Books

Alex, Approximately, by Jen Bennett

2.5 Stars

The one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

Classic movie fan Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online as Alex. Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new archnemesis. But life is a whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever it is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

This is a book I really wanted to like. And I really mean it when I say that. The blurb sounded cute, the ratings were good, but most of all, Haven thought it was an example of fluff done right. And while I see why people like this book so much, I also think that I’ve read too many almost identical contemporaries to truly enjoy this formulaic type of book anymore. Sorry, Haven. 😦

Alex, Approximately is a retelling of You’ve Got Mail, and the premise is actually very cute. I appreciated that Bennett understood that the fact that Alex being Porter was too obvious to turn into a plot twist, and thus we were told of this in the blurb itself. The book itself started out predictable, but still cute. Bailey is likable, her friend Grace enjoyable, and Porter was the current-asshole-with-a-dark-secret-but-wait-you’re-gonna-love-him kind of guy. After the start, however, I felt there was a pretty significant drop in enjoyability; my irritation was probably increased by the fact that I was on a feminist literature streak, and contemporaries are not known for being amazing in this department.

I don’t want to make this entire review about the bad, since I did enjoy this to a certain extent, but I can’t help it. My first problem with it is how long it took Bailey to figure out the Alex-Porter connection. I don’t generally do well with dramatic devices that involve the audience knowing something the characters don’t, and I quickly lost patience with Bailey. The moment we’re waiting for really only happens in the last 10 pages of the book after huge amounts of stalling, and while I understood why it was written that way, Bailey came off as pretty dense to me.

My second problem is the “villain.” Fluff contemporaries generally have bad guys who are zero-dimensional (typically in a “mean girl” form) and this book was no exception. Because it’s a facet of the genre, I don’t mind this type of villain, but I thought the character of Davy was grossly abused in the writing. He’s portrayed as Porter’s old friend who’s now an all-around idiot and asshole, but he has a chronic injury, is addicted to narcotics as a result, and his parents don’t care about him enough to address it. That sounds like a character who’s desperately in need of reconciliation and help, but he’s just the “bad” guy in this book and is dismissed as such. I think this book would have been stronger if there was less victim blaming, or even if Davy just stayed zero-dimensional without all these cries for help.

My final problem is the incredible amount of guys doing things for girls because females are incapable creatures. Maybe I’ve been on a feminism streak lately (as I mentioned earlier), but I was waiting for Bailey to finally stick up for herself, and was relatively disappointed. Bailey is initially a “serial avoider” (a pushover), and the growth potential was enormous. Although she does come out of her shell and make out with Porter, this book is still filled with: Porter punching people to “defend her honor”, Bailey nursing his wounds and swooning, Bailey obsessing over Porter when he’s mad at her and begging him to stop being mad (even though she knows she did nothing wrong), and much more. Porter’s sister could potentially have been a strong female addition to this book, but we didn’t really get enough of her. I will admit, however, that Grace is a wonderful character and fun to read about.

Despite this in depth analysis of flaws, I did truly enjoy this book – it’s a fluff novel that succeeds in doing its job. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for fluff when I read this. Perhaps I was in the mood of something deeper, and this overly harsh review is evidence of that. Regardless, if you’re looking for a fun rainy day read, this review shouldn’t stop you from picking it up.

(Click here to read Haven’s review, which is more positive and does more justice to the genre)
-Aliza

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Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon | every cliché you’ve never wanted

186924311 star

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Usually when I rate a book one measly star, I expect to have some burning hate or sadness toward it because it’s disappointed me that much. However, the truth is, the books that I usually rate 1-2 stars are those that I expect to dislike. Everything, Everything is a book that I knew I would hate right off the bat, but like everyone else, I too gave in to the immense hype. Unsurprisingly, I thought it was ass, but I’m still really mad that this concept couldn’t have turned out to be anything other than a cliché, trope-y, colossal mess.

I guess I’m heartless: I suppose I’m a bit of a cold-hearted bitch because this book made me feel absolutely nothing. The writing was incredibly simplistic and not at all thought-provoking, choppy sentences riddled the novel making it devoid of any emotion that could have made the story more fulfilling. While the prose was easy to slide through, it was also easy to skip/skim pages because there was no commentary offered to match the strange situation Madeline is in. It’s some of the blandest, most soulless writing I’ve ever encountered, which is funny, because the whole point of the novel is to take risks and explore life.  It’s supposed to be exciting and thrilling and inspiring, but all I felt was boredom. The only parts where it actually said something somewhat meaningful were ruined by the cliché framing of the message. Take risks! Love is worth everything! Live your life to the fullest! Okay, you’ve said something but can we please try to make it less cheesy and more provocative? This aspect basically demolishes everything this book wanted to be.

Equally soulless characters + an equally soulless romance: The character are so damn pointless, I would rather watch paint dry than read their story. Okay, no, but you catch my drift. Madeline and Olly basically had no personality, they felt like cardboard cutouts of every quirky female character and brooding yet secretly cute male. The only thing that somewhat classified them as living, breathing, fictional characters was their romance. Which is a sham! Why? Because it’s plagued by this bitch called instalove. Olly and Madeline are literally meant for each other, they’re freaking soulmates and I don’t say this with a positive connotation. I’m saying that their entire view of life changes the moment they meet, and the things they say to each other are so damn cringe-inducing, cheesy, and just plain ridiculous. If I had explain all the instances and reasons why their ‘romance’ is bullshit, it would take me all fucking day.

Plot holes!1!!!1!: Plot holes GALORE. First off, SCID, Madeline’s disease, seems to be highly glossed over and depicted in a shallow way. It’s not explained at all, and it’s easy to see the superficiality because Madeline touches Olly in their second in-person meeting and doesn’t die, goes outside and stays there for a couple seconds and doesn’t die, runs off to fucking Hawaii with a man she barely knows for three days and experiences nothing crazy due to her condition. She’s able to eat nearly anything she wants and touch anything she wants in the house and nothing happens to her. I suppose this is an indication for what’s about to come (for those of you that have read this book, you know the mega spoiler I’m talking about), but it still makes me uncomfortable that such a disease is made so … trivial. Maybe trivial is too strong a word, but after experiencing the ending it all feels so cheap and calculated.

I already knew about the ending, and I’m sure y’all know about it now because there’s only one kind of twist this book would take. I saw it coming but whatever negative feelings I had about this book multiplied 5 times because … just what?! The ending adds a whole other plethora of plot holes because it simply doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Everything, Everything and I were doomed from the start but I’m glad I tried because now I see how worthless the hype is. Unless you wholeheartedly enjoy cheesiness, instalove, and other dreadful YA clichés, steer clear from this one.

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

I’ll Meet You There, by Heather Demetrios

3.5 Stars

If Skylar Evans were a typical Creek View girl, her future would involve a double-wide trailer, a baby on her hip, and the graveyard shift at Taco Bell. But after graduation, the only thing separating Skylar from art school is three months of summer…until Skylar’s mother loses her job, and Skylar realizes her dreams may be slipping out of reach.

Josh had a different escape route: the Marines. But after losing his leg in Afghanistan, he returns home, a shell of the cocksure boy he used to be.

What brings Skylar and Josh together is working at the Paradise—a quirky motel off California’s Highway 99. Despite their differences, their shared isolation turns into an unexpected friendship and, soon, something deeper.

Compelling and ultimately hopeful, this is a powerful examination of love, loss, and resilience.

Today was my first day of school, so I’m glad to blow off some steam with a riveting discussion about books! Particularly I’ll Meet You There, of which I own a copy courtesy of my local library’s summer reading program. I went into this book with very little expectations, but came out of it pleased.

This book is about Skylar, a teenager aching to get out of her small trailer-park town. It’s also about Josh, a teenager back from a stint in the Marines, minus one leg. From the start, these characters were intriguing – they’re colorful and three-dimensional and stay that way throughout the entire book. They had wonderful separate storylines, and Skylar’s opinions and strong personality particularly attracted me (Josh was a douchebag to begin with, but Skylar quickly corrects his more offensive speech patterns.) I loved both these characters individually… but couldn’t really enjoy the forced romantic plot.

I thought the setting of Creek View was beautifully written, and Skylar and Josh fit wonderfully into it – I could feel the effect Creek View had on both of their goals and personalities. I could easily have bought a coming-of-age novel about their individual struggles and their friendship, but thought the romance escalated too quickly and Skylar’s thoughts quickly devolved into typical YA romantic girl mush when she was around him. I did like that they didn’t get together too quickly, but I think the characters were most true to themselves when not thinking about how kissable the other person was.

The side characters, especially Skylar’s friends, were super enjoyable and fun. I would have loved a lot more of Skylar’s interactions and camaraderie with these guys. I also loved how non-stereotypical they were about most everything, and enjoyed the awareness of teenage pregnancy, racism and homophobia.

Although most of the conflict was romantic in nature, other conflicts such as the family/financial struggles of teens living in underprivileged circumstances and PTSD were well written. Although I will forever wonder how teens in YA novels have such complete reign over and access to alcohol and drugs, even these topics were handled with care and an understanding of the gravitas of drug-related decisions.

Overall, this book is a sweet contemporary novel that has well-written characters and settings, but ultimately fails to be extremely memorable due to the forced, cliche romance. It’s a read I definitely still recommend, though!

~Aliza

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Everything Leads To You, by Nina LaCour | wonderfully cinematic + undeniably real

18667779A love letter to the craft and romance of film and fate in front of—and behind—the camera from the award-winning author of Hold Still.
 
A wunderkind young set designer, Emi has already started to find her way in the competitive Hollywood film world.
 
Emi is a film buff and a true romantic, but her real-life relationships are a mess. She has desperately gone back to the same girl too many times to mention. But then a mysterious letter from a silver screen legend leads Emi to Ava. Ava is unlike anyone Emi has ever met. She has a tumultuous, not-so-glamorous past, and lives an unconventional life. She’s enigmatic…. She’s beautiful. And she is about to expand Emi’s understanding of family, acceptance, and true romance.

3 1/2 stars

The only Nina LaCour novel I had read before this one was We Are Okay, which was an emotional and depressing mess, and I was slightly afraid that Everything Leads To You would turn out the same way. Fortunately, it did not! This book was an extravaganza of film, love, acceptance, and even mystery. It was a simple yet elegant story that explored a number of themes, and while it didn’t completely blow me away, I quite enjoyed diving into it.

First off, I loved how thoroughly invested this book was in its Hollywood setting, social atmosphere, and how the overall film industry works. I could feel the overwhelming yet calming nature of the LA atmosphere, as well as the daily thrills and annoyances one experiences while working on a movie set and just being passionate about film in general. I even enjoyed Emi’s angsting about not finding the perfect piece of furniture for the set she’s designing, because the frustration caused by doing everything you can and failing was just as realistic and enjoyable as Emi’s love for movies and all the work she has to do. It was such an engaging atmosphere that charmed me completely with its creativity and richness.

The characters weren’t done as well in my opinion, but I did enjoy their stories. Emi is surprisingly a very vivacious, passionate, and realistic character who goes through a large amount of growth in this book. It’s her overflowing love for what she does that captured me the most, and while I had trouble finding her ‘inner conflict’ as I read, the way she changes as she deals with her numerous responsibilities, matures into an adult, and finally finds true love was wonderfully written. I really liked the recurring theme of Emi discovering the social and economic disparities between her and someone like Ava, and how she learns to acknowledge the fact that she still is young and still learning about the world around her. That aspect isn’t as focused on as her love story with Ava, which is disappointing, but it was still the part I enjoyed the most. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Ava herself to be as interesting and she tended to annoy me often, but she was engaging enough for me to be wrapped up in the mystery of her background.

It’s weird to say that I was more invested in the themes surrounding Ava and Emi’s romance, but it is true. While I liked the pacing of their romance and the tension created between them, Ava and Emi didn’t capture me as much I wanted them to, but I adored how they both learned to separate fantasy from reality, movie sets from real life. Emi’s journey to realizing the imperfection yet greatness of true love and the false realities of a cinematic romance was so effectively written, even if the topic itself is a bit cliche. I thought it tied the plot points of film and finding love perfectly together.

While I would have liked more emphasis on a few plot points and themes throughout the book, Everything Leads To You was a very different, addictive read that I would definitely recommend to those in search of a unique LGBTQ romance with a ton of relatable themes.

-Haven

Books, New Releases, YA Fiction

New Releases in YA for July 2017

comingsoonbanner

Summer is going by so fast and I honestly can’t keep up in a lot of directions. Fortunately, July’s releases sound very unique and genre-bending, and I’m itching to get my hands on any of these books.

30199656What To Say Next, by Julie Buxbaum – Coming July 11th, 2017

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes a charming and poignant story about two struggling teenagers who find an unexpected connection just when they need it most. For fans of Sophie Kinsella, Jennifer Niven, and Rainbow Rowell.

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her.

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

This contemporary has already been garnering glowing reviews from readers on Goodreads, and while it sounds slightly cliche, I’m curious to see how it is. I hoping it’s just as heartfelt as it is cute.

31450752Because You Love To Hate Me: 13 Tales Of Villainy – Coming July 11th, 2017

Leave it to the heroes to save the world–villains just want to rule the world.

In this unique YA anthology, thirteen acclaimed, bestselling authors team up with thirteen influential BookTubers to reimagine fairy tales from the oft-misunderstood villains’ points of view.

These fractured, unconventional spins on classics like “Medusa,” Sherlock Holmes, and “Jack and the Beanstalk” provide a behind-the-curtain look at villains’ acts of vengeance, defiance, and rage–and the pain, heartbreak, and sorrow that spurned them on. No fairy tale will ever seem quite the same again!

Featuring writing from . . .

Authors: Renée Ahdieh, Ameriie, Soman Chainani, Susan Dennard, Sarah Enni, Marissa Meyer, Cindy Pon, Victoria Schwab, Samantha Shannon, Adam Silvera, Andrew Smith, April Genevieve Tucholke, and Nicola Yoon

BookTubers: Benjamin Alderson (Benjaminoftomes), Sasha Alsberg (abookutopia), Whitney Atkinson (WhittyNovels), Tina Burke (ChristinaReadsYA blog and TheLushables), Catriona Feeney (LittleBookOwl), Jesse George (JessetheReader), Zoë Herdt (readbyzoe), Samantha Lane (Thoughts on Tomes), Sophia Lee (thebookbasement), Raeleen Lemay (padfootandprongs07), Regan Perusse (PeruseProject), Christine Riccio (polandbananasBOOKS), and Steph Sinclair & Kat Kennedy (Cuddlebuggery blog and channel).

I remember seeing this a while ago and thinking ‘WHAT IS THIS?!’. It was such a mystery to everyone back then and it still seems mysterious now, but I can’t wait to dive into this fabulous mess.

22892448The Color Project, by Sierra Abrams – Coming July 18th, 2017

Bernice Aurora Wescott has one thing she doesn’t want anyone to know: her name. That is, until Bee meets Levi, the local golden boy who runs a charity organization called The Color Project.

Levi is not at all shy about attempting to guess Bee’s real name; his persistence is one of the many reasons why Bee falls for him. But while Levi is everything she never knew she needed, giving up her name would feel like a stamp on forever. And that terrifies her.

When unexpected news of an illness in the family drains Bee’s summer of everything bright, she is pushed to the breaking point. Losing herself in The Color Project—a world of weddings, funerals, cancer patients, and hopeful families that the charity funds—is no longer enough. Bee must hold up the weight of her family, but to do that, she needs Levi. She’ll have to give up her name and let him in completely or lose the best thing that’s ever happened to her.

For fans of Stephanie Perkins and Morgan Matson, THE COLOR PROJECT is a story about the three great loves of life—family, friendship, and romance—and the bonds that withstand tragedy.

This sounds like a very interesting contemporary that blends familiar romance formulas with something unique. It also seems to have a hint of mystery — definitely looking forward to it!

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Lucky In Love, by Kasie West – Coming July 25th, 2017

In this new contemporary from YA star Kasie West, a girl who wins the lottery learns that money can cause more problems than it solves, especially when love comes into the picture.

Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment —

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun… until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now, Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

With tons of humor and heart, Kasie West delivers a million-dollar tale of winning, losing, and falling in love.

I’m always telling myself to catch up on Kasie West’s novels, hopefully I’ll actually follow through this time. This sounds like a cute and easy read, which I’m always down for.

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Daughter of the Burning City, by Amanda Foody – Coming July 25th, 2017

A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

This sounds ABSOLUTELY AMAZING. Book, please be as good as you sound.

Thanks for reading, guys! What upcoming releases are you greatly anticipating? Leave a comment below 🙂

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Isla And The Happily Ever After, by Stephanie Perkins | disappointed + conflicted

9627755Love ignites in the City That Never Sleeps, but can it last?

Hopeless romantic Isla has had a crush on introspective cartoonist Josh since their first year at the School of America in Paris. And after a chance encounter in Manhattan over the summer, romance might be closer than Isla imagined. But as they begin their senior year back in France, Isla and Josh are forced to confront the challenges every young couple must face, including family drama, uncertainty about their college futures, and the very real possibility of being apart.

Featuring cameos from fan-favorites Anna, Étienne, Lola, and Cricket, this sweet and sexy story of true love—set against the stunning backdrops of New York City, Paris, and Barcelona—is a swoonworthy conclusion to Stephanie Perkins’s beloved series.

Isla And The Happily Ever After is one of those books that is either loved greatly or hated with a burning passion, with no in between. Or at least, that’s what Goodreads seems to say. Well, allow me to be the rebel and rate it a neutral 3 stars, because I just can’t seem to overcome the conflict this book put me in. Clearly my least favorite and weakest of the contemporary series, Isla is an engaging and fairly likable love story, but lacks the right amount of depth that made the other two books winners.

The plot + writing: Perkins’ novels are always very entertaining and never boring, and Isla was the same. It was very addictive and easy to read, which is why it’s so hard to rate the book. I definitely had a fun time reading it, because most of it was pure fluff, which I didn’t expect. This novel has mastered its fluff components, but there is a severe lack in depth with its themes. Most of the narration and plot mainly centers around Josh, Josh, and Josh, and honestly, it’s a little weird. Isla herself actually has an interesting inner conflict, she’s insecure about herself and thinks she isn’t worth loving, which is totally understandable and relatable. But this theme is only half-hardheartedly expressed in the book, and that’s only toward the last few chapters. The last two books had romance take the center stage, but were still focused on the main characters and their inner conflicts, but all Isla ever seems to think about is Josh. *sighs* wasted potential.

Characters: Perkins’ characters are never easy to love, but most of the time, that’s what makes them interesting and charming even. Most of the time. Don’t worry, I didn’t hate any of the characters in this novel, but I will admit they were more frustrating than usual. Isla is a very sensitive and soft girl that doesn’t really do much besides think about Josh and plan their fantasies together. While she’s the top student in her class, Isla doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life, referring to herself as a ‘blank canvas’ compared to Josh’s detailed life plans. Of course, the book decides to focus more on the first point, making her narration easy to read but not as memorable. I hardly know anything about Isla and her complexities besides what I could figure out from the surface; she’s insecure and in love with Josh. Josh isn’t so interesting either, though he certainly insists he is. *rolls eyes* The problem with the characters is that there aren’t enough; the whole scheme only surrounds Josh and Isla’s whirlwind romance with an occasional (awkward) pop-in from Kurt, Isla’s best friend. We know more about their hook-ups and make-out sessions than their individual personalities.

The romance: Isla and Josh are cute, yes. They are probably the cheesiest and most romantic of all the couples in this series, but also the most confusing. Their relationship practically popped out of nowhere, and the justification for that is that they’ve both been crushing on each other for three years without letting each other know. One minute they’re glancing at each other and making some conversation, the next minute they’re making out. Both of them together are adorable, but their relationship escalated so quickly, where the reader can’t feel the tension and change in emotion involved with falling in love. Interestingly, for such an underdeveloped basis of a romance, the romance is incredibly overbearing throughout this book, overshadowing the characters’ true personalities and flaws. It’s annoying, because Josh and Isla are so needy and immature and cheesy sometimes, but other times they’re actually kind of cute. THE CONFLICT. UGH.

If y’all want an entertaining, cute, and easy to read romance with a typical formula, Isla And The Happily Ever After is probably the book for you. I was definitely expecting more than that from this book in terms of depth though, considering I’ve always thought Perkins’ novels blended deeper teenage themes and fluff pretty well. Still liked it though, and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for pure fluffiness.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

The Year We Fell Apart, by Emily Martin | a frustrating contemporary on rebuilding relationships

22449806Few things come as naturally to Harper as epic mistakes. In the past year she was kicked off the swim team, earned a reputation as Carson High’s easiest hook-up, and officially became the black sheep of her family. But her worst mistake was destroying her relationship with her best friend, Declan.

Now, after two semesters of silence, Declan is home from boarding school for the summer. Everything about him is different—he’s taller, stronger…more handsome. Harper has changed, too, especially in the wake of her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

While Declan wants nothing to do with Harper, he’s still Declan, her Declan, and the only person she wants to talk to about what’s really going on. But he’s also the one person she’s lost the right to seek comfort from.

As their mutual friends and shared histories draw them together again, Harper and Declan must decide which parts of their past are still salvageable, and which parts they’ll have to let go of once and for all.

The Year We Fell Apart contains a combination of elements I usually love in contemporaries, a heartfelt romance and an amount of frustration/angst to challenge the couple together and individually. Unfortunately, while The Year We Fell Apart was engaging enough, the classic combo didn’t work out so well this time around. This book tried to accomplish a number of things, from rekindling a friendship, dealing with problems rattling a family, redeeming oneself, but it all ended up quite directionless ultimately.

The writing was extremely simplistic besides a few moments and I often felt as there were ‘holes’ in the story. The ‘introduction’ of the characters, the relationships, and Harper’s history with Declan was very, very vague and continued to be the same throughout the entire story. It was as if the reader was already supposed to know every thing that took place, and there was very little detail on the things that mattered. There was so much angst with unclear context; Harper and Declan’s past relationship is slowly revealed over time but nothing is ever stated definitely and the order of events is still confusing. This is why the drama and angst feels so forced, there is hardly any context to balance the amount of commentary on Harper’s pain and frustration. I’m sure the cancer subplot was added as another reason for Harper’s constant angsting, but it was entirely useless since it failed to add any message to the story.

Harper herself is indeed a flawed heroine, but is incredibly hard to warm up to and understand fully. I can sympathize with her to an extent, but she keeps repeating the same mistakes and expects comfort from those around her without recognizing her issues. She’s extremely selfish and hardly grows throughout the story, regardless of her comments toward the end of the novel. I suppose her actions would have made more sense if the book delved deeper into her psyche and psychological state, but it decided to focus more on her deal with Declan. In fact, most of Harper’s narration is filled with constant, repetitive comments on Declan’s attitude, his appearance, and whoever he’s hanging out with. It’s annoying and unrealistic, and also amazing how there is so much commentary on Declan yet so little on his history with Harper, through that could just be attributed to bad storytelling.

The most underdeveloped portion of The Year We Fell Apart would be whatever the fuck happened with Harper and Declan, if that isn’t clear already. Like I said before, their relationship is so damn unexplained, and their random up-and-downs get even worse as the story goes on. Harper starts talking all this shit on why she split from Declan and how she was afraid of losing people, and it was all so contrived and nonsensical. If anything, these two just skirted around their feelings and thoughts for each other and decided to finally confront it in the last 10 pages. Those 10 pages where the best part of the book but there is still no depth in their relationship.

I feel as though this book would have been so much better if there was a focus, a central point. Harper’s identity and struggle to make amends, her damaged relationship with Declan, and her mother’s cancer are all interesting plot points but they serve no purpose because they aren’t utilized correctly. If the story focused more on how Harper dealt with her mother’s illness and how family values and dynamics changed due to it, it definitely would have been more well-rounded. If the story also delved deeper into Harper’s psychological state and her issues with fixing herself, that aspect would have gone well with the rest of the themes too. The book definitely took on more than it could handle.

The Year We Fell Apart is a standard angsty romance that is entertaining enough, but there are many better contemporaries out there that explore the same themes deeper yet keep a good balance among all of them.

-Haven