Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

Unravel Me – Tahereh Mafi

“Time is beyond our finite comprehension. It’s endless, it exists outside of us; we cannot run out of it or lose track of it or find a way to hold on to it. Time goes on even when we do not.”

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Blurb: “It should have taken Juliette a single touch to kill Warner. But his mysterious immunity to her deadly power has left her shaken, wondering why her ultimate defense mechanism failed against the person she most needs protection from.”

After rereading Shatter Me and not loving it as much as I did previously, I approached the sequel with trepidation. It took a few restarts because that fear was too much. And after I got passed that, I discovered that I didn’t need to worry at all.

Tahereh Mafi is a superb writer. She has this incredible way of stringing together metaphors to describe feelings that fit every single time. She manages to balance every thread of a story so perfectly that nothing feels neglected.

The narrative choice of crossed out sections continue to show Juliette’s state of mind. It’s an interesting framing that really works well for the character and this story. They are less frequent than Shatter Me and I already know that they continue and change over the course of the series. It’s a great way to show the crucial moments when the protagonist doubts herself.

Unravel Me doesn’t fall to that “second book syndrome” and I think a lot of that is the knowledge that it is now an extended series. At the time of release, it was a trilogy. Now, it’s a six book series. Either way, even in the slow moving sections I was completely hooked.

Unravel Me is a triumph and Tahereh Mafi continues to prove that she is a writer that is going to be around for a very long time.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Starfish – Akemi Dawn Bowman

“Don’t live to please the starfish, especially when their happiness is at the expense of yours. That is not love. That is narcissism. There’s an entire ocean out there kiko, swim in it.”

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Blurb: “Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.”

Trigger warnings: talks of a suicide attempt, racism, emotional abuse.

Kiko is a character that I found to be very relatable: she’s incredibly anxious, channels all of her emotions into creative pursuits, is desperate to prove herself, and feels like she is solely identified by her connections to other people (for example, “friend of…”). On a side I can’t relate to, she is mixed race – part Japanese- and faces a lot of racism throughout the course of the book, primarily from her own mother.

The crux of the story is really centered around Kiko’s relationship with her mother which is incredibly mentally abusive. Her mother is dismissive, demanding, clearly disgusted by Kiko’s dreams or art school and her general facial features which she reiterates that Kiko got from her father. It is incredibly rage inducing to read at times and I felt just as suffocated as the character. The narrative plays into the idea of “what ifs” by certain interactions with the mother being followed by “what I wish I’d said” and “what I actually said.” I loved this element as, again, it’s incredibly relatable. So many people have experienced that hindsight of wishing they could stand up for themselves but instead choosing to stay quiet. Another narrative decision I adored is that every chapter ends with Kiko drawing, and each piece that she works on provides some overall framing for the events of the chapter, showing how she is physically channeling her experiences and emotions into art.

The introduction of Jamie, a boy from his early years, gives Kiko a positive space to grow as a character and also provides the reassurance she needs that what her mother is doing to her is wrong.

Kiko’s growth over the book is astounding and the way she begins to stand up for herself is something that I hope inspires teens, who feel like they are in a similar situation, to stand up and fight.

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

Alex In Wonderland – Simon James Green

“It didn’t matter how cute he was, I wasn’t going to fall for another one. I had this. I so had this. I so hadn’t.”

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Blurb: “In the town of Newsands, painfully shy Alex is abandoned by his two best friends for the summer. But he unexpectedly lands a part-time job at Wonderland, a run-down amusement arcade on the seafront, where he gets to know the other teen misfits who work there. Alex starts to come out of his shell, and even starts to develop feelings for co-worker Ben… who, as Alex’s bad luck would have it, has a girlfriend. Then as debtors close in on Wonderland and mysterious, threatening notes start to appear, Alex and his new friends take it on themselves to save their declining employer. But, like everything in Wonderland, nothing is quite what it seems…”

Simon James Green, known for the Noah Can’t Even duology, is back with a brand new book that is just as brilliant and hilarious as everything that has come before.

The story follows a gay teenage boy called Alex who is forced to take a summer job at the local amusement arcade, Wonderland. He grapples a lot with entering the dating world and seems to have a talent for falling in love with straight boys. I simply adore the way Simon James Green writes his characters. They always feel so authentically real. Alex’s plights are relatable in knowing you shouldn’t love someone but still finding yourself doing it anyway, the awkwardness around the whole situation, and having those doubts as to whether you will find anyone to love you at all.  Teen fiction continues to move away from the “coming out” stories and starting to focus on stories of LGBT characters…well… being just that. Alex is sure of his sexuality and has his awkward coming out moments (because sadly as an LGBT person you constantly have to come out to new people) and the surrounding characters are fully accepting, even going to lengths to help with his love misadventures. Even his dad is fully on board and often makes jokes with Alex; again another great thing to see!

Simon James Green’s books always seem to initially be a typical contemporary with a gay protagonist only to go absolutely nuts and become on big mystery. As Wonderland becomes subject to a perceived hit job, I entered full  conspiracy mode trying to work out who was behind it all. I was hooked on it the whole way through the book and couldn’t help but marvel at the talents he has to deliver these curve balls in his stories and they always work so expertly.

Every time I finish one of his books, I walked around aimlessly for a while; unsure of how I’m supposed to just shelve it and go on to other books. Alex In Wonderland is no different.

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Posted in Dystopian, review, young adult

The Extinction Trials: Rebel – S.M.Wilson

“But Lincoln knew that while there might be the chance of fertile land, more space and more food on Piloria, it all came at a cost. A cost he’d witnessed. Could humans and dinosaurs really inhabit the same continent?”

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Blurb: “Storm and Lincoln’s city is burning. The people are starving. The only place left to run is Piloria, the continent of monsters. It’s up to Storm and Lincoln to keep their people alive as they colonize this lethal paradise. But will the biggest threat to their survival be the monsters in the jungle…or the ones inside the encampment with them?”

The Extinction Trials has been a dinosaur filled saga that constantly questions what people are willing to do in order to survive. The final book in this series, The Extinction Trials: Exile, sees the inhabitants of Earthasia face the biggest decision of all: stay here and die, or move to a dinosaur infested island for the chance of a new life.

An interesting aspect to see of this book was the result of people getting a cure for an certain illness. In a world where everything is so heavily restricted I never really thought about the effects fixing a seemingly minor problem would have on the society. The city is even more overcrowded than before and, with the belief dinosaurs are no more, the masses seek to relocate. I thought it was interesting to see this two distinctive continents suddenly be reduced to one and watch the gap continue to grow between those who had been to Piloria before and those who hadn’t. I loved seeing the politics once again start to take over in a new setting as people decided they should remain in charge and essentially just colonise another island when raptors were just having a grand time running around eating people.

One small but unexpected thing I’ve loved consistently throughout this series is the perfect balance between the dual perspectives. Just when I was starting to wonder what Lincoln was doing, I’d turn the page to find his chapters. Also, S.M.Wilson has just a way with visual writing that at times I really felt like I was in Piloria myself.

However, this book really did suffer from “second book syndrome” despite being the finale. At 200 pages in, nothing had really happened and I was starting to wonder if anything ever would. It just didn’t have that push or urgency expected from the last book, and despite loving the first two so much, it was actually a disappointing end. Admittedly, I feel a little cheated.

The Extinction Trials: Exile, fell short of all the promise it had, but overall is a series very worth investing the time into.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Jackpot – Nic Stone

“I could say what I planned to: I think the lady is holding on to a big winner and doesn’t know it. That she made an impression on me, and I think she deserves to cash that ticket in and enjoy the rest of her time here in this often unkind world. But will he believe me?”

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Blurb: “Meet Rico: high school senior and afternoon-shift cashier at the Gas ‘n’ Go, who after school and work races home to take care of her younger brother. Every. Single. Day. When Rico sells a jackpot-winning lotto ticket, she thinks maybe her luck will finally change, but only if she–with some assistance from her popular and wildly rich classmate Zan–can find the ticket holder who hasn’t claimed the prize.”

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Nic Stone is the author of Dear Martin and Odd One Out which I both loved. So naturally I jumped at the chance to read a new book from her.

I’m a sucker for unlikely duos: people from different worlds working together. Rico is poor working all hours outside school whereas rich Zan is giving twenty dollars to classmates just so he can take their seats in class. While she is trying to keep her head above water with homework and paying rent, Zan has the luxuries that Rico could only dream of, even if the wealth is his parents and not his own. Zan messes up a lot over the course of the book in how he speaks about Rico’s situation but slowly he learns about the privilege he owns.

Jackpot is initially a treasure trail trying to find the kind woman on Christmas Eve who possibly forgot about her winning lottery ticket. But beyond that there’s discussions of poverty and class difference. A serious medical situation highlights the reality for so many Americans: not being able to afford healthcare. Rico’s mum says she would rather die than end up in hospital because the debt would end them.

The narrative is broken up by thoughts from inanimate object such as salt shakers in a diner the duo visited, or the winning lottery ticket itself. This was an interesting way of providing an outside perspective on the characters’ situation. They almost act as the narrator addressing the reader’s concerns.

Nic Stone has this incredibly way of writing that just sucks me into the characters lives and makes me feel so deeply for them. I have loved every single one of her books so far and I think Jackpot is my new favourite.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Infinity Son – Adam Silvera

“I’m dead set on living my one life right now, but I can’t say the same for my brother.”

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Blurb: “Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures. Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day. Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.”

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Adam Silvera has always been a hit and miss author for me. I tend to find that I really love his ideas but the execution falls a little short. However, when I heard that his new book was not going to be a contemporary but in fact was a YA fantasy, I was really intrigued to see with what he’d come up with. Adam talks in the introduction of this book about his experiences with fantasy and gay fiction growing up and how it was something that he never really saw representation until he came across City Of Bones by Cassandra Clare. It made him realise those kinds of stories can be published and began working on his own. Initially, the heroes in this book were heterosexuals and changed to gay leads later on.

Emil and Brighton are brothers but totally different. Brighton is famous online and wants to be a celestial whereas Emil wants to live the most boring and mundane life possible. This world is made up of specters, celestials and spell walkers but there’s not much distinctive explanation given to fully understand what makes them different. With the main characters already existing in this world, daily things are told through dialogue more as a “you already know this” than a “we need to explain this to you and therefore the reader.” Emil is a gay teen but the nice thing to see is that it’s more a footnote in the wider story. While coming out stories are incredibly important, the ones where those characters just exist alongside their sexuality are equally important; especially in fantasy where diversity is sometimes lacking.

It’s multiple perspective which at times I felt was detrimental to the story. I wanted to learn more about Emil and Brighton in their little duo and the breaks away from them were sometimes jarring and done so to flesh out another part of the world.

The story is set as if this is in modern day so technology is used to capture footage of the magical beings and often swung a certain way to feed the agenda of respective sides. Interesting world building in a political sense but just wish the finer details of magic were explained a bit better. There’s a lot of “it’s not like that” at story clichés that end up being true such as the chosen one. It reminded me of how in movies they’d go “this isn’t a movie.” A small niggle but it felt like an attempt to distance itself from stories that existed within the world to try and make it more real and its own entity. 

The ending of this book was truly incredible and has me gasping that I have to wait even longer to find out what happens next. Adam Silvera’s first fantasy book is a triumph and I look forward to seeing him grow over the series in this new genre.

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Posted in contemporary, review, romance, young adult

Again, But Better – Christine Riccio

“I needed to know there was at least one other 20+ person out there feeling as alone and lost as I was at the time and couldn’t find one. This is for all the teens, young adults, who feel like they’ve been left behind” – Christine Riccio.

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Blurb: “Shane has been doing college all wrong. Pre-med, stellar grades, and happy parents…sounds ideal—but Shane’s made zero friends, goes home every weekend, and romance…what’s that? Her life has been dorm, dining hall, class, repeat. Time’s a ticking, and she needs a change—there’s nothing like moving to a new country to really mix things up. Shane signs up for a semester abroad in London. She’s going to right all her college mistakes: make friends, pursue boys, and find adventure!”

I’ve followed Christine’s booktube and her her writing series ever since it began. I knew the moment it came out I would want to read it and, when that day arrived, I didn’t hesitate. As with all my reading lately, I picked up the audiobook and the narrator, Brittany Pressley was just incredible at doing voices to distinguish the characters and it really felt like I was listening to the story play out and that she really cared about what she was narrating.

Shane is a very relatable character: she’s a bundle of nerves, loves reading any YA books she can get her hands on, and also feels like she wasted most of her college experience because she was too afraid to leave her room. She sees this study abroad period to London as an opportunity to right everything that she’s been doing wrong; a chance to become someone new. I saw a lot of myself in Shane and I feel that if I’d have this book when I was 20 that it would have encouraged me out of my shell a bit more. I was right there with Shane through every awkward encounter. It really helps that she has a group of new friends around her to bounce around interactions with and show that growth she has throughout the book. However, as the romantic element of the story kicks in, those side characters I grew to love, such as Babe, were sidelined and ended up falling a bit flat.

Again, But Better tackles the idea of “what would you do differently if you could do everything again… but better?” It’s something I think everyone’s experienced at some point in their life and it was interesting to see that explored over the course of this book and I thought it was a really nice redirect in the story.

I had a few niggles which are as follows: Shane is basically Christine self-inserted into her own novel. I’ve trying to work out whether this comes from me knowing Christine from her videos as a lot of Shane’s personality and preferences are shared with Christine, though I feel like this would not be as obvious to someone who doesn’t know her prior to reading the book. There’s a lot of pop culture references used to frame the timeline which I don’t mind in contemporary (I like the little nods here and there) but there were so many that I reached a point where I actually wanted them to stop. A lot of them as well were incredibly niche book mentions that readers in 5 years time probably won’t know. One part of this that particularly grated was when Shane uses the abbreviation for The Fault In Our Stars, TFIOS, but when asked what it stands for by another character she doesn’t elaborate any further than “only the best book ever.”

In addition, there is fact that Shane’s love interest, Pilot, has a girlfriend but this doesn’t stop her trying to pursue him, and this isn’t really called out by anyone, let alone herself until the Pilot’s girlfriend actually comes to visit. This is something I’ve seen a lot of reviewers really hate but honestly, maybe it was the narrator doing such an amazing job, it didn’t really ruin my reading experience like I thought it might do.

The conclusion feels kind of rushed, almost like an afterthought to the main bulk of the story. But overall, I enjoyed Again But Better a lot more than I thought I would.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Unbound – Victoria Schwab

“I am Mackenzie Bishop. I am a keeper for the archive and I am the one who goes bump in the night, not the one who slips. I am the girl of steel, and this is all a bad dream.”

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Blurb: “Last summer, Mackenzie Bishop, a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive, almost lost her life to one. Now, as she starts her junior year at Hyde School, she’s struggling to get her life back. But moving on isn’t easy — not when her dreams are haunted by what happened. She knows the past is past, knows it cannot hurt her, but it feels so real, and when her nightmares begin to creep into her waking hours, she starts to wonder if she’s really safe.”

The sequel to The Archived sees Mackenzie Bishop is experiencing PTSD from the events in the previous book. She starts blacking out for significant periods of time and has to balance the job of being a keeper alongside going to school.

The same time flashes continue in this book, giving the reader further insight into Mackenzie’s relationship with her grandfather which keeps him present and reinforces the ideals he taught the protagonist. Wesley continues to be prominent and provides that outlet for Mackenzie to open herself up to and support her with the growing demands of being a keeper.

As always with Schwab’s books, there’s a big mystery and dangerous things to deal with which keeps the reader on their toes. No matter how many times I feel like I’ve worked out the big reveal, I’m surprised by the end result and that’s the magic that keeps my love for this author’s work alive.

The Unbound doesn’t shy away from the mental strain Mackenzie is going through. Alongside the trauma, she is trying to live a normal life. The pressure and tension build as she is nowhere near a door to the narrows while at school, and given the amount of time she spends there, the names on her list keep growing faster than she can take them out. It feels as if everything is building to the point of explosion and Schwab carries this through expertly.

While this book has many threads that I love about Schwab’s stories but compared to its predecessor, it falls a little flat. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that the world opens up but only follows Mackenzie. With no other perspectives to veer off to, it feels like the space is too big for the story its trying to tell.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

The Archived – Victoria Schwab

“This summer when I tell you I can’t see anything, you just shrug and light another cigarette, and go back to telling stories. Stories about winding halls, and invisible doors, and places where the dead are kept like books on shelves. Each time you finish a story, you make me tell it back to you, as if you’re afraid I will never forget. I never do.”

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Blurb: “Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.
Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was: a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.”

Note: I read the two-in-one The Dark Vault edition of this book, but for the sake of keeping these posts relatively short, I will be reviewing the books separately rather than the collection as a whole.

I have come to love Victoria Schwab and her books in a great many ways. Every single book she releases feels like something that has never been seen before and it’s always executed in such a way that only she could do by putting pen to paper. The Archived – republished in a collection- is one of her earlier books that sadly led to a painful situation for Schwab. However, given her ever growing success it appears all her seemingly “lost” books are getting a second chance. Which is great for people like me who will happily bite off the hand of anyone who offers new stories from this author.

Victoria Schwab’s stories always have a darkness to them. Naturally the kind that is in your face, but also the more decrete kind where something… just something… feels a little bit off, and it’s equal parts awe inspiring and terrifying. Her world building is exquisite and readers are introduced to three “worlds” within this universe: the “outer” which is the regular world, the “archive” where the Histories are stored, and the “narrows”, the place where the Histories – bodies returning to the dead- manage to escape to; it’s basically a bridge between the outer and the narrows.

Mackenzie is a character that very much has a lot of weight on her shoulders. She’s reeling from the death of her brother and is struggling to deal with the influx of Histories she has to return to the archived as it’s the secret job she took on after the passing of her grandfather. She’s self-assured, bad ass, snarky, everything you really want in a female protagonist but also she has that emotional depth that really rounds her out. When she meets Wesley, another with access to her secret world, the reader sees her enter a new dynamic where she has to consider letting her guard down for the firs time in a long while. I loved seeing their bond build and how Wesley was very much there to support Mackenzie rather than take the spotlight away from her, or imply she wasn’t up to the work they were doing.

There’s an element of mystery and investigation woven through this story which keeps it exciting at every single turn. The narrative flicks between the present and the past which showcases the relationship between Mackenzie and her grandfather. Also, the balance between time spent in each world is perfect and prevents any lulls from happening. I was hooked the whole way through.

The Archived is part of a long list of books from Victoria Schwab that are utterly incredible and I will never ever tire of her work.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

All The Things We Never Said – Yasmin Rahman

“I need something to live for, Allah, because right now the only thing keeping me here is you. And I’m starting to feel like that’s not enough.”

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Blurb: “16-year-old Mehreen Miah’s anxiety and depression, or ‘Chaos’, as she calls it, has taken over her life, to the point where she can’t bear it any more. So she joins MementoMori, a website that matches people with partners and allocates them a date and method of death, ‘the pact’. Mehreen is paired with Cara Saunders and Olivia Castleton, two strangers dealing with their own serious issues.”

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Trigger warnings: grief, suicide attempt and talks of suicide, ableism, sexual abuse, self harm, intrusive thoughts.

Yasmin Rahman was one of the many contributors to the YA BAME anthology A Change Is Gonna Come, and now she’s back with her debut novel.

All The Things We Never Said follows three girls: Mehreen (a muslim girl with depression and anxiety), Olivia (a victim of sexual abuse), and Cara (a wheelchair user as a result of a car accident). I loved the variety of the protagonists because it kept all of their story lines interesting and none of them felt the same. Yasmin Rahman said that it was important for her to include a Muslim character who is proud of her religion. She certainly succeeds: Mehreen’s religion is one of the many parts of her character rather than solely who she is and, in addition, religion is a form of solace for her; a way to try and process what she’s feeling. It was also nice to see Cara and Olivia actively trying to learn more about Mehreen’s belief system when they didn’t know much about it.

The website, MementoMori, which forms the basis of the story, reminds me a lot of They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera in which a website is used to bring people together at a difficult point in their lives. I love stories that are about bringing people together who would never have met if it wasn’t for them being brought together by one thing. When the plot intensifies over the course of the story, I got Pretty Little Liar vibes. There’s just so many elements and all of them were brilliantly carried out.

As noted from the trigger warnings, this book is incredibly heavy in its subject matter. For example, Cara has lots of negative thoughts around now being a wheelchair user that are quite upsetting to read, intrusive thoughts are a repetitive narrative. Despite really enjoying this book, I did have to take breaks because of some of the topics covered.  If you plan on reading, please exercise self care if you feel that you might be triggered from some of the events in this book.

I loved the early scenes of the trio together where they are just getting to know each other and understanding each other’s lives. Mehreen talks a lot about her anxiety as “chaos” and this was something I could really relate to. I just admired the way these girls were, despite the circumstances, able to find someone they could open up to.

The only thing that I found jarring was the fact that Mehreen and Cara’s perspectives are prose but Olivia’s is poetry. I appreciate the angle Yasmin was going for but I find that it often took me out of the story a little bit.

All The Things We Never Said is a fantastic debut and I can’t wait to see what Yasmin Rahman comes up with next.

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