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

The Truth About Keeping Secrets – Savannah Brown

“You really think someone killed him?

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Blurb:”Sydney’s dad is the only psychiatrist for miles around their small Ohio town. He is also unexpectedly dead. Is Sydney crazy, or is it kind of weird that her dad-a guy whose entire job revolved around other peoples’ secrets-crashed alone, with no explanation?And why is June Copeland, homecoming queen and the town’s golden child, at his funeral?”

[AD – Gifted]

Trigger Warnings: Talks of death, depictions of death, emotional and physical abuse.

I’ve followed Savannah with her poetry for a long time so when she announced that she was writing a book, I had mentally signed up for it and waited patiently to finally get the lyrical brilliance from her in a new format.

Rather fitting to her previous work, the central themes of The Truth About Keeping Secrets are quite dark. The protagonist, Sydney, is reeling from the unexpected loss of her father and has taken to devoting most of her time to thinking about death, along with scrolling endlessly through a website called TOD which posts surveillance footage of real life deaths. Her father was a renowned therapist in the town of Pleasant Hills and Sydney also struggles with the fact that people out there had a relationship with a dad in a way that she never did; that he mattered and existed to other people, that he wasn’t solely hers. It’s incredibly easy to feel empathy for this character, especially when the mysterious threatening text messages begin and none of the adults around her take them seriously. She completely regresses into herself until she meets June.

I had a lot of problems with June because for a big portion of the book she trends the edges of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope. Sydney is so fascinated with her and becomes obsessed to the point where she even says that her life could be boiled down to the 20 minutes a day she spent driving to and from school with June. While the big lulling middle of the book focuses so much on establishing their relationship, you learn nothing about her until the climatic end of the books. When the details did arise, they added so much to her character and completely changed my perspective and I just wish they hadn’t been confined to the last few pages of the book. Especially as Sydney and June both express a romantic interest in each other.

The Truth About Keeping Secrets is clearly very well planned and the details that come to light at the big climax left me reeling. However, because so much of the book is focused on Sydney’s obsession with June, there’s a massive lull between the first couple of text messages, the subsequent ones, and the events that ramp up at the end. For this reason, when that big turning point comes it feels like the story has gone from 0-100 because it becomes so dramatic so quick and there wasn’t that natural incline. This really shook my enjoyment of the book because it’s been marketed as a YA Thriller but for the most part it’s not particularly thrilling.

I loved the twist and turns but I just wish there had been more of them.

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Posted in contemporary, review, young adult

Dear Evan Hansen – Val Emmich

“Fantasies always sound good but they’re no help when reality comes and shoves you to the ground.”

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Blurb: “When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?”

 

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

Trigger Warnings: talk of suicide and death, themes of depression.

Dear Evan Hansen is a book inspired by the incredibly popular Broadway musical of the same name. With the news of it finally crossing the pond and finding a home in the UK West End next year, I felt that it was finally time to take the plunge into this story.

Evan Hansen is a trouble teenager: his family life isn’t stable, he doesn’t really have any friends, and he’s in therapy where he’s asked each week to write a letter to himself in order to process the struggles he’s facing. The narrative encourages you to feel, and in some cases, be able to relate to what Evan is experiencing, and then express horror when one of his self-written letters ends up in the hands of his classmate, Connor. When it’s announced that Connor has taken his own life and Evan’s letter is believed to be Connor’s suicide note, Evan is put in a difficult situation: break the family’s heart and tell the truth, or maintain the lie. This is where the book just gets really uncomfortable. Evan is determined not to tell the truth. He employs another classmate to forge email exchanges that create the appearance of Evan and Connor being friends, has dinners with the family where he shares more fake stories, becomes close with Connor’s grieving sister, and even becomes the front of a foundation to raise money in Connor’s name. It’s a very difficult and unfortunate situation to be in but I just couldn’t fathom all the lengths that Evan goes to in order to back up all the things he comes out with, and any of the good that comes from the campaign and foundation was muddled by the intentions behind it.

The campaign itself is nice to see and very relatable to true life and I liked how social media was tied into it, and how it was showed that the news was getting around to the point where strangers were starting to donate. Again, the co-creator, Alana, didn’t know or really care about Connor and is forcing Evan to be the face of it, clearly using the traction it’s getting for her own personal gain. I guess, in its own way, the book highlights how some people will use bad instances to their own advantage, and some people are just unaffected; including Evan’s therapist. In fact, Connor’s passing is the catalyst for Evan to ignore his own life and pretend to be someone else for a while.

The book flits occasionally between Evan and Connor’s perspectives which I feel works a lot better in a stage setting where you can see the actors. The formatting in my E-Arc was really off which meant that I spent a good portion of the reading experience confused when these perspective shifts happened and when text conversations happened because there wasn’t any distinction in font. Also the perspective shifts just felt really jarring. I get that maybe it was to make the reader feel more for Connor who is essentially a non-character and viewed solely through Evan’s eyes otherwise.

This a story that I imagine works really well on stage, but as a book I feel it missed the mark. Now I’m going to listen to the soundtrack.

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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

Clean – Juno Dawson

“Shit just got really real.”

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Blurb: “When socialite Lexi Volkov almost overdoses, she thinks she’s hit rock bottom. She’s wrong. Rock bottom is when she’s forced into an exclusive rehab facility. From there, the only way is up for Lexi and her fellow inmates, including the mysterious Brady. As she faces her demons, Lexi realises love is the most powerful drug of all…”

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

Trigger warnings: drug overdose, scenes of drug taking, recovery, relapse, suicide and eating disorders.

The reader first meets Lexi Volkov when she wakes up in the back of her brother’s car on the way to rehab. I really liked how this is where the story began because it was really disorientating and took a while to get used to where the protagonist was and where she was going; it created that same sense of confusion and anxiety that Lexi was feeling.  As a character, Lexi verges on unbearable at times; informing everyone of who her father is, being ignorant to other people’s problems and frequently offering sexual favours just for an extra pill.

If you’re looking for a cute little story that just happens to have drugs on the side, this is not that story. As the tagline says “it’s a difficult business getting clean.” You’ll have noticed that I included trigger warnings at the start of this review and that’s for good reason. This book is graphic: nothing is hinted at by the way scenes are set up; the reader witnesses everything first hand along with Lexi. It’s raw, brutal and –at times- incredibly uncomfortable to have to read. If it was a film, I would have probably covered my face with my hands and turned away. While it’s incredibly discomforting to have to face head-on, these stories need to exist and especially in Young Adult.

Watching Lexi come to terms with her problems and look back over key moments in her life was heart-breaking to watch but just shows the importance of looking at aspects of our own lives with a different lens; to see what other people do when they’re desperately trying to help us with our own problems.

One big apprehension I had going into this was the hint at a possible romance in the synopsis. I’ve spoken quite loudly on my issues with “boy fixes girls problems” stories and I was really praying this book wouldn’t go that way. While I did groan quite frequently as that sub-plot started to build, I liked the turn that it took, showing that all of the characters involved were focused on their recovery first. Having said that, I wasn’t invested in the slightest in the love aspect of the story.

Lexi is obligated to attend both solo and group therapy and it’s in the latter where the story thrives. The reader is introduced to a whole host of characters all with a variety of problems and I liked how the preconceptions of these were broken down and it was made clear that they’re still problems to the individual regardless of whether you understand them or not. It was nice seeing Lexi adapt and slowly start to trust them.

Clean does an utterly brilliant job of showcasing the recovery process in all its ugly glory along with relapses, while also highlighting that slipping up does not mean that you’re a failure, or you won’t ever get…well…clean.

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Posted in fantasy, review, young adult

Children Of Blood And Bone – Tomi Adeyemi

“One day magic breathed. The next it died.”

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Blurb: “Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls. But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.”

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

Children of Blood and Bone was my most anticipated read for the year. So when I was sent an early copy I, unashamedly, ran around my house screaming with joy a few times, and then set down to reading.

The story is told through three perspectives: Zélie who is a maji, Amari who is a princess confined to her castle, and Inan who is Amari’s sister, a prince and in charge of the royal guard. Each point of view added an extra layer of depth to the world and none of them felt like they were there simply to pad out the story. While I feel that Tomi Adeyemi is trying to sway the reader more towards Zélie, the character I became most fascinated by was Inan. He was so utterly complex and is fighting a massive inner conflict throughout the book but not in the way you would think; I found myself rooting for him in situations when I should have been on the other side. Having said that, Zélie’s character arc over the course of this book is outstanding and I can’t even begin to imagine where it’s going to lead in future books. If you’re someone who loves character-driven books then this is definitely the one for you.

I’ve seen this book described as a “young adult Game of Thrones with POC characters” to to attempt to associate it with anything else feels almost like an insult. Children of Blood and Bone is unique. While some plot points have been seen before, it just felt like reading something entirely new. It was a breath of fresh air. It’s more of a tresure hunt mixed with a cat-and-mouse story with a whole host of diverse characters that simply exist. The writing reads so beautifully and methodically; like every word was chosen with care.

The story has a bit of a slow-down in the middle and I found my attention shifting for quite a few chapters but it managed to pick back up as Inan’s purpose in the plot started to grow.

A big aspect I could not get behind, no matter how hard I tried, was the romance. Given the type of story it had been built up to be, along with a strong enough platonic connection already existing between the two characters, it just felt like it wasn’t needed and distracted from the more pressing issues in the narrative. I’ve never been a fan of romance thrown into stories that could work without it and my enjoyment of it really dissolved once this was introduced.

Having said that, Children of Blood and Bone is an incredible read with characters that are firmly embedded in my soul. I will not forget them for a while.

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