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.

It seems like a fair amount of readers love to rag on this book, but I really enjoyed Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Yes, it’s undeniably flawed. Yes, the weirdness and slightly exaggerated personalities of the characters bothered me every now and then. But, there is a quality to it that makes me love its flaws and quirkiness wholeheartedly.

The story is narrated through John Green’s Will Grayson (who I shall refer to as WG1) and David Levithan’s Will Grayson (WG2). While I’m quite familiar with Green, this is my first time experiencing David Levithan. His writing style is actually quite effortless and simple, but still holds a ton of emotion. Honestly, besides the fact that Green and Levithan both write YA contemporary novels, there is not much similarity between their styles. We all know Green is famous for his wise-beyond-their-years characters and consistent musings on life and its struggles. And, apparently Levithan really likes his dry humor and simplistic writing. These two could not be more distinct, but how they feed off each other’s ideas is really interesting and kind of amazing.

“I feel like my life is so scattered right now. Like it’s all the small pieces of paper and someone’s turned on the fan. But, talking to you makes me feel like the fan’s been turned off for a little bit. Like things could actually make sense. You completely unscatter me, and I appreciate that so much.”

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Books, YA Fiction

Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S King

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4 Stars

Vera’s spent her whole life secretly in love with her best friend, Charlie Kahn. And over the years she’s kept a lot of his secrets. Even after he betrayed her. Even after he ruined everything.
 
So when Charlie dies in dark circumstances, Vera knows a lot more than anyone—the kids at school, his family, even the police. But will she emerge to clear his name? Does she even want to?
 
Edgy and gripping, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is an unforgettable novel: smart, funny, dramatic, and always surprising.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz is not my usual contemporary read. When I think of contemporary suited to my style, it usually involves lots of romance and drama. This book only had small doses of these subjects, but it did pretty well for something quite unconventional.

The story starts a while after Charlie’s death, when we are introduced to Vera, who is having trouble dealing with her past relationship with Charlie, even if she doesn’t know it. Throughout the book, King describes the present, while flashing back at the right times to properly unwind the mystery. It’s told in 4 viewpoints, but mostly Vera’s with the other 3 popping in at crucial points. The story itself is told with a certain effortlessness that only a few can achieve, in my opinion. Meaning? It doesn’t try too hard to be quirky, philosophical, or smart. It just does its thing casually, which is beautiful in itself. There’s no suger coating, just plain old blunt honesty, and that’s fantastic.

This is not a pretty book. It explores alcoholism, domestic violence, death, and depression in a truthful way. It’s to show that life isn’t clean, and that tragedy can be closer than you think. These aspects actually play a part in what Vera thinks of as her “destiny” and how much of it is pre-determined. They shape Vera’s personality and character in important ways as a child, and later come back to remind her of what she could have done, and what she couldn’t have.

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Books, YA Fiction

The Wrath And The Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh

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3.5 Stars

One Life to One Dawn.

In a land ruled by a murderous boy-king, each dawn brings heartache to a new family. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, is a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. When sixteen-year-old Shahrzad’s dearest friend falls victim to Khalid, Shahrzad vows vengeance and volunteers to be his next bride. Shahrzad is determined not only to stay alive, but to end the caliph’s reign of terror once and for all.

Night after night, Shahrzad beguiles Khalid, weaving stories that enchant, ensuring her survival, though she knows each dawn could be her last. But something she never expected begins to happen: Khalid is nothing like what she’d imagined him to be. This monster is a boy with a tormented heart. Incredibly, Shahrzad finds herself falling in love. How is this possible? It’s an unforgivable betrayal. Still, Shahrzad has come to understand all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. She resolves to uncover whatever secrets lurk and, despite her love, be ready to take Khalid’s life as retribution for the many lives he’s stolen. Can their love survive this world of stories and secrets?

Inspired by A Thousand and One Nights, The Wrath and the Dawn is a sumptuous and enthralling read from beginning to end.

Although I’m a bit late to reading this book, the hype is still going strong. Not everyone seems to like it, but they’re all talking about it. I must say, even though I had my eyes its A Thousand And One Nights vibe and the overall Arabian-inspired setting before I started reading the book, the whole “falling in love with your enemy” charade isn’t really my thing. It’s been done far too many times, and I honestly only needed one negative review to motivate me to let this go. After finishing the book, I am mixed on basically everything but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The world-building is absolutely beautiful, and is only enhanced by Ahdieh’s wonderful writing. The descriptions were perfectly strung together and I felt every emotion of the characters (specifically Shazi’s). I especially loved the conversations between Shahrzad and Despina, as they contained a much-needed spark in the book with their clever and heart-warming undertone. There are a few dialogues that seem a little forced (especially when the dialogue is supposed to be serious or mysterious) and Khalid’s dialogue towards Shazi is cheesy but swoon-worthy at the same time. But, I enjoyed the writing overall and it could be considered one of the book’s stronger points.

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