Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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I should preface this with; I do not often read contemporary teen romance, so if this is your genre, I highly, highly recommend checking out Fangirl.

I think I have a love hate relationship with Rainbow Rowell’s writing. Overall she comes up with interesting and compelling topics, but her execution is lacking for me. The thing is I didn’t dislike this story, I actually loved many parts and related completely to a lot of the issues Cath was facing, but something about Rowell’s writing was off. It could have been the Carry On inserts or the fact that there isn’t much resolve to big issues. Or it is possibly how Cath carried herself throughout the book, but I cannot put my finger on why this overall concept didn’t fully sit well with me.

Basically, for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

I didn’t see the the value in the Carry On inserts and honestly I would have skipped them had I not thought they might be important to the story, which in my personal opinion they were not pivotal to the story, they were just fun additions.

We are told about all of these huge plot points, plot points that seem significant and as if they should be resolved, but it is kind of forgotten about and only plays a roll in pushing forward the plot of “Cath, the struggling writer.” To me this was truly the downfall of the book because I really wanted resolve, not for myself, but for the sake of Cath as a character. I felt that she had struggled through so many changes and trying to find her own identity, while dealing with emotional turmoil from her past, as well as her present, yet none of this is dealt with. Had we seen these significant pieces play out Cath would have had major and awesome character growth.

As for characters, well, I’m not sold on our ol’ boy Levi. While I felt he was a decent influence in Cath’s life, I’m just not… convinced? I suppose the only way I can explain it is that Levi has “John Green Syndrome” meaning he seems utterly unrealistic and hard to relate to. Sure, I’m a reader, or a “lover of words” but I do enjoy to laugh and waste time scrolling through Instagram and meme’s. Whereas Levi is seemingly above all of that… he’s just unrealistic and at times problematic, especially in the ways he treats Cath. But for the sake of spoilers I will spare you the details.

But honestly, despite the flaws and my complaints, as someone who doesn’t enjoy YA contemporary to begin with, this would have to be up there with a more enjoyable YA contemporary reads. I had fun, I laughed, and I felt connected to Cath at times due to many of the struggles she faces. But I have mixed feelings about most of the characters and overall plot line. Though I’d be interested to read Carry On since it seems fun and it’s supposed to read like a Harry Potter fan fic!

Overall this was 3/5 stars.

–Stephanie, Teen LTA

Educated by Tara Westover

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This was a very difficult book to read more often than not. As a warning before going into this book you should know there is mental and physical abuse in abundance. There are also many graphic scenes describing accidents.

I was avoiding this book for no good reason, only to pick it up and devour it in a few days. It was captivating and beautifully written. It told a story of resilience and surviving in a life full of abuse and manipulation. It told the story of toxic masculinity and victim blaming. It told the story of what women must face in a world and religions dominated by men and their ideas about how women should act, feel, etc. It told a story of remaking ones self and going against the grain of what it means to be a woman.  But the truth is no matter how far we come, we will always hold the scars of our past and we will constantly be healing and changing.

Tara Westover comes from a religious Mormon family who does not believe in modern medicine, education, or the government. Tara’s father is paranoid and mistrusting of authority figures; he is also possibly dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness. Tara’s mother is manipulative in subtle ways and constantly chooses her husbands word over anyone else’s. Tara’s older brother is abusive. All the while Tara, as the youngest child, is battling her own beliefs and the beliefs of her family. Ultimately, Tara decides to gain an education against the will of her parents, all the while trying survive day to day among the constant abuse and manipulation within her home and religion.

At times, I wanted to scream and throw this book, at other times I wanted to curl up and cry with Tara. I had many visceral reactions to the people and situations described in this book. I have seen the criticisms on the legitimacy of this memoir and I’d like to believe that this book is as accurate as Tara’s memory. As she describes in the footnotes, these scenes and situations being described are how she recalls them, but admits that other family members opinions on these memories differ from hers. As it stands in my mind, Tara told her story the best she could and was as honest as her memory would allow.

Overall, this book captivated me immediately and I recommend if you are able to stomach the abuse and graphic scenes, because Tara’s story is an incredible testament to what it means to rise above the odds and cultivate a life outside of the only life you’ve ever known. 

–Stephanie, Teen LTA

The Mothers By Brit Bennett

“Grief was not a line, carrying you infinitely further from loss. You never knew when you would be sling-shot backward into its grip.”

The Mothers

The Mothers punches you in the heart. A novel telling the story of American’s black youth, which is a fresh and much-needed perspective in today’s literary world. Based in Oceanside, San Diego, The Mothers tells a story of Nadia Turner, a girl coping with her mother’s suicide and her strained relationship with her father (especially after his wife’s death). Beyond her grief, Nadia is effortlessly smart, beautiful, and about to head off to Michigan to start her college career. Before she goes she begins a relationship with the pastor’s son, Luke Sheppard. Luke is a former football star with a promising future until he was seriously injured, now he waits tables and floats through life considering how things would have been if the accident never happened. Luke and Nadia’s relationship becomes complex and the truth becomes murky, especially for Nadia, who hides her feelings and truths from everyone she loves and cares for. In reality, Nadia is searching for her mother, especially in the last place she was seen before her suicide, Upper Room, their local church, the place her father spends the majority of his time and energy, and the place Luke grew up to seemingly hate.

The Mothers follows Nadia, Luke, and best friend Aubrey from teen into adulthood, shifting between their perspectives. This novel is interesting in that way because it would seem that the whole of the story is told in the third person, but we are introduced into The Mothers, who seem to be telling the story of their youth in comparison to Nadia and Luke’s youth. I liked the switching of perspectives, it added a depth to the story and brought meaning as to why the events that unfold are important to acknowledge and understand.

I really enjoyed the overall complexity and tone of this novel. I felt that I connected deeply to the story line as someone who lost my mother at a young and trying age. The importance of a mother figure, as well as motherhood, is heavily emphasized through Nadia and Aubrey’s growing pains. Each girl is motherless, both strong, but still yearning and searching for their mother’s approval, advice, and love. And the question remains making your way through this story, would our choices be different if we had our mothers there to help guide us? Or, are our choices even our own when a parent chooses to walk out on a child, as both Nadia and Aubrey’s mothers chose?

Aside from motherhood and frankly, relationships, choice is the underpinning of this novel. And this concept really opened my eyes to my own choices, failures, and successes, which is something I love in a book. Beyond Nadia and Aubrey’s choices or possibly lack thereof, how are their choices influenced by being black women? Or is their path of expectations set in stone?

Honestly, this was such a beautifully devastating and important read. I would recommend The Mothers to everyone and anyone looking to reevaluate life, friendships, love, and choice, but also, I would recommend this book as a painful look into being a black woman and the expectations and stereotypes pinned to you from birth.

Overall, I gave this book a 4/5 stars!

-Stephanie, Teen LTA

The Teen Book Club is Back!

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After a small hiatus the Teen Book Club is back, and a little bit different! Starting in March we will meet from 5:30-6:30 (right after Homework Help) on the first Tuesday of every month. The Book Club will meet in the Teen Area, with snacks, to discuss our current reads, favorite books of 2018, and to discuss our Book Club pick.

The Book Club is open to all teens (13-18 years old) with varying reading interests. We will try and dive into a wide variety of genres so as to include everyone’s reading taste. The meetings will be dedicated to discussing themes, characters, why or why not you did or did not like the book, etc. But this is also a space to discuss all sorts of books, as well as topics presented in our favorite and least favorite books.

On March 5th, 2019 we will be discussing On the Come Up by Angie Thomas, the New York Times Best Selling author of The Hate U Give.

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On the Come Up synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

I can’t wait to see you there!
Stephanie, Teen LTA

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

“When you are who they expect you to be, they never look too closely. If you’re furious, let it be fuel.”

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I would like to preface this review by telling you I had been in a reading slump for the last three months, if not a bit longer. I basically tried to black it out of my mind. Suffice it to say, the moment I picked up The Gilded Wolves I was wholly immersed and happily so.

The Gilded Wolves is a multi-perspective book, following four different characters, set in 1889 Paris, France. It is delicious and dark and chock-full of historical and political intrigue. Though, I will admit the beginning of the book is complex and at times convoluted (meaning I found myself rereading passages in order to fully understand the magic system) I don’t feel it is completely off-putting or pulls you out of the story if anything it made the book richer.

In my opinion, I felt the best thing Chokshi did with this book is made subtle, but important commentary on Imperialism, racism/bigotry, and assimilation. Each of the four characters we follow throughout the story are all dealing with deeply rooted ideas about themselves and the world around them based on the color of their skin or the beliefs they hold. And honestly, this made them so much more real and relatable to me than most books I have read in the YA and Fantasy world. Plus, the banter between this unlikely group of friends is hilarious. I think you could find a piece of yourself in one, if not multiple characters.

Overall, I gave The Gilded Wolves a 4.5/5 and I highly recommend it for those who loved the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo, or readers who enjoy magic systems with a dab of historical fiction.

–Stephanie, Teen LTA

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis: All her life, Blue Sargent has been told by her clairvoyant aunts and mother that if she kisses her true love, he will die.While Blue does not possess the gift of clairvoyance, she has the ability to amplify other psychics powers and on the night of St. Mark’s Eve, when those fated to die in the next twelve months walk through the church grounds, Blue sees a spirit, Gansey’s spirit in fact. Unfortunate for her, those without the power to see the dead only see the spirits of their true love, or the ones they are going to kill.
As fate would have it, Blue comes face to face with Gansey and his crew of Anglionby prep school friends and slowly begins to form a friendship with the four boys, joining in on Gansey’s wild quest to find the dead Welsh King, Glendower.
Gansey, on the other hand, has been on a mission to find the resting spot of Glendower for years, a mission that has consumed his life and defined his friendships.
Review: I will be honest, I tried to read the Shiver series a while ago and it was not for me. Much like Cassandra Clare, I told myself I wasn’t going to waste my time on anything else by Maggie Stiefvater, but here we are, flying along on the hype train. Well, I read The Raven Boys and my initial impression is that is was much better than I expected, which is a plus!

Let’s discuss the negatives first to get this out of the way. It took me a depressingly long time to get into this book and enjoy the story. Admittedly, I was so confused with what was happening that I began to dread the reading process, so I started listening to the audio book in order to get through a huge chunk of the book (a solution I do not suggest, considering how completely horrendous the narration is, but it worked). Even so, the point of this hunt for a Welsh King was utterly lost on me, if not at times convoluted and irrational. I had the sinking feeling that I had just picked up another disappointing read thanks to my inability to exit the hype train.

BUT! Once I got a good chunk in I realized that The Raven Boys is a book structured around characters and relationship, rather than story line. There was never a question in my mind that the character development was top notch and intentionally the centerfold of this story. Even if I didn’t like a character, it was fun to dislike them, and I unexpectedly felt very attached to everyone I met regardless of likeability. (But we all know that Blue and Noah are the GREATEST OF ALL TIME). As I began to grow attached to these characters and understand that this story is not completely about the paranormal, the Welsh King, or this impossible quest, I began to thoroughly enjoy The Raven Boys.

Maggie has a way of making you feel emotionally invested in each personality. I hurt when Adam hurt, felt giddy with Gansey, understood Ronan’s anger, and felt Noah’s emptiness. I am not sure the last time I felt so intimately connected to a character, let alone a whole slew of characters.

Also, Maggie has a knack for cliffhangers…

I gave this book a 3.5/5 stars!
–Stephanie

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Synopsis: At seventeen years old Mariko, the daughter of a prominent Samurai, is promised to marry the heir of the Imperial Kingdom in order to strengthen ties and status for her family. On Mariko’s trip to the Imperial Kingdom the Black Clan attacks her and her convoy. In order to understand why she has had a target on her back, Mariko takes on the identity of a boy and infiltrates the Black Clan. Meanwhile, Mariko’s twin brother, Kenshin, a Samaria known as The Dragon, is convinced his sister is still alive despite news of her death and is determined to find who has taken her captive.

Review: So this book was sold to me as a “Mulan retelling,” pushing aside the fact that this was set in Japan, not China, or the fact that there is a marriage born purely out of alliance, it would still be a giant leap to say this was close to a Mulan retelling. Mariko, our protagonist, was not fighting for her country in place of her father or anyone for that matter. Her motives were solely based on trying to understand why the Black Clan would attack her convey with the intentions to kill. Despite my expectations, I enjoyed this story immensely and probably because it had its own story to tell.

This story is full of grit, action, ancient feuds, honor, and political intrigue. Something I didn’t really take notice of until later, this isn’t a book constructed around romance, romance is sprinkled in, but there is so much more to this story and the complex ties these characters have to one another. But, with all the action and feuds, it seemed like there were so many parts that dragged on for far too long. There were many moments I had to go back and reread chapters or paragraphs because my mind began to wander and I lost track of what was happening, which is never really a good sign.

Character wise, I liked Mariko, she was witty, courageous, and an intellectual force to be reckoned with, though she had those moments where she seemed to have this mentality of “I’m surrounded by idiots” and it made me laugh because she had her own questionable moments when it came to intelligence. Interestingly, I really enjoyed The Dragon’s story line and his personality. In the beginning he grated on my nerves, but slowly he began to grow on me and I loved watching him change and grow throughout the story.

I did feel like each of the characters we were introduced to were interesting, I wanted to know their stories and understand their motives, and understand their dynamics with each of the other characters. Since I am someone who is tends to lean more toward character driven books, these characters made up for the moments in the plot that dragged.

Overall, the story was captivating and the characters were interesting, I really love this concept and have high hopes for the books to come!

I gave this book a 3.7/5 stars.

–Stephanie

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson

Title: Walk on Earth a Stranger 
Author: Rae Carson
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (an imprint of Harper Collins)
Publication Date: September 22nd, 2015

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Photo Credit: @stephaniebookish

There’s something so charming about Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson. At first, I was captivated by the plot and how the story opens. So, it’s 1849 and the Gold Rush is in full swing, but our main character, Leah Westfall, has an impossible secret. Leah has the magical ability to sense gold and it seems someone may be onto her secret after all.

The story opens with the death of Leah’s parents and the discovery that her Uncle, the only living person to know of Leah’s secret, has swiftly come into town to take ownership of her home, her rights, and her “witching” powers. So, Leah changes her identity and hightails it West to California.

Now, I thought this story would read more like a fantasy novel, but it reads more like a historical fiction with a magical realism twist. Leah’s magical ability is what causes the plot to move forward, but overall the story is rich with historical detail and the gruesome realities of traveling across America in search of Gold.

While I could spend a deal of time discussing how much I enjoyed the plot, though admittedly slow at times, the characters are what makes this series worth reading and ultimately what kept me engrossed. I lived for these characters, even the characters who nestled under my skin. I continued to root for each character and hope for their well being in the end.

I have read a total of five YA Westerns and have come to the realization that fleshed out and flawed characters paired with character development is what makes or breaks a Western. Yeah, you can have a thrilling shoot ‘em up, but what about the parts in between when the characters have to spend three months crossing a boring desert? That’s right, you get to know the characters, and Carson does an amazing job fleshing out and developing her characters. I am so attached to almost every ‘good’ character we meet that I feel as if I know them and I continue to think about them every day… and truly I don’t cry easily, but lord help me this book had me shedding a tear left and right!

A solid 4/5 ⭐️ read!

-Stephanie, Teen LTA

Everless by Sara Holland

Title: Everless
Author: Sara Holland
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: January 2nd, 2018

“What if the person to be feared is me?”

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Photo Credit: @stephaniebookish

Everless by Sara Holland was an interesting read, but not my favorite. The world building is a bit lacking, so what I will say is our main character Jules lives in a world where time is currency (much like that Justin Timberlake movie In Time) and one never truly knows how much time they have left. Jules and her father used to live on a wealthy estate in Everless as a blacksmith and servant, but one day Jules saves Roan after his brother, Liam, pushed him into a fire, and everything changes for Jules and her father. Years and two different towns later, Jules and her father are in dire need of time and she must go back to Everless to help serve at the royal wedding, but once Jules arrives back in Everless she is wrapped up in a mystery that might explain everything about her past.

As I said, the world building is a bit all over the place and it took me a bit to piece together what was what, but it didn’t take away from the main point in the story, which was figuring out Jules past. Everless is shrouded in mystery and it’s what kept me so engaged, I wanted to know what was happening just as much as Jules.

As for characters, I actually like Jules and her determination. It never felt like she had the wrong motivations when it came to why she chose to go back to Everless and essentially put her life in danger in order to get closer to the Queen. Only once did I question her decisions, which is saying a lot. I do feel that the characters were fleshed out for the most part, but I wouldn’t say I connected with any of them, even Jules. I liked a few of the characters, but most of them were forgettable. Even Roan, who Jules gushes on and on about, is a cardboard cut out of a character. Though I will note that due to the ending of the book this could serve an overarching purpose, but as it stands I couldn’t care less about his character or if he develops an actual personality.

Although Everless reads like your typical YA fantasy and falls into some of the trope traps, Holland does a beautiful job of twisting tropes and conventions that made the story seem fresh. I mean TIME AS CURRENCY, what a horrific thought. Overall, the story fell flat for me and I am afraid over time I will stop caring about the plot and the characters (not that I cared about the characters much, to begin with).
So this ended up being a 3/5 for me.

-Stephanie Teen LTA

The Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

Title: Gunslinger Girl
Author: Lyndsay Ely
Publisher: James Patterson
Published: January 2018

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“Welcome to Cessation, Serendipity Jones. The last place on the continent where you can do whatever the hell you want.”

I am not sure what has come over me, but Westerns are my jam right now and it all started with The Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely! The story itself is actually set in the future, though we aren’t given a concrete time, it’s a time that has surpassed technological advances (think Westworld).

Basically, the story is set in North America after the country went through a devastating Civil War. After the war and a shift in power, a new government was established called CONA and they forced the inhabitants of America to live on separated communes, women are sold for large sums of money due to a high infertility rate, and the world resembles the old west once again. Our main character Serendipity “Pity” Jones is a sharpshooter with big dreams, but her abusive father wants to sell her off. As you can imagine, Pity isn’t having it and she runs off to Cessation, a city considered the seedy underbelly of the world, thus our plot begins to unfold!

I highly recommend this to anyone who is apprehensive about Westerns because it doesn’t read as you’d expect. The beginning is a tad slow, but it’s worth it in the end. The plot moves quickly and there are twists and turns around every corner, you never know who to trust, and the political intrigue is unbelievable. At the same time, this story is quirky and full of imagination. Everyone in Cessation must work for their keep and Pity is tasked to join the theater and use her sharpshooting as the star act. While this sounds epically cheesy, it is so much fun.

My personal favorite aspect of this story? The characters! Each character was fleshed out and unique. I lived for the banter and the theater performances and felt like I wanted this band of misfits as my friends. Did I mention that there is a slow-burning and sweet romance?

Overall I gave The Gunslinger Girl a 4/5 and would highly recommend for anyone looking for an action-packed and thrilling read.

-Stephanie, Teen LTA