Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Blood Rose Rebellion, by Rosalyn Eves

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1.5 stars

The thrilling first book in a YA fantasy trilogy for fans of Red Queen. In a world where social prestige derives from a trifecta of blood, money, and magic, one girl has the ability to break the spell that holds the social order in place.

Sixteen-year-old Anna Arden is barred from society by a defect of blood. Though her family is part of the Luminate, powerful users of magic, she is Barren, unable to perform the simplest spells. Anna would do anything to belong. But her fate takes another course when, after inadvertently breaking her sister’s debutante spell—an important chance for a highborn young woman to show her prowess with magic—Anna finds herself exiled to her family’s once powerful but now crumbling native Hungary.

Her life might well be over.

In Hungary, Anna discovers that nothing is quite as it seems. Not the people around her, from her aloof cousin Noémi to the fierce and handsome Romani Gábor. Not the society she’s known all her life, for discontent with the Luminate is sweeping the land. And not her lack of magic. Isolated from the only world she cares about, Anna still can’t seem to stop herself from breaking spells.

As rebellion spreads across the region, Anna’s unique ability becomes the catalyst everyone is seeking. In the company of nobles, revolutionaries, and Romanies, Anna must choose: deny her unique power and cling to the life she’s always wanted, or embrace her ability and change that world forever.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I apologize for posting an ARC review so close to the actual release date, but I’m going to blame it on the book just as much as I blame it on myself for lack of time management. Wow, talk about disappointing. Blood Rose Rebellion was one of my most anticipated fantasy releases this year, but what I wanted to be an exciting, thrilling, and rich fantasy turned out to be bland, uninteresting, and simply not as different, enrapturing, or likable as it should have been.

Blood Rose Rebellion follows Anna Arden, a sixteen-year old who is incapable of conduction and holding magic, and therefore ostracized from her society of powerful spellcasters. However, she does have a knack for breaking spells, and this lands in her hot water after accidentally breaking her older sister’s debut spell to properly enter Luminate society. Because of this, Anna is sent to Hungary along with her maid and grandmother temporarily until the drama surrounding the incident simmers down in London. In Hungary, Anna is surprised to find she is in demand as she stumbles upon secrets on top of secrets about the Luminate and their true intentions. With the backdrop of a Hungarian revolution, Anna realizes her role in the history of magic and takes part in a series of tricky decisions that might as well determine the fate of magic and European society.

I actually do like the time period and setting of this novel. It takes place in the 1800s and starts off in England, before switching over to Hungary. Unfortunately, these settings were barely expanded on or utilized to address more interesting elements such as the folklore, mythology, and overall social culture. There is a lot of talk from Anna on fitting in and wanting to belong in society, but the nature of that society is never even touched upon and I have no sense of identity from Luminate society. We are also only given glimpses of the Hungarian tales and myths, and those Hungarian terms used seemed to offend a whole lot of folks on Goodreads. We are only told the characteristics of certain places, events, and actions, it is never properly described or shown, so I honestly do not have much of a connection to what goes on most of the time throughout this book. Not to mention it was boring as hell! The storytelling was extremely pedestrian and draining, those info-dumps towards the beginning of the book partially added to my lack of focus on the book’s plot and world-building.

The characters are just as lifeless as the writing. I’m entirely indifferent to Anna Arden, she has no personality or character traits, there is nothing to make me hate her or like her. Usually, I’m inclined to dislike and be irritated by special snowflake female characters who get their ass kissed consistently, and while Anna is a special snowflake, she doesn’t annoy me or please me or make me feel anything. Before reading the book, I had made the mistake of assuming Anna would remain barred from society and not deemed as ‘special’, as this factor would lead to the journey of self-actualization, discovering oneself, and maybe even realizing magic and belonging in a group was not needed to feel confident and self-assured. I had thought Anna would be so much more than a cliched, typical, special snowflake. Y’all might think its a bit of a stretch, hoping for that much out a YA book, but I’ve always hoped that YA authors would learn from others’ mistakes and not repeat the same damn things. Sadly, I was severely let down, and hopefully this motivates you guys to not assume high expectations for any kind of book. The rest of the characters are just as lifeless. There is no fire, no vigor, no semblance of life in any of these people no matter how much they try to rebel, retort, fit in, or … do anything, really. It’s pretty sad to fail that spectacularly when there is a revolution and all this intrigue going on.

Much to my dissatisfaction, Blood Rose Rebellion was one of the most uninteresting books I have ever read, and trust me, I have read quite a few. I’ve always stated that a boring book is worse than a bad book, but I would take both of those rather than read a story that makes you feel absolutely nothing inside. Hopefully, y’all have a better experience with this one when it comes out tomorrow!

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Kids Of Appetite, by David Arnold

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2 – 2.25 stars

The bestselling author of Mosquitoland brings us another batch of unforgettable characters in this tragicomedy about first love and devastating loss.

Victor Benucci and Madeline Falco have a story to tell.
It begins with the death of Vic’s father.
It ends with the murder of Mad’s uncle.
The Hackensack Police Department would very much like to hear it.
But in order to tell their story, Vic and Mad must focus on all the chapters in between.

This is a story about:

1. A coded mission to scatter ashes across New Jersey.
2. The momentous nature of the Palisades in winter.
3. One dormant submarine.
4. Two songs about flowers.
5. Being cool in the traditional sense.
6. Sunsets & ice cream & orchards & graveyards.
7. Simultaneous extreme opposites.
8. A narrow escape from a war-torn country.
9. A story collector.
10. How to listen to someone who does not talk.
11. Falling in love with a painting.
12. Falling in love with a song.
13. Falling in love.

I usually don’t read books with awkwardly-formatted summaries, or summaries that describe a list full of very specific events, but I had to make an exception for the Kids Of Appetite because of Aliza’s glowing review. The fact that Liz and I share similar opinions on many books only added to my anticipation, and I really, really wanted to love this one. Of course, these feelings slightly diminished after realizing the author was David Arnold, the author of Mosquitoland. I gave Mosquitoland a try a while back, but abandoned it because I simply wasn’t in the mood for it in the time, and by ‘it’ I mean a pretentious, uber-quirky colossal mess. It was only after reading a few pages of the Kids Of Appetite had I recognized the same bothersome elements from Mosquitoland, and it was at the moment I had already realized that this book was not for me. I pushed on of course, but I struggled throughout, and unfortunately I am in the minority with this one.

I apologize, Liz.

Kids Of Appetite follows Vic, a sixteen-year old boy that unexpectedly stumbles into five, free-wheeling kids and goes on a journey with them to spread his father’s ashes. They discover a number of things along the way about themselves and their individual stories, and form a tight bond with each other. I would say it’s a very simplistic premise that has the potential to explore deeper themes and messages through several events, but Arnold decides to take the John-Green-esque route and not be clear on anything that wants to be said. Most of the parts that make up this book are just unbelievable, and this includes most of the dialogue, characters, and writing in general. Can’t say I’m surprised.

Writing: I’m even sure if I can consider the ‘writing’ in Kids Of Appetite as ‘writing’. It’s more of a collection of random, barely used words thrown together to create an obscure meaning that nobody can actually understand but pretend to because it’s supposed to symbolize something greater and bigger. Let me give y’all a taste:

Super Racehorse

simultaneous extreme opposites

madifesto

old-new

inevitability of corresponding units

Cool in the Traditional Sense

infinitous vortex

tenacious molecules of chance

etc, etc, etc.

Lowkey, I would have appreciated a term glossary instead of the character glossary in the beginning of the book. These phrases are repeated consistently throughout the book, and I’m sure the reader is meant to utilize them and understand why they are being used in a certain context, but I just found it obnoxious. Real human beings don’t talk like this, and especially teenagers don’t talk like this. There are actually many emotional themes embedded in this book, such as losing loved ones, accepting yourself, loving someone, and discovering who you are and who you want to surround yourself with. Unfortunately, the quirkiness and unrealistic events throughout the novel don’t add or amplify the emotions that are supposed to be evoked through these themes, in fact, these aspects only take away from it.

Characters: I understand that Arnold wanted to show the bond between the kids after facing such terrible circumstances before, and how friendships and positive relationships can heal and sooth toxic situations and relationships. However, so much of that is covered up with unrealistic dialogue and unrealistic characters in general. Vic is actually an interesting and unexplored type of character, as he has a rare disorder called Moebius Syndrome, which is characterized by facial paralysis. Not many authors decide to do this, and I appreciated that, as it made the novel more realistic. But, while Vic isn’t one of those characters that has an opinion on everything (*cough Mim cough*), his thought process and personality was really difficult to swallow, as he’s constantly rattling off random-ass terms and phrases, as well as going off on tangents that involve Mad and her perfectness. Mad herself is actually a cool character, and seemed to be the most in touch with her past and struggles she continues to face. Baz and Nzuzi are interesting and admirable characters too, and I’ve honestly got nothing to say on Coco, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ll let you decide for yourself. Anyway, I’ve got sympathy for these characters but they could have been so much more if they weren’t wasted on being solely eccentric or quirky.

Those last three chapters: The only time I felt somewhat emotional or hollowed out was toward the end of this book, you know, when it all goes to shit. I was honestly skimming by that point, but the events that took place were said in such a chaotic, fuzzy, and unbelievable manner, and this is a good thing. Everything was so vivid, I felt like I was living it. This part of the novel was also the only time where I fully got to see the backstory and feeling behind the individual characters, and I really wish that was the case throughout the entire book.

Fans of John Green and Mosquitoland will probably eat this book up, but Kids Of Appetite was personally not my cup of tea. It’s disappointing because Arnold comes up with such interesting concepts, but the execution is definitely not meant for contemporary fans like me.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Vampire Academy, by Richelle Mead

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3.5 stars

ONLY A TRUE BEST FRIEND CAN PROTECT YOU FROM YOUR IMMORTAL ENEMIES…

Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire with a rare gift for harnessing the earth’s magic. She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires—the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa’s best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them.

After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger…and the Strigoi are always close by.

Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever…

I’ve been meaning to read Vampire Academy from a long time solely to get my bitchy vampire drama fix. And I got it, finally, with a few extra concepts in the package. Most of these extras were surprises, obviously, from the atypical Rose, to the relationship between Moroi and Dhampirs, to the subplot going on underneath all the drama. I do have problems with what Mead tried to include here, but Vampire Academy excels easily in the department of guilty pleasure reads.

The story starts off immediately with Rose and Lissa trying to escape from mysterious people trying to capture them, and it is instantly revealed that these people are from the St. Vincent’s Academy, the high school that Rose and Lissa used to go to and have successfully escaped from — until now. After heading back reluctantly to the academy, Rose and Lissa sink back into their old friendships and habits, some easily and some with difficulty. However, danger and mystery is lurking around, and the two are at the forefront of it.

 First of all, I have to say that this book contained a lot more action and adventure type ideas than I thought it would be. I watched the movie trailer for the Vampire Academy movie adaptation about a year ago (I was kicking myself for not reading the book already at the time of its release, but I heard it was shitty so I’m not bothered), and I assumed the book would be Mean Girls with vampires in it. More or less, I wasn’t wrong, but there was a lot more plotting and mystery that I had expected and it surprised me. The Moroi, Lissa in particular, is constantly under threat of the Strigoi, who are basically past Moroi vampires who have either willingly or unwillingly been turned into psycho, rabid monsters, the Strigoi.

The drama infused in the book was particularly the reason I picked this one up, and it didn’t disappoint in that department. There was trash talk, rumors, cheating, lying, all this unfiltered shit going on that gave me life. I also loved how we were introduced to all the social rules present in the academy, which shaped the book significantly. There are also many norms in the vampire world that stem the prejudices, discrimination, and general social behavior toward certain types of vampires and actions, and I was impressed with the fact that Mead was able to create a simple but fleshed-out social environment easily. Unfortunately, the original mystery subplot overtaking the major issue in the book was disappointing in its reveal and execution itself. It’s thin and underdeveloped, and I didn’t feel as unsettled or shocked as I wanted it to be.

Rose is an unusual character, and I’m surprised that not many other heroines have come quite close to her badass character after Vampire Academy‘s publication in 2007. She’s got no filter, is confident, and owns herself and her sexuality completely. She’ll bother people, I’ll tell you that. She bothered me at first because I disliked the fact that she had to rude to everyone, calling people around her boring and tame, as well as trying too hard to be a savage. Talking like a normal person and having a regular conversation with someone is probably stale to her wild ass, but putting that aside she actually is a savage and pretty good one at that. Rose can be a bitch and she knows it. This doesn’t stop her from speaking her mind, defending herself and Lissa from those who criticize her, and shielding the ones she loves from danger. She’s fiercely protective of Lissa and is constantly looking out for her well-being, and I enjoyed this needed female friendship. Lissa herself is actually pretty dry, but I liked their relationship together.

There is a ‘romance’ of sorts, but I honestly don’t get it considering Rose’s love interest is a man several years older than her. Rose and Dmitri might be attracted to one another, but what they have going on right now is simply infatuation. I also don’t know if they can go any further than their general lust toward each other because Dmitri is a very typical, brooding YA guy and their feelings toward each other don’t have much of a basis besides the fact they are both hot. However, they really didn’t progress anymore than the infatuation already present, so I’m glad Mead decided to save the actual relationship for another book. It would have been unrealistic if they had already gone to ‘relationship status’ in the first book, and I hoping that Dmitri and Rose’s ‘romance’ will expand in the next book.

Overall, Vampire Academy makes for an easy, dramatic, and fun read. I’m definitely looking forward to whenever I decide to pick up the next book and hopefully the vampire politics and romantic relationships are just as emphasized as the drama by then.

-Haven

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

Flashback Friday: My age-old obsession with The Princess Diaries series

Hey guys! This week has actually been so stressful for me, and with an equally grueling weekend coming up, I decided to indulge myself in the blog today and come up with some new ideas and original posts. I’ve noticed that the amount of variety on M&B has become pretty scarce, as all I seem to be posting is updates on new releases and the regular book reviews. So, I decided to do something different today, and that ‘something’ would be my participation in the ever-popular daily book blog memes. Today’s meme is ‘Flashback Friday’, which is centered on looking fondly upon books from our pasts that we’ve loved. This meme is hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, and today I’ll be visiting a forever favorite book, or series rather, The Princess Diaries.

Image result for the princess diaries book series

I used to love Meg Cabot books around middle school, and I have practically read most of what she wrote (which is a whole lot), but this series affected me the most. The Princess Diaries started out pretty unassuming to me, but the books just got more and more fun, crazy, and emotional as the series went on. It was dramatic, hilarious, and just silly sometimes (okay, most of the time) and I might consider it vapid and annoying if I tried to take it seriously in present-day, but I remember being so emotionally attached to these characters and their relationships. Princess Forever made my life and destroyed it simultaneously (basically what happens to all finales) and the series as a whole took me on a fun and fluffy journey. Making this post brought back a wave of nostalgia, and I’ll definitely be re-reading this series soon.

Thanks for reading, peeps! I’ll be back soon with more meme posts and other variety to spice up this blog. 🙂

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

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3.75 stars

“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”
It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.
From Maggie Stiefvater, the bestselling and acclaimed author of the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, comes a spellbinding new series where the inevitability of death and the nature of love lead us to a place we’ve never been before.

The Raven Boys has been recommended to me by possibly everyone I know, and it sucks that it took so long for me to get to it, but I’m glad I finally did. It’s really not the type of book I would have picked up my myself, as I haven’t had the best experience reading Shiver (Maggie Steifvater’s only other book I’ve read), but giving this author a second chance was definitely worth it.

I was honestly in disbelief as I took in the writing of this book, wondering if it was the same author that wrote the purple-ridden prose of Shiver. I’m unsure if Steifvater wrote so flowery in Shiver to fit the supposed gentle, fragile atmosphere of it, but the writing in this book was a solid step-up, considering I was actually able to read it. Steifvater’s writing personally doesn’t strike a definite cord within me, but I actually enjoyed the easiness incorporated into this one. I could definitely feel the atmosphere that she was trying to create more clearly without the excess description. In fact, the atmosphere created was one of my favorite things about the book. I loved the homey yet mystical pull of Henrietta, the southern town in which the characters live in, as well as the busy and cluttered yet lovable characteristics of Blue’s all-female, familial, psychic household. I also enjoyed the numerous subplots involved in the story, from the Welsh mythology to rituals gone wrong and unintentional murders and all the mystery surrounding Blue and her father. It was a well-created setting and mood, one that seeped through the pages smoothly.

The characters were also surprisingly interesting and layered, another step above from the blandness of Grace and Sam from Shiver. I came in expecting tropes and cliches for the rich ‘Raven Boys’ (the fact that they have a collective name predetermines that), but they had depth and emotions and certain likability to all of them, even at their worst moments. Gansey’s wit and determination was expressed well throughout the book, as well as his uncertainty when it came to his plans and his feelings for his three friends. His arrogant yet caring nature when it came to his friends can be misinterpreted by many, but I love that aspect because it brings about many perspectives about his judgments, especially toward Adam. I love their flawed relationship, as well as Gansey’s relationship with Ronan. Adam is certainly a favorite as well, and possibly the most fleshed-out character in the book. His insecurity about the wealth around him, as well as his outstanding yet unassuming determination toward dictating his own future were incredibly done. Adam doesn’t really create that much of a presence toward the beginning, he’s quiet and shy, but as the story goes on, his emotional capacity grows and grows to a loud and rattling point. His character is so vulnerable, but the vulnerability is so well-written you can’t help but love it. I have a feeling Ronan was supposed to be the most in-depth character of the book, and while I see the anguish, he could have been more expanded on. While his backstory was relieved, I couldn’t dive into his character as much as the others. Perhaps this has to do with his guarded nature, but I do hope he is more focused on in the next book.

I have mixed feelings about Blue Sargent herself, because while I do like her confidence and funny commentary here and there, she comes off as slightly immature and obnoxious. This feeling wasn’t present throughout the whole book, but she comes off as a little too quirky and childish in a mystical, more emotionally mature book such as this, and the fact that she makes her own clothes and seems to judge rich people constantly only adds to the ‘meh’ feeling. I don’t really see the hype that everyone else sees in the book, but I like how she isn’t a complete special snowflake and actually has a personality, so here’s hoping that she improves in the sequel. With that being said, I actually really liked her interactions with other psychics in the household, and the psychics themselves too. I loved the unsettling yet likable Persephone as well as the confident, straightforward Calla. Even characters that were merely described (such as the chatty Orla) were described well and added a significant amount of personality to the household.

I would definitely recommend The Raven Boys to anyone looking for a mysterious urban fantasy which has a good balance of lightness and maturity. Don’t let the synopsis fool you, it’s really not as cliche as it sounds. 🙂

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Mask Of Shadows, by Linsey Miller

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1.5 stars

Perfect for fantasy fans of Sarah J. Maas and Leigh Bardugo, the first book in this new duology features a compelling gender fluid main character, impressive worldbuilding, and fast-paced action.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class―and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal steals a flyer for an audition to become a member of The Left Hand―the Queen’s personal assassins, named after the rings she wears―Sal jumps at the chance to infiltrate the court and get revenge.

But the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. And as Sal succeeds in the competition, and wins the heart of Elise, an intriguing scribe at court, they start to dream of a new life and a different future, but one that Sal can have only if they survive.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I don’t know if my rating is largely influenced by the clunky format this ARC was in, or the clunkiness of the book itself, but one thing is sure: Mask Of Shadows let me down. Way down. So down that it inspired me to never request another fantasy genre ARC again, because reading a boring book is bad, but squinting and looking to decipher those stacked paragraphs on your kindle is worse.

Mask Of Shadows follows Sallot Leon, a gender-fluid street fighter and thief who doesn’t want anything more than revenge against the royals and nobles that eliminated her family — and the rest of her home and culture. So when auditions for The Left Hand, the queen’s exclusive assassin foursome, come around, Sallot steals this opportunity to get a first hand look and kill at the Erlands, an ancient and royal family that have destroyed Nacea, Sallot’s home country, and erased it from history during a bloody war. However, the auditions are more dangerous and difficult than Sal thought it would be, as Sal gets wrapped up in a wave of court intrigue, assassinations, and mystery.

I honestly wonder why I write such interesting-sounding summaries for books I don’t even like, but it definitely goes to show all the wasted potential of what this could have been. While I do applaud Mask Of Shadows for attempting to create a world, since some similar books manage to ignore that entirely, many of the terms and names of the royals, nobles, cities, and kingdoms are so disorganized and confusing. This information is actually given around the beginning through several info-dumps, yet many of the nobles’ names are not mentioned again until Sallot actually plans to kill them/bring them up again (which is around 70 or 80%), and we are supposed to remember what personal agenda and predispositions that Sallot has against them, as well as their rank or specific action they have taken in wiping out Nacea. This is nearly impossible to track, and I’m lucky I have a kindle so I can search up these names and figure out their doing, but it gets really old quickly. I’m sure I would have dropped the book if I had a paper copy, solely due to this.

Continue reading “Mask Of Shadows, by Linsey Miller”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

And We All Looked Up, by Tommy Wallach

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3.5 stars

Before the asteroid we let ourselves be defined by labels:
The athlete, the outcast, the slacker, the overachiever.

But then we all looked up and everything changed.

They said it would be here in two months. That gave us two months to leave our labels behind. Two months to become something bigger than what we’d been, something that would last even after the end.

Two months to really live.

I don’t specifically remember my thoughts before beginning And We All Looked Up, but it probably had something to do with praying. Praying to the YA books gods to let it be just as amazing as the indie-esque cover, let it be the answer to the Breakfast Club tragedy that was Infinite In Between, let it be a great character case study and contain beautiful prose as well, let it have feeling and relatability and emotion. I’ve been disappointed by a number of books like this, who claim to divert from the cliches and tropes, yet do anything but that. It’s a difficult concept to uphold actually, but I’m glad And We All Looked Up somehow managed to do well with it whilst maintaining its own uniqueness. It’s not perfect, and I’m not surprised. There are a few characters that need more exploration, and a few topics that were left hanging, but I was left with a hollowed-out, bittersweet feeling towards the end, and those are the best feelings (even if I feel like shit simultaneously).

And We All Looked Up follows four high school seniors, who are famously defined by their labels. Peter, the athlete and all around good-guy, Andy, the slacker and kind of a gang-banger (he just hangs out with the wrong crowd), Anita, the super-smart nerd and overachiever, and Eliza, the outcast who’s infamous for her promiscuity. They’ve never had access to changing anything about their lives, but their inner desires and dreams call for them after an asteroid is scheduled to hit in only 2 months. From there, the foursome plan to break out of their shell and truly chase their dreams before they don’t have a chance anymore. Eliza creates a blog showcasing her photography, Anita runs away from home to sing her heart out, Andy begins his quest of getting laid (by Eliza, specifically), and Peter decides to find and embrace what truly makes him happy. As these labels are being shed, the crew finally learns to accept the qualities of themselves they hated, the qualities they can change, and the qualities that make them who they are.

There’s a number of themes infused into this unassuming book, and I’m sure one can tell that from the minimalist cover and synopsis. Peer pressure, stereotyping, fitting a label, and self-acceptance take center stage among a list of other themes that are small, but important. I would say its themes often get jumbled up and the overall organization of the novel is messy, and I’m sure it was meant to be that way. Life and its messages being thrown at you is absolute chaos and difficult to deal with, and the book summarized that aspect pretty well through its cluttered layout. I am very iffy on this though. The book takes place in a series of settings which each reflect the main characters’ characteristics and environment they grew up in. In this specific novel, the most explored area would be the rough, dangerous lives that Andy and his screwed up friends live, so a lot of gangs and street violence was shown throughout. This environment was new to me, it’s usually not as explored in typical contemporary novels and I applaud the author for showing a perspective we usually don’t see. But, Andy’s environment was far too abundant throughout this book, and there wasn’t a great balance between this aspect and the lives that the rest of the characters lead. Andy’s life was easily the most interesting, but the disorganization of it just lead to a bunch of pointless, nonsensical actions that were placed in there for drama. I’m sure there was some symbolism behind it but whatever it was, it could have been said more clearly.

The characters were surprisingly fleshed-out, and I say surprisingly because books like these usually promise great characters but hardly deliver. Thankfully, this one delivered well if not spectacularly. I have love-hate relationships with most of these characters, which is frustrating in a good way since it solidified them as realistic, but also irritates the shit out of me. Perhaps I want a character that I just adore full-out with no expectations of anything, one I can fully like but I do appreciate the honesty and rawness incorporated into these characters. There were many times in which their actions were flat-out grating, but they do grow and redeem themselves toward the end. I think many people will be inclined to dismiss the foursome and every other young adult in the novel as self-centered, angsty teenagers who are consistently horny. Those things might be true, but there is so much more beneath the surface of these kids, and how all their problems inevitably surface after the big announcement, as well as their struggle to deal with everything they haven’t accomplished, is a brutal thought that was undeniably well-written. Yes, some of their actions can be off-putting, but the chaos and frustration is so well done, I just can’t seem to hate it completely.

I actually loved the foursome, some more than others, but they all are well-written characters in their own right. Anita struggles with pleasing her strict parents and living up to the expectations they’ve put on her, while longing for the freedom to do what she truly loves: sing. I loved her matter-of-fact responses and slight humor she adds to the difficult situations, and her vulnerability was shown well too. Eliza really happened to surprise me as well, I honestly thought she was over hyped at first and while I still think she is, a lot of her struggle is quite sad yet strangely satisfying. Many people in this book treat her like a precious object to be acquired, which can be annoying, but there is actually so much backstory and pain underneath her standoffish cover that has to with what she is infamously known for: her sex life. This character could have gone incredibly wrong, but Eliza is pretty great. Andy is probably my favorite main character, and he didn’t exactly start out that way. I didn’t expect much from him initially because his backstory seemed to be the most dense at first, but boy, that changed. His longing to be wanted, and his desire yet disgust toward blending into the dangerous environment surrounding him, along with his volatile best friend, Bobo, was so perfectly exemplified. There is so much struggle that goes on within him, from deciding what he truly wants at this ending period to discovering the person he truly is, all of it is in fact effortlessly done. The only character I disliked was Peter, who always seemed to be apart from the rest of the group. This was clearly done on purpose (considering the fate of his character), but his character didn’t have a clear direction at all.

Overall, I would definitely recommend And We Looked Up to those looking for an ambitious emotional adventure that isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. I’m surprised Tommy Wallach isn’t more popular, and even more surprised it hasn’t been made into a movie. It would make a pretty good teen indie film, you know, those ones that premiere at Sundance and such. Hopefully it happens soon! 🙂

-Haven