Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

3 Stars

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I am a ginormous fan of Shusterman’s Unwind, and I rank it among some of my all time favorite books. I was used to his style of dystopia: the ones that were so well crafted, they barely felt like a teen dystopian novel in how much they made you think. Scythe’s premise contains all of these trademark Shusterman elements and after hearing him read the first chapter put loud when he visited my school (it was an interesting experience), I was thoroughly intrigued. However, this book, although enjoyable, fell flat in so many ways: the characters, the predictable plot twists, and just the way it dragged.

Scythe is about a utopian future where humans have achieved everything they’ve ever aspired to achieve (such as immortality), and as a result, need to curb population growth by installing scythes, who are the only people who can cause death by “gleaning” (aka killing) people. Our main characters are Citra and Rowan, who have been chosen as scythe apprentices- a position they don’t want, according to the blurb.

This premise sounded great to me, but immediately after starting the book, I began to see some discrepancies. Citra and Rowan, while they do dislike the act of gleaning, both accepted the position of scythe’s apprentice, meaning they absolutely had a choice in this, unlike what the blurb implies. Their characters are not too three-dimensional, and I didn’t care much about them until they started diverging and going on different paths. My biggest problem with this book, and what probably contributed to a certain degree of boredom, was the lack of risk in anything. In this utopian world, anyone who accidentally dies is automatically brought back to life in revival centers, and can only be truly killed if they are gleaned by a scythe. This eliminated any concern I had for the characters, because their lives were never really at stake.

However, despite what I may have implied so far, I didn’t dislike this book. Scythe Curie and Scythe Faraday were fascinating characters, and the world did feel like a utopia. The plot did move slowly, but wasn’t unbearably so, and was overall an enjoyable book.

Writing this review a few weeks after reading the book has changed my initial view of it, I would have to say, as the faults seemed to rise above the fray and distinguish themselves more so in my mind with time. However, I would be remiss to disregard the Neal Shusterman spark that his books always have. Despite Scythe being one of his more subpar works, it does make you think to some regard, and that, I believe, is the most important trait of them all.

-Liz

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Amy And Roger’s Epic Detour || a surprisingly deep contemporary that is surprisingly not for me

7664334Amy Curry is not looking forward to her summer. Her mother decided to move across the country and now it’s Amy’s responsibility to get their car from California to Connecticut. The only problem is, since her father died in a car accident, she isn’t ready to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger. An old family friend, he also has to make the cross-country trip – and has plenty of baggage of his own. The road home may be unfamiliar – especially with their friendship venturing into uncharted territory – but together, Amy and Roger will figure out how to map their way.

I had a certain image of Amy And Roger before starting it. I expected fluffy, cute, tons of witty banter between our leading characters, and an overall lighthearted vibe. Boy, was I wrong. To put it bluntly: Amy And Roger could be considered an exact opposite of everything I’ve listed above. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, it could actually be a good thing because I love deeper contemporaries too. But, among the occasional well-written and emotional moments, Amy And Roger’s Epic Detour was executed in a way that isn’t my cup of tea.

That writing + plot: The writing is on the wordy side. It often read very formally, specifically toward the beginning, but managed to capture me well enough. It wasn’t too much, not too little. There were many moments in which the emotion was strongly enhanced by the prose, specifically when it came to Amy and how she deals with her grief. Unfortunately, this wasn’t kept up throughout the novel and I found myself skipping paragraphs every now and then. The “not too much not too little” can have a downside to it and it shows in this book, because the writing was only mildly engaging. Not without personality, but not too memorable either. But I suppose the characters play a part in that debacle too.

Despite a surplus of events and characters, the book did have a direction in all of its detours. What was even more surprising, was the amount of depth that the story possessed. Here I was, ready to go into a happy-go-lucky adventure and a totally adorable romance when all of a sudden Matson starts hitting me with all this grief discussion and death and guilt and deep shit in general. I don’t mind deep shit at all, in fact I like emotional contemporaries more than fluffy romances. Unfortunately, I have some issues with the execution of this concept and it mostly has to do with the fact that Amy and Roger’s EPIC detour, was not actually that epic. While the documentation of their trip is certainly present, there aren’t any groundbreaking events that truly challenge Amy and Roger’s relationship or cause any sort of realistic unsettlement. They never seem to struggle with money or gas or food and most of their feelings are kept to themselves, which creates a huge lack of excitement. I commend the story for trying to explore deeper themes, but the events taking place and the people Amy and Roger met tended to be forgettable. There wasn’t much propelling the emotional elements of the book besides the parts where the prose kicked in, and those actually turned out to be great scenes.

The characters: Amy and Roger are both likable and relatable characters, but aren’t really that memorable. Amy is clearly struggling, she’s dealing with the sadness and guilt caused by her father’s death. She isn’t the most lively person, and her quiet and unintentionally awkward nature is out in the open. But, she wasn’t very interesting to me. I just couldn’t connect that deeply with her grief, her character, her personality and this happens from time to time, it just doesn’t work out. I couldn’t connect with the ‘old her’ itself because it was barely shown, which leads me to say that Amy doesn’t entirely stick out from all the other heroines in YA contemporaries. I expected Roger to be the traditional funny guy that brings Amy out from her sadness, and while it didn’t really work out that way at first, I liked it anyway. Roger’s ‘baggage’ isn’t as deep, but I liked how Matson managed to create a fleshed-out conflict for him too.

The romance: Amy and Roger seemed to evade the rules of typical contemporary pairings, as they weren’t constantly talking about shared interests, engaging in witty banter, or being adorable while doing childish things together. Hell, they hardly spoke to each other in the beginning because Amy hardly says anything out loud. They were simply a boy and girl forced to go on a road trip together, without much complications at all. It wasn’t the most entertaining, but it was certainly realistic and not as predictable as it could have been. They did start bonding progressively though, and while it was slow journey, they ended up being a pretty likable and realistic couple. Realistic, however, is a tad disappointing in a book such as this because I didn’t want them to be as individualistic. The title has the word ‘epic’ in it and the cover shows a couple holding hands, I expected Amy and Roger to be cute and funny in a non-cheesy way, much like a fluffy contemporary. But, this book was not a fluffy contemporary and I shouldn’t judge it as one (you would’ve thought I’d get it by now).

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, is unfortunately, another book I’ve ruined for myself due to expectations. Not necessarily high expectations, but … different expectations. There are better stories out there that mix lightheartedness with emotional themes, and hopefully Matson’s other book (which I will hopefully obtain soon) achieve that better than this one did.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas || a powerful story on the social/political issues of today

32075671

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

The Hate U Give is such a hyped, highly-sought after commodity and I’ve actually avoided many reviews and the book itself for a long while, just because I was afraid to be let down. My expectations went sky high for this one, and because of all the tragic events taking place in the black community, I even feared disliking it. However, The Hate U Give indeed lives up to the hype with a very significant message behind it, and I was overall impressed with how Thomas weaved an uplifting and inspiring story with more darker, powerful themes.

The atmosphere and prose: This book takes place across two major settings: Starr’s neighborhood, Garden Heights, and her fancy private school Williamson. I loved the way Thomas peeled back the layers on each of these settings, redefining the stereotypes and adding character and originality to both. Starr lives in a poverty-stricken environment filled with gangs and violence, but goes to a wealthier private school out of town which contains a majority of white students. I loved the way Thomas added a sense of familiarity and relatability to Starr’s hometown through building stores, parks, houses, and even the gangs involved. It was quite interesting to see the distinction between each area and how it affects Starr and her family psychologically, and this worked out so well due to the well-defined individual environments. The prose was surprisingly very informal, which I really liked to an extent. I felt as though the dialogue and overall commentary was brought to life easily, in all the happy, angry, and frustrated moments. There are times where I wish the writing wasn’t as casual, and a little more poignant in its commentary of the issues plaguing Starr, her family, and everyone affected by Khalil’s death. There was a surplus of dialogue throughout the novel, and I often felt as though there wasn’t enough commentary to match it.

The perfectly defined characters: Other than the great way this book delivers its message, the characters were my favorite part of this novel. Starr is incredibly relatable and realistic. Her vulnerability, anger, and sadness in such a situation is so well-expressed and it’s heartbreaking to imagine that so many other people her age have been similarly affected by such terrible acts. Her struggle to come to terms with what happened and how she plays a part in the grand scheme of things, as well as her courage and fierceness, are wonderfully realistic and uplifting. Amazingly, the side characters involved were equally three-dimensional. I adored Starr’s sincere and heartwarming immediate and extended family, from her tell-it-like-it-is Nana to her mischievous younger brother, Sekani.  I specifically admired Starr’s father, his history and personality was incredibly layered and well-defined, and the emotions and actions her presented spoke volumes. Even the minor characters like Mr. Lewis and Iesha were so full of life.

A multitude of emotion and range of messages: This book is based on the Black Lives Matter and it exemplifies all that it is perfectly. It has a special way of taking you inside this girl’s head and witness what is going on in the world right now, firsthand and up close. We experience Khalil’s murder right away, and many of the events taking place afterward are equally shocking, upsetting, and so real. There are even instances where Starr notices that the news of Khalil’s death has spread on Twitter and the internet in general, and how people are protesting everywhere, demanding justice. What’s amazing, is the fact that all the other social issues depicted in the novel are all equally well-developed. This book explores interracial couples, familial and cultural dynamics, and even the psychology and history behind all the violence and gang banging in Starr’s neighborhood. Thomas has exposed a range of topics with utter poise, but never shies away from honesty and rawness.

The only things I have to complain about would be the casual prose and the length of the novel. While the book certainly wasn’t boring, it seemed to drag a bit every now and then and I couldn’t pinpoint the direction. Other than that, the hype is very, very real. I would urge everyone to read this book right away, not only because it’s the ‘it’ book of right now, but because it expresses a range of social/political issues in an emotive, realistic, and inspiring way like no other.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Dream Thieves (Raven Boys #2), by Maggie Stiefvater || an engaging sequel with lots and lots of Ronan (YES to this)

20257177If you could steal things from dreams, what would you take?

Ronan Lynch has secrets. Some he keeps from others. Some he keeps from himself.

One secret: Ronan can bring things out of his dreams.

And sometimes he’s not the only one who wants those things.
Ronan is one of the raven boys – a group of friends, practically brothers, searching for a dead king named Glendower, who they think is hidden somewhere in the hills by their elite private school, Aglionby Academy. The path to Glendower has long lived as an undercurrent beneath town. But now, like Ronan’s secrets, it is beginning to rise to the surface – changing everything in its wake.

I was initially worried about reading this sequel, because of the amount of time that passed between now and when I read The Raven Boys. I always try to continue a series at a consistent rate, because I tend to forget the story told in each previous book when I move onto the next after a long time, but it doesn’t always work out. This is the reason why getting into The Dream Thieves took a few chapters, but after sinking into the characters and settings I knew, it was such a fun, interesting read. Steifvater upgraded literally everything in this book; the writing, the atmosphere, the character arcs. It only gets better and better as it goes on.

The elevated atmosphere and Stiefvater’s effortless prose: Stiefvater’s writing in this book is effortless. I use that word in every damn review, but when I say that, it means the emotions expressed in the words are so easily understandable. I enjoyed the writing in The Raven Boys but The Dream Thieves contains some of the most beautifully stringed words ever, and the flow is absolutely perfect. This elevated nearly everything in the story, from further developing established characters (Adam and Ronan and everybody actually) and newly introduced characters (The Gray Man, Joseph Kavinsky). The homey yet mysterious vibes of the Virginia suburbs echoed throughout the events of the story, and I’ve come to love Henrietta even more.

A mix of thriller and fantasy with newer themes: This book also introduces a new fantasy aspect to add to the spirits concept … dreams. As we all know, Ronan has the mysterious ability to reach into his dreams and bring things out of it. The history of his ability and how far it can go is expanded on largely in this book, and while I thought it was a bit vague at times, most of this new information is made pretty entertaining due to some awesome characterization, which we’ll get to later. I also loved the mysterious Gray Man subplot going on, and I thought it was perfectly interpolated with the fantasy elements.

Them characters throughhhhh: I really like how Steifvater is doing this thing where each of her books focus on a specific character. While all the characters were greatly written, The Raven Boys was clearly dominated by Gansey and Adam, and this time around it’s Ronan and I couldn’t be happier about it. I stated before in my Raven Boys review that I understood that Ronan was complex, but I found him to be a tad underdeveloped regardless. Well, that’s changed. Ronan is crafted into difficult, angsty, complex, and all the way vulnerable person with a number of secrets throughout this book, and I definitely gained a whole new perspective on him. The Raven Boys only gave us a glimpse of Ronan, and The Dream Thieves tries to take us all the way. In fact, Steifvater’s character writing is so improved, I feel as though she can take Ronan’s persona to an even more complex level.

Despite the focus on Ronan, Gansey and Adam are also incredibly defined and present throughout this book. Adam is just starting to come to terms with his act of awakening the ley line in the previous installment, and has troubles with his relationship with Gansey, and newly, Blue. Gansey himself is struggling to deal with Adam, and in this book, we see the adventurous and ambitious side of him, as well as the broken and bleak side. Noah flashes in and out, can’t say much about him. Joseph Kavinsky and I carry a complicated relationship, and I can’t say much about him because spoilers. But, watch out for this dude. He’s way more important than you think. The Gray Man is another new character, and I absolutely love him. The way he’s introduced and maintained throughout the story is very anonymous and quiet, but after discovering more and more of his true nature and past, he becomes a very interesting character.

I’m still lost on Blue and I don’t know why. Her issues are definitely more defined in this one, she’s struggling with her identity and purpose, as well as her relationship with Adam and Gansey. And, of course, there’s that no-kiss deal. Yeah, she’s got problems, but I really can’t understand them and dive into her personality. I still like her jabbing, sarcastic remarks, but she seems very unnecessarily irritable throughout, and I just don’t get it. It’s probably just me though, because every other character in this series so far is wonderfully written.

The Raven Cycle is turning out to be a pretty kickass series, and I can’t wait to read the next installment, which is apparently focused on Blue. Hopefully it turns around my opinion on her and keeps up with the greatness The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves have delivered so far.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

History Is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera || an emotional rollercoaster ride of love and finding oneself

25014114When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

Just wanted to let y’all know that my AP exams are finally over, and I can freely get back to blogging now. While I’ve been away from M&B, I have indeed been reading, even if it’s slower than usual. Finding time to read during exam weeks may or may not be a good thing, but that’s beside the point. I’m back and I couldn’t have chosen a more difficult book to review. *sighs*

History Is All You Left Me is one of the most heartbreaking, intense, and dramatic books I’ve ever read. I can’t say it was a book perfectly fit for me, I struggled slightly with the writing throughout the novel. But, it is still an incredibly real and emotional read that not many can pull off. Adam Silvera is very, very talented. Speaking of Silvera, I’ve actually seen him in real life when I went to a book convention back in March with a friend, and he was openly speaking about his struggle with OCD in the mental health panel, which clearly connects to History Is All You Left Me. He seemed like a really nice guy, and I wish I had read this book back then, or at least his debut novel. Anyway, a little story time for you guys, since I rarely talk about my personal life lmao.

Let’s go into detail.

The beautiful writing that has me in a bind of sorts: The writing has me in a terrible bind. I struggled at first, because while Silvera conveys emotion effortlessly there is also a large paragraph following the major point which is overridden with details and repetition. There are a few gems of writing in these, but it’s unnecessary most of the time and quite boring. It actually reminded me of my own writing, which tends to dissect every little characteristic of a character or setting and repeat those dissections in different manners (which will probably happen soon in this review if it isn’t happening right now). But, the writing is gorgeous, really. It’s very consistent in its portrayals of heartbreak and confusion and sadness and every other feeling that is explored within the pages of this book. I found myself falling for Theo, dwelling in the aftermath of his death, and dealing with all the pain that came with it along with Griffin in this book, and it’s amazing how the effortlessness of the writing pulls you in so easily. There are anecdotes and musings and statements scattered all over this book that rip you apart with its honesty and rawness, and I do wish Silvera just stuck to keeping these throughout and not expanding on every little thing. Thankfully, while this aspect has me conflicted, it’s not too conflicted to make a large impact on the emotional capacity of the book.

Flawed, relatable, and heartbreaking character arcs: The book mainly follows four boys: Griffin, Theo, Jackson, and Wade. The all have different amounts of page time (obviously), but they have to be the most well-defined characters in the novel. The books is told from two time periods: one in the present during the aftermath of Theo’s death and the other detailing Griffin’s life when Theo was alive. I really like this aspect and it wasn’t confusing at all. It actually revealed much more about the characters in the story and had a huge influence on the amount of emotion explored in the book. The details of the complex relationships are slowly revealed over time and this makes the book that much more impactful. Surprisingly, while these boys all have their own flaws, drama, and frustration spilled over the pages, I loved all of them. I loved reading about Griffin’s recovery process and his painful path to finding out the truths about the people he loves. I could understand Jackson and Wade’s pain with coming to terms about themselves and the things they have experienced. Theo was only there half the time in the flashback period, but I could totally feel his essence and his personality without it being blown out of proportion or sensationalized in the present. These boys have gone through something most of us haven’t and will never want to go through, but I could so feel their grief and confusion over something so tragic they had never would have predicted.

The complicated yet honest relationships: There are so many relationships in this book, oh my god. It doesn’t seem that way initially, but as the details are revealed over time, it just blows you mind on how interconnected these boys are. Fortunately, while this relationship drama does create more entertainment and makes the story more engaging, it’s not solely characterized as ‘drama’ and actually has a purpose and reasoning behind it. Griffin and Theo’s love and friendship was so heartwarming and real, and Griffin and Jackson’s reluctant yet necessary meetings were so genuine and honest. Even Griffin and Wade were complicated in the best ways, and while I did think some of the events that took place were a little extra, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

History Is All You Left Me is one of those books that takes you a while to get into, but once you get into it, you are sucked into a universe that is melancholy and raw yet strangely enlightening. It’s not a book everyone will like, but if anyone’s looking for a powerful and honest LGBTQ story, look no further.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy

4 Stars

Brimming with humor and one-of-a-kind characters, this end-of-the world novel will grab hold of Andrew Smith and Rainbow Rowell fans.

An asteroid is hurtling toward Earth. A big, bad one. Yuri, a physicist prodigy from Russia, has been called to NASA as they calculate a plan to avoid disaster. He knows how to stop the asteroid: his research in antimatter will probably win him a Nobel prize–if there’s ever another Nobel prize awarded. But Yuri’s 17, and having a hard time making older, stodgy physicists listen to him. Then he meets Dovie, who lives like a normal teenager, oblivious to the impending doom. Being with her, on the adventures she plans when he’s not at NASA, Yuri catches a glimpse of what it means to save the world and save a life worth living.

Prepare to laugh, cry, cringe, and have your mind burst open with questions of the universe.

This book got me out of my reading slump, which I think gives it an automatic high rating. No seriously, I hadn’t read anything in weeks, and I zipped through this in two days, which is the rate at which I used to read things before this dreaded slump. So, here is the miracle book that is, in all actuality, a genuinely adorable book.
Learning to Swear in America follows the story of Yuri, a Russian physics prodigy called to America to help NASA stop an asteroid en route to California. Although the whole “asteroid-impending-doom” premise has been done before, usually it’s from the perspective of teenagers who want to do as many crazy things as possible before the world ends. This time, however, it’s from a more scientific perspective, and the asteroid actually ends up being more important to plot of this novel than I’ve seen before.

The majority of my rating for this book is because of Yuri. Yuri is a Russian physics genius, and his voice absolutely sounds like it, despite the third person narrative. I absolutely loved how well his accent came across in the dialogue, and loved even more how cute his character was. Being a visitor from another country for whom English is not a first language, Yuri was adorably socially awkward, misunderstanding American slang and idioms in ways that were totally realistic and affection-inciting. After evaluating how adorable Yuri was, I realized that more books should have characters from other countries. 🙂

The side characters were rather meh, however. It’s been a week or so since I read this book, and I can’t even remember the main love interest’s name, she was that forgettable. I understand the role they had in Yuri’s stay in America, but still, they were your standard “quirky friends that bring the main character out of his shell” cliche. One of the friends, Lennon was actually pretty entertaining (and gets diversity points for being in a wheelchair) so I wish he got more page time than the girl did (still can’t remember her name).

I liked the science aspect of the book and appreciated the amount of research Kennedy put into it. Although most of everything about antimatter went way over my head (if it wasn’t obvious, I’m not exactly a physicist) I still enjoyed the pro-NASA pro-science view that seems far too lacking in today’s America.

Overall, this was a super adorable book that was enjoyable, but its flaws and cliches keep it just short of becoming great.

-Aliza

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour | a quiet and careful read on love and loss

28243032You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…

Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

I found out about We Are Okay a bit later than most, but it quickly became one my most anticipated releases of the first half of this year. I love emotional books, which many people don’t understand, but books that depress me and urge me to think about myself and the world are my favorites. I expected that from We Are Okay, yet it managed to deliver an emotional capacity in a much quieter and softer way. I wouldn’t say it was incredibly effective to me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

We Are Okay follows Marin, a girl who had moved to New York City from her home in California for college on an impulse after an unspoken tragedy. She hasn’t looked back since, until her past best friend Mabel says she is dropping by. Mabel has the motive to bring Marin home and face everything she has left behind, but Marin doesn’t know if she is ready for breaking out of the isolation she has been in for the past year. However, as she begins to assess the people she had loved and her relationship with Mabel, Marin realizes she must confront her scarred past before she loses herself forever to the sadness.

The quiet and cautious atmosphere created: I am very conflicted with how LaCour decided to structure this book, because the atmosphere the writing created was so depressing and miserable, it was hard to focus, yet it was that aspect that made me like it as well. Marin lives in her NYC dorm alone during Christmas break, as everyone else has traveled, and this along with the empty yet sorrowful writing painted such a lonely, melancholy picture. It was difficult not to fall into the same despair that Marin carried, and I was impressed with the way LaCour managed to do this easily. Unfortunately, the writing might scare some readers away because it tends to be a bit melodramatic at times without the proper context to influence it. Marin’s story is kept hidden from us for most of the book, and while the flashbacks slowly ease us into the mystery of her escape, there isn’t much that goes on in the present other than washing the dishes and making ramen noodles. I was constantly in the wait for something interesting to actually happen, but the situations presented were so dry and broody without anything major actually going on to impact that atmosphere. This is where the plot runs a bit thin, because the book can be so focused on creating an emotional atmosphere that the story doesn’t really go anywhere in a certain direction.

Fortunately, the writing cues us to uncover Marin’s story, as it fluctuates in its emotional capacity in different moments. Marin could be closed off and isolated, and the reader can understand Marin’s emptiness, and when Marin is closer to revealing the memories she has repressed, the writing grows more intense and passionate. I would say this was one of the few aspects that kept me interested in the book, because We Are Okay tends to deliver its messages really quietly and reluctantly instead of being outright, and I don’t enjoy this type of delivery typically. However, the fluctuations in the writing every once in a while improved the character of the book and gave an idea in which direction it was headed.

The depressing but relatable characters: There aren’t many characters in this book, as most of the focus is on Marin and Mabel. Marin can be equally likable and frustrating. I’m sure everyone can relate to her loneliness and sadness at some point, and I could definitely understand her empty yet sorrowful persona that she exhibits most of the time. While I haven’t experienced the same tragedies that Marin went through, I could still connect to her struggle with wanting to close herself off and reluctantly needing to reach out to someone. She’s constantly filled with thoughts of misery, hopelessness, and anger towards herself and the past. But, that is all she is. Thoughts. Marin is so depressed throughout this book, that we never clearly see who she truly is beneath all the repression. While I could feel her pain, I couldn’t fully empathize with her because she is so angsty and … sad. I’m not left with the hollow feeling I usually get after reading an emotional book because I couldn’t connect to Marin’s vague ‘change’ from who she was to the broken person she is now. Her character is so cloudy and can be dramatic at times too, and while different people deal differently with grief, the way Marin was written was not my thing. Mabel was even more uninteresting, but I did enjoy when she and Marin were together. It felt as thought Marin was the most passionate, good or bad, around her, and I could finally reach out and touch their history together through their interactions.

A diverse romance with a surprising amount of depth: There is an LGBTQ romance between Marin and Mabel, one of the aspects of the novel which I enjoyed more. I could definitely sense how close they used to be and how much they loved each other, first non-romantically and then romantically. The flashbacks that involved the two of them allowed me to finally connect with their relationship and their characters more than other elements of the book. The strain and divide that Marin’s move had put on their closeness popped out of the page, and was one of the times where the emotion conveyed was real and raw, unlike the cloudiness present throughout the rest of the book. The novel is not romance focused at all, but the many shades to their love for each other contained the right amount of depth to add meaning beyond Marin’s sole issues and make the book more interesting.

To me, We Are Okay is where elements that I love and hate pertaining to emotional contemporary novels, collide, and form something that I can’t help but to be torn on. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy more subdued and quiet contemporaries, rather then straightforward and rawer ones.

-Haven