The Lives of Desperate Girls by Mackenzie Commons

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was intrigued by both the premise and the location of this novel. I really like novels where teens are dealing with something difficult and take it upon themselves to find out what’s really going on. I also wanted to see how the author portrays Northern Ontario; as a Torontonian who has never really gone up north, I was excited to read about what life is like there. Anyways, here is my review:

When 16-year-old Helen Commanda is found murdered just outside Thunder Creek, no one pays any attention to it. All her death does is shed light on the earlier disappearance of Chloe Shaughnessy. Chloe is everything Helen isn’t: beautiful, wealthy, and white. The fact that Helen was from the reservation only seems to make it easier for people to dismiss her. Only Jenny Parker, Chloe’s best friend, seems to think it is important to look into Helen’s death, and so she takes it upon herself to look for answers about Helen’s life and death. But what can a teenage girl really accomplish where adults have failed? And how much is Jenny actually complicit in a conspiracy of silence?

I have mixed feelings about this novel because there are a few things that the author does that I like but an equal amount of things that I don’t like. I really liked that the author highlighted the problems of the First Nations people of Canada. Not many people are aware of their struggles and the things they have endured – and continue to endure – are heartbreaking. And the author really does do justice to them: she tells it like it is. I only wish it had been told from the perspective of an actual Native and not just from that of a white teenage girl. While Jenny is definitely trying to understand and be aware of the oppression and racism that the Aboriginal people face, I don’t think she is necessarily the best spokesperson for it since she really isn’t a part of their community or culture. I wish there had been more emphasis on the way life is on the reserves and the traditions that the First Nations value, as that would have allowed the reader to see some of the wonderful aspects of their culture. However, the idea that a Native girl’s death is not as important as a Caucasian girl’s disappearance was an interesting one and I think the author did a really good job of bringing that to the forefront. I actually found the writing style compelling, even if it was confusing to follow at times what with the various jumps in time that Jenny took; it was hard to tell if something was happening in the present or if it was just a memory. I did not like the love angle that the author tried to force into the situation; it didn’t add anything to the novel and it was not well planned or executed. It was literally just two teenagers hooking up and doing drugs and drinking, none of which screams romance or bonding. I didn’t like the incompetence of the cops, and I’m not just referring to their dismissal over the case of Helen. I’m referring to the almost comical way they question and interrogate Jenny over Chloe’s disappearance; you would think adults would know how to run an investigation and ask the right questions but clearly, that is not the case in this novel. The author also takes on another topic: slut-shaming. While I think this is an important topic to discuss, I don’t really like Jenny’s role in that aspect and I wish the author had made her more … sensible or intelligent. I also didn’t really like how things were resolved in the novel because, well, it didn’t really feel resolved. I understand that not everything can have a happy ending but this just felt messy and unfinished. Overall, I think the author chose 2 very important topics to center her novel around. While the writing was compelling, the main character’s decisions as well as the actual ending of the novel left me disappointed. For those reasons, I’m giving this novel a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

 

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Once, in a Town Called Moth by Trilby Kent

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while now, but I’ve been putting it off every time in lieu of some other urgent reading task. But I decided to make time for it now, so here is my review:

Ana grew up in a tiny Mennonite colongy in Bolivia. Her mother fled the colony when Ana was a young girl. Now, as a teenager, Ana and her father have also run away from the community, but Ana doesn’t know why. All she knows is that things were not right for her and her father and they needed to leave in a hurry. Now, they’ve arrived in Toronto and Ana must fend for herself in an alien country, completely disconnected from everything she knew. She has no idea where to begin with fitting in. But begin she does: she makes a friend, then two. She goes to school and tries to understand the hierarchy that is present and all the unspoken rules and codes that govern teenage life. She goes to the library, the mall, and even parties. And all the while, she is desperate to find her mother who left her so long ago, and understand her father who has always been a stranger to her.

This is definitely a character-driven story, and it is quite well done at that. The story is told from Ana’s perspective, in third perspective when she is in Toronto and in first perspective when she is describing her past in the Mennonite colony. I really liked that the author made that differentiation, as I’ve never seen an author do that before and it added a unique touch to the story. I really liked Ana’s character and the author did a really great job in expressing the emotions she was going through; as a reader, I found it very easy to connect with and understand Ana. I didn’t know much about the Mennonite community before this novel, but it is clear that the author did due diligence in researching and presenting the information about this community in a non-judgemental way. This novel is definitely more of a slow-burner and it’s really just about how Ana adjusts to Toronto after leaving Colony Felicidad so if you are expecting something more fast-paced or with action, then this is not the novel for you. However, it is a well-written YA novel that is all about growing up, fitting in, and finding your identity. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

I’m a sucker for murder mysteries of all kind. But this one had a unique premise. It’s been called a mashup of The Breakfast Club and Clue. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more. Here is my review:

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention. There’s Bronwyn, an intelligent and driven student whose only desire is to go to Yale; Addy, a pretty girl who is always considered an airhead; Nate, the delinquent who sells drugs; Cooper, the star athlete who everybody loves; and Simon, resident gossip blogger who is hated and feared by everyone. However, what begins as a typical time in detention soon ends up as the scene of a tragedy: Simon dies. And according to the police, his death wasn’t an accident. As the investigation begins, it is revealed that Simon was planning on revealing some juicy gossip about all 4 of his fellow detention buddies – which means they’re all suspects in his murder. Everyone has secrets…. but how far will you go to protect them?

The first page of this book reminded me of Gossip Girl, which is a guilty pleasure show of mine. As the story took off, I found myself loving the intrigue and the gossip. It felt like one of those teen shows like Degrassi … but more sinister. I loved it. It was interesting to read from each character’s perspective and I was itching to know each of their secrets. Some characters I liked more than others, but each one was unique and well created so I have no complaints there. The author also set up the story very nicely; there were plenty of clues and hints so that the reader could guess the ending, and there were quite a few moments where you really felt sympathy for the characters and what they were going through. I also liked that the ending was realistic; it’s not just puppies and rainbows with everything being perfect. I think this novel would be perfect for anyone who likes shows like Gossip Girl or Pretty Little Liars. It was a fun read that is addictive and I could totally see this made into a miniseries. If you like those shows and if you like teen drama and murder mysteries, you are going to love this novel as much as I did!

Happy reading ~

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This novel has been making its rounds on all of the major lists. Everywhere I go, I see this novel being recommended. And I will admit, at first, I was hesitant. It wasn’t about the content; I strongly believe that the issues this novel addresses are ones that everyone should read and educate themselves about. But I was apprehensive about how the author would go about spreading the message. However, I decided to give it a go. And before I even begin this review, I would just like to say that choosing to read this novel was the best decision I ever made and it is one that I would like everyone to make. Because this novel is just that good and that necessary.

16-year-old Starr Carter lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the rich prep school she goes to. So far she’s managed to balance out the two. But everything changes when she is a witness to the fatal shooting of her best friend Khalil by a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon, Khalil’s death becomes a national headline, with many people calling him a thug, drug dealer, and even a gangbanger. Others are starting protests in his name. All anyone wants to know is: what really happened that night? The only person that can answer that question is Starr. As she finds herself being harassed by cops and even the local drug lord. Starr has to make the decision to say – or not say – something that could not only upend her community but also endanger her life. 

What you have with this novel is an incredibly powerful and unforgettable journey. I have never been afraid of the police. I have never felt that a cop has looked at me with prejudice. When I started to read this novel, I thought that my biggest struggle would be to understand what this feels like. However, the author did a magnificent job of describing the emotions, the internal conflict, and the tragedy of situations like this one, where an innocent person dies for no fault of their own. Starr’s suffering is one that I truly felt. I could feel her fear when she was weighing her options, when she was deciding whether she should speak out or not. I could feel her grief over losing her best friend – and losing herself. I could feel the inner turmoil within her as she saw how this experience changed her perception of her world and of herself. And I shook with her, as she became angry when she realized how the world was projecting this heinous crime. Words do not do justice to describe how aptly this author has described this scenario, how realistic the portrayal through Starr’s eyes was, and how heartbreaking this tragedy is. There was another component to this story: that of Starr’s place in the world she knew and the world as it became after the incident. Here, we see a whole host of other characters and how Starr’s relationships with them strengthens or weakens. These interactions were varied; some were warm and funny, others were callous and cold. But the reader was able to watch Starr grow through them, and that was an amazing experience to be a part of. As I was reading the story, I was amazed at how the author infused these 2 components to create a full-bodied plot that had everything going for it. I can literally come up with 0 criticisms … and that’s saying something!

This novel is a must-read, regardless of your genre preferences or your beliefs. This novel is not only gripping, it is also educational. Whether you are someone who has experienced what Starr has, or are privileged enough to have never faced racial prejudice, this is a novel you must read. Our society needs to be more aware of its shortcomings and realize that the media is not always correct. This isn’t just about Black Lives Matter; every life matters. And this novel, while inspired by Black Lives Matter, is a call to everyone to let go of prejudice, and value every individual’s life.

So, to all those who read my blog, and to those who are on the fence about reading this book, please go and read it.

Happy reading ~

A List of Cages by Robin Roe

This book has been recommended to me multiple times by many people and I have just been pushing it off. I finally decided to read it and see what the hype was all about. Here is my review:

Adam Blake is one of those people who is always positive. Sure, he has his difficulties what with his ADHD, but he’s always able to look at the bright side of things. When his senior year elective is to serve as an aide to the school psychologist, Adam is sure that it will be an easy one. The psychologist asks him to track down a troubled freshman who keeps evading his sessions, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian, the foster brother he hasn’t seen in 5 years. Adam is ecstatic to be reunited with Julian. But Julian isn’t the same anymore. He is quieter, more insecure, and he keeps a lot of secrets – like about what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help Julian, but his involvement could endanger both their lives.

Holy, did this book make me an emotional wreck! I did not expect it to tug at my heart the way it did but I was bawling from the halfway point until the end. I don’t even know where to start with this book.

The story is told from 2 perspectives: Julian and Adam. Each boy has his own voice and personality and the author does a great job of making them complement each other. Adam is this super positive guy, and you may think that this is overkill, but I love how the author really tried to explain why he does things and thinks things in the way that he does. He has ADHD, but he doesn’t fall into the stereotypical portrayal of it and that made me really happy. Julian’s simplicity and kindness is perfectly captured; the author definitely did not overdo it! I found it very easy to imagine the different personalities and relationships between the different characters and that made this an enjoyable read.

This novel deals with a lot of difficult issues. Not only does it address the stigma associated with mental health and illness, it talks about loss, guilt, and abuse. Each one has its role to play in the novel and the author addressed each one with the care and tact it deserved. I love how the story tied in all of these elements to make something beautiful and raw. This novel makes you think about life and the power of friendship, and it is sure to move you. I genuinely cannot express how strongly I feel for this novel but I really want every single individual to read this book because it is just that fantastic.

Happy reading ~

New Boy by Tracy Chevalier – Hogarth Shakespeare

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I first requested this novel, it was because I really enjoyed reading Tracy Chevalier’s earlier work. Imagine my delight when I discovered that this novel is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series! So far, I’ve loved every book that has been part of the Hogarth concept, so I was very excited to give this novel a shot!

Osei Kokote has not had it easy. The son of a diplomat, it is his first day at his fifth new school in as many years. He knows that in order to survive his first day, he needs to find an ally, and he is lucky enough to find a friend in Dee, the most popular girl in school. For her part, Dee genuinely seems to like Osei and soon their budding relationship takes flight. But there is one person who is not happy to see this and is determined to wreak havoc on this friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. BBy the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

The Shakespeare play that served as inspiration for this novel is Othello, which is one of the few works by Shakespeare that I actually don’t like too much. I’ve never been a fan of tragedies, especially ones that deal with the whole concept of misunderstandings. I was quite impressed by the originality of this novel, in taking a serious adult tragedy like Othello and transplanting it into a Washington school playground. It reminded me of my cringe-worthy days in elementary school, struggling to fit in with my peers, facing the social hierarchy that was constantly shifting, and dealing with betrayals and crushes. The author did a great job of giving each character a unique voice and exploring the playground politics in a serious tone that went beyond the surface. This novel speaks at length on the issue of race in an unusual setting that is really just a microcosm of our own society; it both surprised and delighted me to see this concept work out as well as it did! Was this novel a complete success? No. It had its flaws and the ending, while tragic, was a bit too dramatic for the setting the author was trying to maintain. However, this is still a powerful rendition of Othello, and I appreciate its uniqueness. Overall, an interesting novel!

Happy reading ~

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

You may expect that an idyllic community of wealthy California families would be the perfect paradise. Instead, when a middle school tragedy occurs, it becomes a nightmare. The reverberations from that tragedy still shake the community … and the privileged students involved in it. Now, new teacher Molly Nicoll enters the scene, hoping to inspire her pupils and understand them, not knowing the effects that the disaster has already had on them. At every turn, there is a child hiding under high school stereotypes: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents’ expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own; and Abigail, the girl who has her life charted out but makes a rash decision that will change her world.

The first story that this novel opens up with is emotionally-charged, and it is what got me into this book. It reminded me a lot of my own middle school and high school days, and every miserably memory that I had from that time. It was powerful and showed the very dark side of adolescence. However, the rest of the novel didn’t really work for me. Each chapter is like a vignette into a character’s life, and reading this novel, it began to feel as if I was reading short stories instead of a cohesive novel. The characters were also a bit too flat for me because they didn’t always get enough time in their chapter to be explored and developed; I ended up not really caring about any of them. At one point, I began to be overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters, which took my attention away from the main message. It’s clear from this novel that the author is very passionate about the drama and bullying and difficulties that arise in adolescents who are in high school. And she did a great job of exploring the various issues. That passion is evident throughout the novel and was the force that propelled the plot forward. However, this passion wasn’t enough for me to like this novel. If you like novels that deal with these issues, then you should definitely give this one a read. However, I will be giving this novel a 2.5/5 (the 2.5 is for the passion).

Happy reading ~

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sports has never been my thing. I’ve never understood the sports culture and many of the rules of the various games just flies over my head. I’ll admit part of it is because I’ve never really given it a fair shot. This novel was me giving it a chance to win me over!

Beartown is a tiny community nestled deep in the forest. But down by the lake, there is an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. This ice rink is the only thing that makes people believe in a brighter future. Beartown’s junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Naturally, this is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match acts as a catalyst for a violent act that will leave a girl traumatized and a town divided.  When accusations are made and the truth threatens to come out, the reverberations  travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

You do not need to know anything about hockey in order to understand this novel. That being said, you’d probably enjoy this novel more if you are a fan of the game. There is A LOT  of hockey talk in this game. I don’t mean that the author puts in useless jargon or anything; it’s just that every other sentence has something to do with hockey. Now, you may think that I’m saying this as an off-putting thing but it actually wasn’t. It allowed me to understand and appreciate the hockey culture. This novel actually helped me see what the hype was all about and how people can make hockey the center of their lives, a fact I’m sure my boyfriend will be very happy to hear! This novel is very well-written and involves a whole host of characters, some adults and some teenagers. Each one has their own unique perspective, their own backstory, and the author does a fantastic job of making them relevant without bogging down the story. This novel is emotionally engaging, which was a happy surprise for me as I wasn’t expecting it. There is so much to this novel, so many issues that it highlights, and I could keep talking forever and ever on them…. but I won’t. I’d rather you read this novel and form your own impressions instead. This novel was something that I approached warily but by the end of the story, I was an absolute fan of this book and author!

Happy reading ~

All The Forever Things by Jolene Perry

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m always in the mood for a story that is unique. I find that most realistic fiction novels that are YA tend to follow the same trajectory, but this story came off as being different so I was glad to be approved for this ARC! Here is my review:

Gabriella’s family owns and operates a funeral home, which makes Gabriella well acquainted with all aspects of death. She may be weird and a bit dark, but at least she has her best friend Bree on her side. But when Bree begins to date the jock who used to bully Gabriella, their friendship starts to change. Gabriella wants to be supportive but she just isn’t comfortable with Bree’s new relationship. It doesn’t help that Bree has no time for Gabriella anymore, and even begins to act like all of the other girls in school. The only person who seems to want to spend time with “Graveyard Gabe” is Hartman, the new guy in town who has his own issues. To try to get things back to normal with Bree, Gabriella agrees to drive everyone to prom… but no one could have been prepared for the deadly incident that would occur.

The premise for this novel was definitely interesting. I mean, you don’t hear too often about teenagers living and working in a funeral home. And Gabriella – or Gabe, as she likes to be called – is definitely on the morbid side. She wears vintage clothes in black, and loves Wednesday Addams. Not that I have a problem with either of these things! I think that the author enticed readers by showing them this breakdown in friendship between Gabe and Bree, and the emergence of something romantic between Gabe and Hartman. But I wish the author had really gotten into the material instead of just skimming the surface. There were quite a few instances where the author could have really pushed and delivered more on the emotional front, but instead, it just felt very … superficial. Instead of making this more of a heartbreak, this novel (for the most part) just seemed like a girl whining about growing up. Even during times when my alarm bells went off, things didn’t really take a serious or deep turn. This novel had a lot of potential but I think its flaw comes from the fact that everything that happened with the characters just skimmed the surface. When I read a realistic fiction story, I expect it to be very character-driven; I want it to be teeming with complex emotions from the side of the protagonist as well as the other characters. However, this novel didn’t dig deep enough into the character’s personality, so it was very hard for me to feel any sympathy for anyone in the story. Also Hartman’s character just came off weird. I understand that the author wanted to show him as grieving but his actions just didn’t match up so he just confused me. In the end, this was a novel with a lot of potential that didn’t really deliver what I was expecting.

Happy reading ~

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Being part of the line is a blessing. Every family hopes that their daughter will become one of the chosen 7 to tunnel deep into the mountain and return with the harvest. These girls are the most important ones in the village; their work in the mountains makes the difference between life and death. Jena is the leader of the line. She is a good tunneler, strong and reliable, liked by all of the girls. And she has gone through extensive training and wrapping and fasting to become this way. She is proud of herself and the role she plays. But one day, Jena makes a discovery that leads her to question the way her world works. What if there is more to life than just this village?

This was a short but well-written novel and I really enjoyed reading it. It was layered and complex in a quiet way. It was subtle yet transparent as it showed you Jena’s life, the secrets of the village, and the dangers of the mountain. The writing was intelligent and thought-provoking, which I really wasn’t expecting it. I found myself rereading sections of this story, not because it was hard to understand but because it was just so powerful! This novel may have been targeted for teens and middle schoolers, but I can easily see adults reading and enjoying this story! Don’t be fooled by its deceptive slowness; this novel picks up the pace and the events roll out fairly quickly! A great story, and I’m really glad to have gotten a chance to read it!

Happy reading ~