Tag Archives: YA book review

YA Book Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen Victoria AveyardRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Another one bites the dust! By that I mean, yet another mediocre YA novel I can add to my “one and done” pile.

It started out so well: a very strong voice in the form of first-person protagonist Mare Barrow, a snarky thief struggling to keep herself and her family afloat in a class-driven, oppressive society. The world is what I’d describe as fantasy-lite with a few steampunk elements – people have elemental powers, but it’s recognizably a human world with a quasi-feudal structure, and steampunk comes in with the inclusion of several machines – a bicycle, a robotic-esque war machine, and airships.

Society is divided into two classes: the ruling class “Silvers”, who have all the power and money, and the working class “Reds”, who are mostly servants, tradespeople, and conscripted soldiers. Silvers claim to be gods, and are certainly superhuman – each is born with an ability to control the world around – some can control iron, others fire, water, and other elements, and a few can control people’s minds. Their blood itself runs silver. Reds, on the other hand, have no abilities, and their blood is red. It’s a world in which your fate is ruled by your genetic background and, quite literally, your blood.

Aveyard, like most YA authors, attempts snark, and unlike most, succeeds – Mare’s occasional comebacks and insults are genuinely funny and witty. The plot is fast-paced, the world is reasonably inventive, and the first half is very strong. In the second half, however, the ongoing romance is really phoned in – an epic romance is conceived out of literally about five brief interactions, and then a MAJOR plot point is hung upon it. Some authors suffer from the misconception that you can slap the label “prince” on someone, have him be sympathetic to a heroine twice, and every reader for a thousand miles will think he’s the second coming of Darcy crossed with Edward Cullen. Neither of Mare’s suitors *quite* leap into reality; combine Maven and Cal and you’d have one fully realized male character/romantic interest.

The undercooked romance is followed by a secondary plot point that was both wildly predictable – I saw it coming the entire novel, because this is how young adult novels go – and also extraordinarily poorly conceived and unconvincing. giphy

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I Hated This Book Review: We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han

we'll always have summer

We’ll Always Have Summer, Jenny Han

I felt slightly nauseous after finishing this. The Summer Series is a trilogy of bestselling young adult contemporary romances from Jenny Han, and this is the finale. I enjoyed though was irritated by the first, skimmed through the second, and then hit THIS.

The thought of thousands of impressionable teenage girls gulping this up makes me see RED. It’s romantically bankrupt, a novel that’s downright destructive in how it portrays romantic relationships, what girls should look for, and what constitutes healthy behaviour or interactions. It flies wildly in the face of every bit of hard-won knowledge we’ve gained about what makes marriages and relationships work and last, and as such, it’s INFURIATING.

Because it is a book about marriage. It ends with one.

It also tells you to be with the boy who makes your heart flutter, even if he has blown hot and cold with you your entire life, even if after dating you for a very brief span he dumps you, even if every single one of your friends and family are united in saying how badly he’s treated you. Marry HIM because you feel a gravitational pull and fascination with him and you just can’t quite get over it.

Oh, and break up with the funny, kind guy (his brother) whom you genuinely fell deeply in love with, dated for two years, and agreed to marry, the boy you work seamlessly with as a team, laugh with, and enjoy doing everything from ordering food to running errands to apartment-hunting with, and have a giant amount of tenderness and affection for. yeah, forget HIM. What terrible life-partner material. AWFUL.

Never read this. I’d gladly ban it from the hands of all and sundry teen girls because with its compelling prose it will tell them the opposite of reality re: romantic relationships.

YA Book Review: Airhead by Meg Cabot

airheadmegcabotbookcover

Airhead, Meg Cabot

HATED this book. One of the most sexist narratives I’ve ever read, and from a woman, to boot.

Emerson Watts is comfortable in her own skin. She loves video games, medical documentaries, and hanging out with her equally nerdy best friend Christopher, whom she only wishes would see her as a girl instead of his asexual buddy. Until a bizarre accident makes her a participant in a brain transplant meant to save her life, in which she’s given the body – and forced to take over the identity – of a world-famous teen supermodel.

………….
………….

Leaving the sheer bloody ludicrousness of the plot aside, the message this book is sending – to teen girls no less – is that it’s not okay or enough to just have interests and be yourself and have nerdy interests (interests which in real life would make you totally hot to a lot of guys, something the book was conspicuously silent on – do you know how many guys would love a woman who plays video games? A LOT). You can’t *just* be smart and have hobbies and your own personality – you must ALSO have the body of a supermodel and a smile that turns virtually every guy who sees into jelly.

Because at the end of the day, why settle for being yourself? When you can be smart, nerdy, AND hot? Thus fulfilling every male fantasy ever??? Seriously if Cabot had created a female character with men in mind she couldn’t have done a better job. Em in this novel becomes the teenage epitome of Gillian Flynn’s accurately-sketched, terrible Cool Girl in Gone Girl. The representation of Male Desire and its supremacy in culture and in narrative.

I HATED this novel with every fiber of my literature-loving, chick-lit-loving, feminist body. Excuse me while I go read some Kafka, *anything,* to get this taste out of my mouth.

P.S. Emerson – or rather her body – expires when a TV falls on her. I’m not making this stuff up, folks. 

P.P.S. The fact that there are two more books in this series makes me want to enlist The Bride (see Kill Bill if you haven’t seen it yet y’all) to track Cabot down and put the fear of woman into her so she never writes such a book again. I’ve read and liked/loved a lot of Cabot. This, is unworthy of her.

Book Review: Lola and the Boy Next Door

lola and the boy next door reviewLola and the Boy Next Door is the second book in Stephanie Perkin’s loosely-linked young adult trilogy (Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Isla and the Happily Ever After)… it was good stuff, y’all. In fact, dare I say I liked it much better than Anna and the French Kiss? Lola is significantly more grounded than Anna, not emotionally, but just as far as personality and life situation – I had trouble fully identifying with both Anna and Etienne in French Kiss because their lives were so thoroughly privileged. Yes, they both had family troubles which made them more sympathetic, but I’ve never been a drop-dead gorgeous teenager who gets to attend boarding school in France, and I suspect most of the rest of us haven’t either. It was all just a little too much, a little too surreal and fairy-tale-like.

All of which is to say – Lola is much more identifiable – her family’s middle-class, she works a very average job at a movie theater, she’s pretty but not absolutely stunning, and she lives in San Francisco. (Side note: San Francisco as a setting was a delight, as I visit often and love that city. It’s under-utilized as a setting for American books).

Lola Nolan lives with her parents (two married men) in the Castro district in San Francisco, in a delightful if small house passed down by her grandmother. She has a smart, driven best friend and a steady boyfriend in the form of tattooed punk-rocker Max. Life for her is pretty good…until some old neighbors move back in and her life turns upside down. Calliope Bell was Lola’s best friend until she started becoming a star ice skater and dropped Lola for not being cool enough. Calliope’s twin brother Cricket, meanwhile, the soft-spoken, awkward foil to his sister’s shining light, was Lola’s first love. Their relationship ended abruptly (and, traumatically for Lola) almost before it began however, and Lola hasn’t seen either of the Bell twins for years.

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Book Review: The Elite by Kiera Cass

theeliteReading the Selection series is akin to watching Pretty Little Liars: you don’t know why you’re doing it, but somehow you can’t stop. The Elite is a very silly novel that replicates all the same weaknesses and limitations of the first novel, and yet is oddly entertaining despite that, mostly because there are bits of good romance.

America Singer lives in a future America dominated by a caste system. The government is not particularly oppressive, but the caste system is fixed, with every individual being born into a caste. Eights are the bottom, and do service work that no-one else wants to do; they are poor and often hungry. Ones are at the top, the wealthy, elite, and royalty. America is born into the creative caste, Five: musicians, singers, and entertainers. When her name is randomly chosen as one of 35 potential brides for the crown prince, she is ferried off the capital and a new life of glittering ballgowns and competing for the heart of the prince. 

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Book Review: The Selection

selection cvr

The Selection, Kiera Cass.

America Singer lives in a futuristic America in which, after a series of World Wars, society has been restructured as a class system. There are eight castes who each perform different duties. America is a 5, the artistic case, who earn their money by performing during national holidays and for the wealthier families. Intermarriage between castes is highly frowned upon and America’s mother hopes that she will raise their status and support them financially by marrying into a caste above her. America, however, has been in love with Aspen, the son of a family friend and a caste below her, for her entire life.

The country is governed by a regency and the state announces that it’s time for The Selection, an event in which 35 girls are chosen from a lottery and one of them selected by the Crown Prince to be his bride. America reluctantly enters the drawing at the pushing of her mother, and is shocked when she is chosen. Soon, she and 34 other girls are swept into the palace to live a life of luxury while getting to know the Prince.

This is a light and immensely readable book – I read it in two sittings flat. America is an immediately engaging heroine, mostly the story is told in first person and Kiera Cass makes America spunky and blunt but with believable fragilities and small selfishnesses that make her human. Oddly, however, it’s the first half of the book that’s the strongest – America, her relationships with the various members of her family, and her relationship with Aspen are all well-developed. The romance that develops in the second half, though….there’s exactly enough good romance in this book to make one compelling relationship, not too.

Cass attempts to set up a love triangle between America, Aspen, and Prince Maxon, and several of the scenes with Aspen and Maxom, respectively, are very compelling – but wholistically Aspen and Maxon each feel like half of a fully-rounded character. Aspen is too simple to be completely interesting – the two main drives of his life appear to be to survive and to be with America if he can, and he doesn’t have the complexity to grapple with the changes in America while she lives at the palace, or the broader social and political forces in the country. While Maxon adheres too closely to that “white prince/knight in shining armor” pattern – he’s painfully nice, formal, and innocent for much of the novel. Both male leads would have been more interesting if they had more bite to them, a little more of a rough edge.

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Book Review: The Boyfriend List

theboyfriendlist

I read this YA novel in an hour flat sitting at the library. And –

Ugh. The appeal of this fantastically titled book with a quirky cover design pretty much begins and ends with said title and cover design. This is boring and frankly surprisingly ordinary given the dramatic nature of the premise, all rife with possibility and comedy. Ruby Oliver is at the end of her rope and in denial about it after a series of unfortunate (though not particularly unusual) events happen to her causing her to lose her boyfriend and her social life and become temporarily a social outcast. So her overprotective parents – volatile comedian mother and abstracted plant-obsessed father – send her off to therapy. Where her therapist instructs her to make a list of all the boys she’s ever liked and thus Ruby’s story (such as it is) unfolds over the course of 11 therapy sessions.

Couple problems: Ruby’s problems are not at unusual – her ex dumps her for another girl, she attempts to get him back, has lots of drama with her girlfriends, etc – and therefore not innately interesting, though really good writing could have covered that – and two, her “boyfriend” stories are mostly rather dull. Half the boys on the list she had a brief and pointless crush on; there’s only a handful in which the history is genuinely interesting. Her childhood friend, her high school boyfriend, and the boy she encounters toward the very end of the novel are the only three interesting ones, and none of these three is fully developed. Her relationship with her current/high school boyfriend is compelling and achingly real at times, but it’s given neither full development nor a resolution, it just sort of peters out. And while this is reflective of real life sometimes, it wasn’t replaced with any other element. She has a few brief exchanges with the interesting, sarcastic, and refreshingly grown-up Noel toward the end, but he simply fades from her life.

E Lockhart in the final act reaches toward a growing-up story of catharsis and independence with a teen girl leaving the drama of high school behind and embracing her own identity – but tells this rather than shows it, and it simply falls flat. Give this a miss – John Green writes a thousand times more tenderly and eloquently and comically about the obsessive, circular, magical period of discovery that is adolescence.

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