Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Odd One Out – Nic Stone

“None of this is simple as we want it to be. And I think that should be okay. Being who you are and losing who you love may not be easy, but it’s always worthwhile.” – Author Note

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Blurb: “Courtney “Coop” Cooper: Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

Rae Evelyn Chin: I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

Jupiter Charity-Sanchez: The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move. . . .

One story. Three sides. No easy answers.”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Like her debut, Dear Martin (of which my review can be found here), the topic of her latest book is something close to Nic Stone’s heart. In her acknowledgements, she talks openly about her own struggles with sexuality and why she felt it important to add to the growing list of LGBT titles for Young Adult readers.

Odd One Out is told through three perspectives: Courtney who is in love with his lesbian best friend, Jupiter. New girl Rae who kind of loves both of them, and Jupiter who thinks she likes Rae but really like Courtney. On top of this, Courtney appears to have this sense of ownership over Jupiter as if, despite her being unobtainable, she is meant to be his and Jupiter is struggling with her sexuality as she experiences that same desire of ownership for Courtney, and Rae is stuck in the middle. Basically, it’s one giant complicated love triangle.

Normally I’m very wary of multiple perspective stories because it’s rare that I like them all. In this case, I found some to be weaker than others and my favourite ended up being Jupiter. She’s a big fan of the rock band Queen which feeds a lot into her narrative and it made her more fleshed out than the other characters because she stood on her own separate to them. It made her feel more like a real teenager. Also her struggles with sexuality were very relatable: she identifies as lesbian but begins to worry about whether that label fits and if she will add fuel to the stigma that LGBT teens are just seeking attention or “waiting to be turned.” I could just feel the hurt she was going through and I was powerless to help her. I also think that she experiences the most character growth overall. Rae is of the similar vein; battling with the bisexual label and the ever-present stigma that she doesn’t want to validate. In fact, the only one who is firmly comfortable in their sexuality is Courtney.

This book also features awkward sex scenes combined with the handling of consent which is really nice to see becoming more common in YA books. It just came across really natural and authentic in the scenes and added to the characters experiences.

Another important point to note is how it’s shown that everyone experiences situations differently and this book does a fantastic job of showing how a character perceives an event compared to how it actually exists.

Once again, Nic Stone proves that she is a writer very much worth watching.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Always And Forever Lara Jean – Jenny Han

“To love a boy, to have him love you back, it feels miraculous.”

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Blurb: “Lara Jean is having the best senior year. And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends. Life couldn’t be more perfect! At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks…until she gets some unexpected news. Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?”

After completely falling in love with this series from the first book, it’s not surprising that I’ve flown through the trilogy and found myself faced with the finale.

Always and Forever Lara Jean sees our favourite protagonist being thrown in the deep end: with her school life coming to an end and future plans falling apart, not to mention facing being long distance with her rather attractive boyfriend. This is the book where it feels like the reader really gets to see Lara’s character arc as a whole. It’s been wonderful to see her grow and still hold the same moral and family values no matter what she came to head with, and the finale is no different. Lara is very much a perfectionist so when things don’t go how she wanted, it was interesting to see how she found a way to readjust and see the new opportunities available to her that she may have not considered otherwise.

The most interesting character shift for me personally was Margot, who seems incredibly abrasive and unlike herself compared to the pervious book, but as the story progressed it was understand how she felt like she had lost her place among the family after physically seeing her father’s new relationship flourish. As she has been away at college, getting to see how she learned to also accept a new form of change really hit home with the themes the book was trying to convey.

It seemed only right to end this adventure the same way I began: by listening to the audiobook. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, Laura Knight-Keating has cemented herself as one of my favourite audiobook narrators ever. It’s been a real treat listening to her bring this story and its characters to life and I honestly wouldn’t have binged on this trilogy in any other way.

However, I think that Always and Forever Lara Jean is my least favourite in the series. It just didn’t grab me the same way the others did and I actually had instances where I put off listening because the story just wasn’t moving as fast as I would like. Also Peter became very unlikeable and his actions regarding trying to get Lara to sign a supposedly jokey contract about Lara having to call him every day and put pictures up etc to show she was in a relationship just left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

Overall, I would read the whole series again, but To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is definitely the best.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Martin – Nic Stone

“Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong.”

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Blurb: “Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.”

Note: I am aware that as a white reviewer I have privilege and can’t fairly comment on the racial aspects of this book. Any Own Voices reviews are greatly appreciated and I will add them here.

In an attempt to “examine current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings”, Nic Stone began writing her debut after seeing the responses to the real-life shooting of unarmed African American teenagers.

Dear Martin follows high school senior Justyce McAllister who starts to question his racial identity after spending three hours in handcuffs for something he didn’t do. Classroom discussions and societal stereotypes come to the forefront of his attention more than they did before. When introduced to a gang, he identifies them as “the ones that make us look bad” and starts to worry more about everything he has to lose.

The book flits around different formats from more script based interactions for the classroom discussions, to prose for present happenings, to the letters. It’s the latter that really stood out to me. Letter writing to someone who won’t read the letters, especially an idol, can be so cathartic and it seems to work for the protagonist. While Justyce feels like he must remain silent in his daily life, especially when topics of equality come up, his letters to Martin Luther King are raw and unfiltered; it’s in these moments that it feels like the reader get the “real” Justyce.

The media fallout following another shooting by a police officer mimics what readers see too often in the real world and the predictability of questions thrown in front of Justyce are predictable and not surprising.

It was interesting to have the white male character, Jared, who starts off as someone who “doesn’t see colour” and truly be lives society is equal start to shift with the events of the book, to the point where he starts to acknowledge his privilege and own up to things he’s said and done in the past. Which is the kind of person I think all of those in a similar positon to him should be trying to do in our own lives.  Alongside this is a white girl called SJ who acknowledges her position from the start but speaks out on important issues and also helps lift up and push Justyce to the front as his voice is more important.

I found it thought-provoking that Dear Martin didn’t just focus on what it means to be a black boy in society, but how that transends into older age: The dad of Justyce’s best friend, Manny, talks about how he has a position of power at his current employment and yet his white colleagues still look down to him or refuse to answer his requests. All of which prompts the further questions in Justyce’s mind of “is this my life now?”

This book can seem almost simple at points. Like I mentioned earlier, certain chapters are just listed dialogue between characters and it feels very reserved in places, but a lot of this is down to it being a lot shorter than I expected. But it still leaves your heart aching at the end. In just over 200 pages, Dear Martin has the reader in the palm of its hand with a protagonist to root for from the very first page, until the very end. My only wish is that it was longer.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, romance, young adult

What If It’s Us – Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera

“I was the guy in the hot dog tie. You were the guy mailing stuff back to your ex-boyfriend. I loved your laugh. Wish I’d gotten your number. Want to give me a second chance here, universe?”

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Blurb: “Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it. Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things. But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?”

*This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

While being a big Becky Albertalli fan, I’m not that keen on Adam Silvera so when What If It’s Us was announced I was very wary about whether I’d like it or not, but it did feel inevitable that these two authors would come together to co-write a book.

What If It’s Us starts with a meet-cute in a post office and becomes the catalyst for everything that follows in the story. It was an unbelievably adorable moment that has such an impact that when Arthur stupidly forgets to get Ben’s name – let alone his number – he ends up trolling through the internet in the hopes of finding this cute boy again. I adored the internet aspect and think it’s something that will be so relatable to other readers. I found myself willing that one of them would eventually find that virtual breadcrumb that would lead them on the path back to each other.

Ben is a white-passing Puerto-Rican recovering from a break up with his boyfriend who is forced to be around in summer school, which doesn’t really help the “moving on” process. Arthur is in New York for the summer and very much believes in signs from the universe.

My favourite thing about What If It’s Us was the idea of re-doing moments. After their piovetal first meet, Arthur is determined for things to be perfect, while Ben wants to replace memories of his old relationship with a new one. Whenever something goes slightly wrong, they agree to redo it and have several first dates to try and make it the best it can be. When it comes to sex, it was wonderful to see consent discussed and how when one of the boys changes his mind, the other is fully supportive and waits for another time without pressuring him. Everything about the relationship just felt real; there were bumps in the road, miscommunication, worries about what happens after the summer, all of which were nice to see and just showed them growing as a couple. Not all of it is plain sailing as there are moments of homophobia which  is a sad reminder than not everyone in society is as accepting as those close to us may be. Another thing I loved was how they were willing to look into each other’s passions (such as Hamilton) to get to know the other person. It was little things like that which had more of an impact than words.

My only real issue was that there didn’t seem to be much distinction in the narratives which was a big shame given how much world/character building there was in the different perspectives. I often found it difficult to work out who I was following and I had to go back to the start of the chapter to check.

Overall What If It’s Us is a ridiculously cute story that shows the power of the universe, and fighting for what you love.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

“Maybe I still haven’t become me. I don’t know how you tell for sure when you finally have.”

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Blurb: “The night Cameron Post’s parents died, her first emotion was relief. Relief they would never know that hours earlier, she’d been kissing a girl. Now living with her conservative Aunt in small-town Montana, hiding her sexuality and blending in becomes second nature to Cameron until she begins an intense friendship with the beautiful Coley Taylor. Desperate to ‘correct’ her niece, Cameron’s Aunt takes drastic action. Now Cameron must battle with the cost of being her true-self even if she’s not completely sure who that is.”

The first time I heard about this film was when the news came out that the adaptation, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, had won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Slowly, it started to peak my interest more.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the epitome of someone exploring their sexuality without really focusing on labels. Cameron goes through the novel experiencing attractions to certain girls not really even identifying those feelings. She just likes it. She kisses her best friend and then her parents die the next day and, as any young person would, she sees this as some sort of punishment for her actions. In fact, she has a few semi-romantic attractions before getting to the infamous Coley Taylor who is mentioned on the blurb.

I like the way this book handled the topic of grief and how everything in this story, however unlikely, leads Cameron to processing and moving on from the dark parts of her life. Set in a small religious town in the eighties-nineties, it’s predictable in the places it goes when it comes to differing sexualities but all of it plays a part in building how Cameron sees herself not through her own lens, but the lens of everyone else. Those she has sexual encounters with are more than happy to get physical with her but feel shame and push her away when Cameron tries to return the favour. There are no big twists that will leave the reader shocked (bar one in the latter part). It’s fundamentally about Cameron just going through the “important” stages of her formative years.

There is a big conversion therapy section to this book and as harsh and manipulative as imagined. But at the same time, it felt almost like more of a summer camp with religious pressure and didn’t go in as hard as I was expecting it to.

The writing style itself doesn’t do much for me, there’s a lot of run on sentences and the book is much longer than it needs to be. But there was just something about Cameron’s character that kept me wanting to know more.

A coming of age story that tackles sexuality, grief and religion, The Miseducation of Cameron Post is worth a read.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Songs About A Girl – Chris Russell

“This, my friend, could be the beginning of something epic…”

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Blurb: “Charlie Bloom never wanted to be ‘with the band’. She’s happiest out of the spotlight, behind her camera, unseen and unnoticed. But when she’s asked to take backstage photos for hot new boy band Fire&Lights, she can’t pass up the chance. Catapulted into a world of paparazzi and backstage bickering, Charlie soon becomes caught between gorgeous but damaged frontman, Gabriel West, and his boy-next-door bandmate Olly Samson. Then, as the boys’ rivalry threatens to tear the band apart, Charlie stumbles upon a mind-blowing secret, hidden in the lyrics of their songs…”

Songs About A Girl is a book that just happened upon when scouring the shelves at my local library. When I saw it was all about boybands, I knew it was something that would appeal to the teen in me and… let’s be honest, me currently. It’s just an aspect of life that is so intoxicating and easy to relate to.

Charlie Bloom is a brilliant protagonist but not without her tropes: she’s really into photography, just trying to keep her head down and, of course, doesn’t understand why everyone seems to be so obsessed with this boyband called Fire & Lights. Enter best friend Melissa to keep her up to speed. If there was any character I saw bits of myself in through this story it was definitely Melissa: she’s excitable, over the top, obsessed with boybands and knows every tiny detail, wants to marry them, almost pees in excitement at the mere thought of meeting them. Trust me, I’ve been there. She just had this energy the whole way through the plot and she really did steal all of the attention when she was on the page.

I thought it was clever to have the boyband within reach. One of the members used to go to the same high school as Charlie so when he initially reaches out to her to do photography work for the band it didn’t feel that far-fetched. I know it’s fiction but it had that element that just made it believable. Also Chris Russell is in a band himself so I feel that added an extra bit of authenticity to band life.

I loved each of the bandmates and they were fully fleshed out in their own rights and the backstory of Gabriel proved far more interesting than I expected it to be.

There are often discussions about the lack of technology within YA books and for me this is where Songs About A Girl excels. The use of social media plays a big role in not just the story, but the overall daily lives of the characters with excerpts from the number one fan site and, unfortunately there’s a lot of online bullying which is all too common in real life.

I thoroughly enjoyed this whole book and was really pleased to discover that it’s actually the first in a trilogy! However, at just short of 500 pages, it felt longer than it needed to be, though I’m not sure what could have been cut.

A fun read about loving music unconditionally and grabbing opportunities when they come around, Songs About A Girl is such to light up your world.

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Posted in adult fiction, contemporary, review

Almost Love – Louise O’Neill

“No one had ever told Sarah that being in a relationship could feel like coming home. That love didn’t have to mean feeling scared all the time.”

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Blurb: “When Sarah falls for Matthew, she falls hard. So it doesn’t matter that he’s twenty years older. That he sees her only in secret. That, slowly but surely, she’s sacrificing everything else in her life to be with him.”

I’ve always entered Louise O’Neill’s books with a sense of trepidation because they have the habit of being an utterly terrifying insight into our current climate. Almost Love is O’Neill’s first adult book and might just be my favourite book of hers yet.

The story kicks into play when the protagonist- Sarah- bumps into her ex, Matthew. Through jumps in time, between past and present, the reader sees the relationship unfold with Matthew and how it goes on to affect the “now” in Sarah’s current relationship. She’s often abrasive to her boyfriend and there’s one particular scene which nearly broke my heart.

The main theme is obsessive love; that waiting for the call, hanging around when they’re clearly not interested and a lot of graphic sex: both consensual and not really consensual. All of Sarah’s relationships with men have been centred around money: she would reach for her purse knowing full well the men would be paying.

I’m not normally a big fan of slow reads and this is one of those books with no real climatic moments but it was all-consuming in a way I can’t quite place. Sarah is a fascinating character and it was all too easy to sympathise with her justifications for Matthew’s behaviour.

I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Aoife McMahon which was incredible. As I said, it’s a slow burn and I think I would’ve become easily bored if I was physically reading, but her tone and the way she told the story just had me flying through the book. If you’re looking for a way to consume this book, I highly recommend the audiobook.

 

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Posted in contemporary, young adult

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea (Chapter Sampler) – Tahereh Mafi

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea is about giving a voice to the Muslim American teenager in a world where they’re seldom given a chance to speak. It’s about love and hate and breakdancing. It’s my story, and I’m grateful to you for reading.”

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Blurb: “It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.”

*This Sampler was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Additional Note: I am very aware that as a white reviewer that there are aspects of this story I cannot connect to and I am sharing this from a place of privilege. If you know of any own voice reviews of this sampler please let me know and I will add them here.

Like probably everyone, I know Tahereh Mafi from her best-selling YA series Shatter Me and I have been a follower of all her social media platforms for many years. She has been quite reserved when it comes to her personal life which made it even more interesting when she announced a new book – a YA contemporary taking aspects of her experiences growing up as a Muslim in America, oh and her love for breakdancing.

It’s very hard for me to judge this story fairly until the book I actually out as I was only given a first-chapter sampler but what I read has left me begging for the rest of it.

A Very Large Expanse Of Sea follows Shirin who has just started at a new school; her fourth in two years. Initially, Shirin comes across as abrasive and the epitome of “fuck you and fuck the world.” However, her demeanour began to quickly make sense: she is growing up in a world that constantly takes her at face value, judging her before they even get the chance to know her. It was expected from her classmates but shocking to also see the teachers acting the same way. She addresses the double standards compared to her brother: while she is attacked for wearing a hijab and receives a torrid of islamophobia, her brother is fawned over by girls who find him “exotic.”

The reader really gets the sense that she’s struggling to find her place in the world and break dancing will become something positive she can invest her time in; something where who she is outside of the moves won’t matter. Also I’ve never read a book that really focuses on breakdancing before and I’m very intrigued to see where the rest of the story goes.

Publication Date: 16th October 2018

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

P.S I Still Love You – Jenny Han

“You gave me my first love story, Peter. Please just don’t let it be over yet.”

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Blurb: “Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?”

When I first started reading this series, I did expect to end up loving the characters the way I do, and I think a lot of that is do with the fact that I went for the audiobook. After seeing it was the same narrator for the sequel it seemed only right to continue on with this format. Laura Knight Keating is the best narrator I’ve listened to up to this point. There’s just something about the way she delivers Lara Jean’s story that really brings the character and her story to life. I can only describe it as like being given one long warm hug. Her tone and the flow of her words just create this yearning inside of me to know more about what happens to this character.

P.S I Still Love You follows on directly from the events of the previous book and sees Lara Jean continue to deal with some of the fall-out, along with starting to pursue a more real relationship with Peter. It was really nice seeing how their dynamic changed over the course of this book and it just a testament to how talented Jenny Han is at writing characters. This is a book in which Lara Jean really does start to grow up and it was quite beautiful to look at where she ends this book compared to how she started out in To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.

By far one of the best things about this series is the portrayal of family life. The scenes where Lara is having dinner with her siblings or trying to encourage her father to start dating again are so heart-warming and a positive family relationship is something I rarely come across in YA books. It was just lovely to see each member of this family support each other.

There’s a big viral social media scandal that takes place in this book, of course centred around Lara Jean, and while it was horrifically painful to read, it was interesting to see the use of technology in a YA book. Again, given that there’s a lot of talk about the lack of it being present in these kinds of contemporary stories.

However, this book very much falls into the line of “second book syndrome.” It’s still enjoyable but it’s not on the same level as the previous one. The last quarter really dragged for me and, from the synopsis, I knew a love triangle was coming –which I really loathe- and it was that aspect that drastically pulled this book down for me because it just wasn’t needed. P.S I Still Love You had enough going for it without throwing this random other boy into the mix.

Having said that, my overall enjoyment was still there. I continued to love Lara Jean so much and I will definitely be picking up the final book at some point very soon.

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Posted in contemporary, lgbt, review, young adult

Noah Could Never – Simon James Green

“Sometimes having something really nice in your life was worse than not having it, because it made you worried you were going to lose it. And losing something is worse when you know just how wonderful the thing is.”

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Blurb: “Noah and Harry are now officially boyfriends, but is Noah ready to go all the way? It’s no help that a group of cosmopolitan French exchange students have descended on Little Fobbing – including sexy Pierre Victoire, who seems to have his eye on Harry! Meanwhile, Noah’s paired up with a girl … who, most outrageously, is not even French. But that’s not all: the police are monitoring Noah, and he can’t tell if it’s because his dad and secret half-brother, Eric, have made off with his gran’s fake diamonds; because his PE teacher is receiving mysterious cash infusions from Russia; or because drag queen Bambi Sugapops is hiding out at Noah’s house in the midst of a knock-down, bare-knuckled drag feud. Will Noah ever catch a break?”

Noah Can’t Even was a book I discovered in 2017 by pure chance, through an author interview with another reviewer. It was brilliant, hysterical and found its way onto my list of favourite books for the year. So, naturally, when I heard the news of a sequel, I was impatiently counting down the days until its release.

I honestly don’t know where to start with the protagonist, Noah Grimes. He is over-the-top, constantly battling this pressure to be better than he is, sarcastic and unintentionally hysterical, as well as painfully cringy at times. Frankly the list of reasons I love this character is just too long to cover here. There are many situations that Noah ends up in that could only happen to him: from ending up travelling to London with a drag queen, getting landed with a French exchange student who isn’t even French, and (in possibly my favourite scene in fiction ever) having to chase around a goose that has swallowed some family diamonds.

After reading the synopsis when it first came out, I was very worried as sequels can go drastically one way or the other. Initially, it felt like there were too many things happening for such a short book to fully explore. But, I can confirm that it all just slots together and works perfectly. As I said, it could only happen to Noah and there were times when I couldn’t breathe for how much I was laughing as some of the events taking place.

Admittedly, I don’t tend to go for books with male protagonists. Which is weird to say but it just so happens that the books I pick up don’t tend to have them at the forefront a lot. Anyway, it was nice to see Noah and Harry establishing their relationship together but also seeing how Noah dealt with that shift: he tries to go to a gym to get buff so that Harry will love him more, worries that he’s not good enough and feels that ever recognisable pressure when it comes to sex. (I mean, of course he’d get a boner in math class, hanging from the monkey bars in gym class but heaven forbid he get one when it comes to being intimidate with his boyfriend!) While it was all delivered in the typical exaggerated way, it was nice to see that side to Noah more.

My new favourite side character had to be the drag queen, Bambi, who just seems to adopt Noah and take him on this random adventure to see her show. Some of the lines she came out with had my in absolute stitches and, as mentioned earlier, the goose scene is one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.

Noah Could Never takes every element I loved from the first one and mixes it in with brand new adventures that left me with the biggest smile on my face.

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