No traveling pants, but still a good read | The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares [ARC]

The Whole Thing TogetherRay and Sasha are more or less part of the same family. They grew up in the same house, with the same sisters, in the same bedroom…but they’ve never met. A long time ago, Ray’s mom used to be married to Sasha’s dad. A nasty divorce and two remarriages later, Ray and Sasha were born. 17 years later, their¬†worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things than¬†JUST¬†The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I honestly haven’t read anything else by her. I remembered really like that series though, so I decided to give this one a shot since it had a really intriguing premise to me. Right away, I really enjoyed the writing. The narration and dialogue all flowed together really well and the writing made the book very easy to read. The plot wasn’t super predictable, but there also wasn’t much that happened that was super surprising. This book is more about the characters anyway.

Family dynamics are very interesting. I’m going to say that it’s impossible for a family to be completely drama-free and the family in this book is definitely not an exception. The narration rotates between the five kids: the original three sisters (Emma, Quinn, and Mattie) and the new kids (Ray and Sasha). That, at times, got confusing for me. I was reading a digital ARC and sometimes there wasn’t a clear indicator that the book was changing narrators–I hope that’s something that is fixed or different in the physical book. That being said, if the narrators had very different tones or voices, this wouldn’t have been so confusing. Unfortunately, all of the narrators pretty much sound alike. It was very difficult to tell them apart just from the language. The only signals we get are from context.

The good thing about having so many narrators, though, is that I really felt like I got to know each of the siblings on a pretty deep level. If there had just been one or two narrators, we would have only gotten to know the other characters on a superficial level from our narrator’s perspective. I enjoyed getting to know how characters were perceived but then also having the internal viewpoint for each of them. I expected to not like at least one of the siblings, but I honestly really came to care for each of them in separate ways. Obviously they each had some less desirable traits, but I was willing to overlook them because I felt like I knew each of them on a deeper level so those things didn’t matter.

The only kind of negative thing that really stood out to me was that Jaime’s family seemed a little random. They had a ton of drama as well, but then they’re not really explored at all. I would have either liked more exploration there, or less description of it.

After reading (and pretty much loving) this book, I was surprised to see that there were many negative reviews for this book on Goodreads. One reviewer in particular (who admits to being a straight, white, female) thought that this book displayed “blatant sexism, body-shaming of all sorts, stereotyping, and some racism”. While I could see her points, I just wanted to give my two cents on some of those things. I’m also straight and female, but I’m only a quarter white so I might have a slightly different perspective.

“Blatant Sexism”. The reviewer points out a section of the book where one of our main characters, Ray, is looking at another character’s body–specifically her chest. The reviewer’s response: “This is a direct example of the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that results in the normalization of rape and sexual assault. What could Ray do? Well I’ll tell you–he could have not looked down at Sasha’s dress, and kept his eyes to himself…” I see her point and I’m not at all trivializing the normalization of rape and sexual assault that is happening. However, I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day. It was a rerun for¬†This American Life (great podcast if you’re not already a subscriber). It was an episode completely about testosterone (listen here). In one of the sections the reporter was interviewing a transgender man about his transition. As part of the¬†transition, he had to be injected with a very high dosage of testosterone. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how he thought about women pre-transition (and testosterone) versus post. There was a stark difference. Obviously, we all have agency and can make our own choices, right? However, as a woman, I felt that my eyes were opened to this chemical thing that happens in boys that doesn’t happen in girls that I really had no idea about. It seems apparent to me that it’s not just a moral or ethical thing, but that natural chemicals and hormones are coming into play as well. I guess what my point is, is that even though I agree that Ray shouldn’t have been looking at Sasha’s chest, I¬†don’t feel that this interaction was necessarily out of place. I was uncomfortable when I read it too, but I’m not necessarily angry at Brashares for including it–I feel like I get it.

“Some Racism”. The reviewer describes her frustration that an Indian American man (actually he was raised in Canada)¬†is stereotypically a “tech genius”. Just as an aside here, I thought he was in finance, but I could have gotten that wrong. Another reviewer criticized the fact that this same character, Robert, was really trying to downplay the fact that he was Indian and wanted nothing more than to be just like all the white men out there. I can see why that’s bothersome, but I feel like we need to look at the overall context here. He was adopted by white parents and it sounded like he was raised in a white community. So from that perspective, it makes sense that he might not identify as being Indian–he wasn’t raised that way. In addition, it can be frustrating for people to make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance (I speak from personal experience here). I can understand why Robert would want to be “as white as possible” (for lack of a better term) since that’s more or less what he identifies as.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the negative comments that have been made about this book. I think a lot of the problems that people have with this book just need to be viewed in the appropriate context instead of being taken out and examined under a microscope. I, personally, was not offended by the book as a woman or as a person of color–in fact, I actually really enjoyed it! I’ll allow you to judge for yourself, but I don’t think these negative reviews should be enough to keep you from reading it if you would have picked it up otherwise.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate (some drinking and some underage smoking)
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit).

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Somebody stop me from reading more books from this publisher | Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L Purdy [ARC]

Incriminating DatingAyla wants to make a difference at her school and the only real way to do that is by becoming class president. Unfortunately, that means running against the resident popular, mean girl who has been class president pretty much since Kindergarten. When Ayla catches golden boy Luke Pressler defacing public property, she sees her opportunity to get in with the popular crowd. If she blackmails Luke and his friends to support her, she could actually win this election. Unfortunately, what began as simply business threatens to become more as she starts to develop actual feelings for Luke. Ayla knows it’s stupid because he would never feel the same way about her, right?

I know I’ve talked about this before on here, but WHY DO I KEEP READING BOOKS FROM THIS PUBLISHER. They always have promising premises, but then they never payoff. I just need to learn my lesson and STAY AWAY. Seriously, next time I’m going to read one of these please, somebody stop me.

I liked Luke as a character but Ayla was just too much. I found her overbearing, judgmental, and more than a little self-righteous. To be honest, I’m not totally sure what Luke sees in her, but whatever. Luke had a surprisingly in-depth backstory and I feel like it was given enough screen time to really get to know who he is. Without giving anything away, I do question the plausibility of some things that happen towards the end…but maybe it’s a really big town.

The plot is predictably infuriating. Lack of communication leads to all kinds of drama, etc., etc. Also, characters really need to learn how to passcode protect their phones. That’s pretty much all I have to say about the plot. It’s all just very blah. The antagonist throughout the whole thing is a girl named Jenna Lee who is the cardboard mean girl that makes her way into most of these books. We get nothing from her as far as motivations go–she’s just mean for no reason. So that doesn’t really help to drive the plot forward much or make it more interesting.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. There are plenty of other “blackmailed into dating” books to read if you’re interested in that trope. I’d say give this one a hard PASS.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Deaf Graffiti Artist Hates Everyone | You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner [ARC]

You're Welcome, UniverseJulia was only trying to defend her best friend and if somebody also appreciated her awesome graf, then so be it. Unfortunately, that same best friend ratted her out to the school administration and Julia is expelled from her deaf school and forced to go to a normal public school. Now she’s trying to avoid her new interpreter, Casey, while lying low so her moms don’t find out that she’s trying to plan a graffiti masterpiece for the underpass. When someone starts tagging her work, Julia becomes obsessed with figuring out who this new graffiti artist thinks they are.

So many feelings about this book… First I’ll say that the writing was fast-paced and punchy which made the flow really fun to read. I also thought that the insight into deaf life was really interesting. I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to say “signed” every time somebody said something. Characters just had normal conversations, but since they were deaf I imagined them signing without the author having to tell me explicitly that that’s what they were doing. I also liked the illustrations included throughout the book and the emoticons that Julia used were a fun touch as well.

That’s about all the positive things I have to say about this book unfortunately. Julia reminded me a lot of Parker from Eric Lindstrom’s Not If I See You First. They were both just so angry as characters. I didn’t really understand where all of Julia’s anger came from. She was very quick to judge other characters and overall I thought she was very selfish with almost no development throughout the story. I mean, she calls her new best friend YP (short for Yoga Pants) throughout the whole book. We literally never learn her name.¬†A couple times Julia just refers to her as “Pants”. Is this for real? That’s so demeaning! And her friend is apparently just okay with this? No thanks.

Julia’s relationship with her old best friend, Sydney, is strange from the start. Julia apparently feels really protective of her. So much so that she graffitis the school. But then her friend rats her out and Julia goes from protective to hating her best friend’s guts. That just doesn’t feel like a genuine relationship at all and only seemed to serve as a way to kick off the story and get the plot going.

My last issue is about the distribution of diversity in this story. I’m all for diversity in YA, but we have this one character who has a disability, is a minority, and also has two moms. It just seems a bit much for one person? I’m not saying that one person can’t have this many diverse characteristics, and the author more or less incorporated each one into the character’s previous development, but it just seems like all of the diversity is concentrated around Julia. She’s surrounded by white characters (with the exception being one of her moms) and even though Sydney is technically also deaf, she has Cochlear Implants so she’s basically a “hearie” according to Julia. It just would have felt more real if the diversity was spread out a little bit more. Share the love!

Lastly, the plot was just kind of there. It was a little confusing and not the most compelling, but it was alright. I didn’t really understand why YP’s ex-boyfriend got so much screen time, but whatever. I would have liked to have had her issues explored a bit more. She had an eating disorder, but then overcame it. But now she’s getting bullied and she has this weird relationship with her ex. But Julia’s so focused on herself that we never get to see what’s going on with YP or figure out why her dad bakes so much. The last thing I have to say about the plot is that the conflict between Julia and YP towards the end felt forced.

Overall, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book. The main character is just too angry and I felt so bothered every time I saw the letters “YP” on the page. I think it’s great that the author is trying to write a book with a deaf main character, but I would recommend Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson over this one (my review here).

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: None
Sexual Content: Moderate. There’s one scene in particular (not too explicit) that came out of nowhere and literally had no impact on moving the plot forward.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hang on while I plan my trip to Tokyo real quick | Seven Days of You by Cecelia Vinesse [ARC]

Seven Days of YouSophia has always known that her days in Tokyo were numbered. Her mom is a professor at Rutgers University who has been on an extended sabbatical for the last four years. Sophia’s about to leave the only friends she’s ever known, the only place that has ever really felt like home, and the boy that she’s been crushing on basically since she got to Tokyo. Then she hears that Jamie’s coming back to town and she can’t wait to leave just so she doesn’t have to face him. Unfortunately, he’s set to fly in a whole week before she leaves.¬†Now there are T-Minus seven days until New Jersey but only seven minutes until she has to see Jamie again and Sophia is panicking.

This book totally surprised me in a mostly good way. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. First of all, I need to fly to Tokyo as soon as possible and eat all the food. ALL THE FOOD. Different foods were mentioned so frequently in this book and I was repeatedly looking up what they were and everything looked delicious. That being said, we don’t really get that big of a glimpse of Tokyo beyond the food and the weather. I would have liked a little more in that department to really set the right tone and atmosphere. Every once in a while Sophia would say, “I’ll really miss this [insert architecture feature/landmark]” and then that was about it. It almost felt like the author had never actually been to Tokyo though I’m sure that’s not the case. Another thing that didn’t really help in this area is that basically all of our characters are white (except for Mika and her family I think). Even random people on the street I kept picturing as being white–we might as well have been in the United States (but maybe that’s more my imagination’s fault than the author’s).

The characters were messy and had depth but even so, they were less than realistic. I mean, maybe that’s how ex-pat teens in Tokyo live? That’s the only explanation I can think of. We see a fair amount of Sophia’s mom, but most of their exchanges are through text and we mostly just get descriptions of Mika, David, and Jamie’s parents. The lack of parental supervision really bothered me. They’re all staying out until four in the morning, traipsing all around Tokyo, and doing a lot of underage drinking and while we’re told that some parents care, nothing is done about it. Seriously. Nobody gets grounded once?

I thought this book was interesting from the perspective that we’re coming into the lives of these characters at a time when everything is changing. There’s a lot of backstory and emotions that we’re just kind of thrown into when the story starts. Somehow it works though. I felt like I got a handle on who the characters were pretty quickly. A secondary character that especially intrigued me was Sophia’s sister, Alison. I thought their relationship was very interesting. As someone who has a not-super-close relationship and completely different personalities from her sister, I felt that I could relate to their dynamic in some ways. I liked that we could see Alison’s protective side coming out and in the end it was definitely apparent that they both care for each other.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. While the romance did happen quickly, I could buy it because of the history between the characters. I felt that Sophia was a very real and likable character and I loved that she’s super into Physics (hooray for a portrayal of a smart girl being normal!). On the other hand, there was too much swearing and underage drinking throughout the book for my taste and I wish that the adults hadn’t been villainized.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy. A lot of underage drinking.
Sexual Content: Moderate, nothing explicit.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Queen of the Tearling series by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling series

I have something to get off my chest…these are not YA books. They’re classified all over the place as YA, but they truly are not. They’ve got a completely different tone (you can just tell they’re meant for older audiences) and the content would not be appropriate for most teenagers. Now that that’s been said, I only read the first two books in this trilogy and I really had to drag myself through them. I felt that the first book had a promising beginning, but then we start to learn more about the world and its history and the main character herself…basically everything just starts to get SUPER confusing.

The plot moves very slowly and the second book has a ton of flashbacks which just serves to make the plot even slower and things in general to become more confusing. I’m sure everything starts to make more sense in the third book, but I just can’t do it. Getting through the first two books was hard enough and I just can’t do a third one.

I felt like the characters were complex and, for the most part, interesting. The only problem was that there were so many of them. There are a lot of names being tossed around and I had a hard time keeping track of anyone who wasn’t Kelsea, Mace, or Pen. I don’t know, maybe my problem is just the genre in general. Maybe I’m just not meant to read fantasy (or would this be classified as high fantasy?)

This is what I’ll say about them. The second book leaves you with this massive cliffhanger, but I have no desire to find out how the story ends. I just don’t care enough to force myself to read the last book.

The Queen of the Tearling/The Invasion of the Tearling
Overall Ratings: 3/3
Language: Heavy/Heavy
Violence: Extreme/Extreme
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate/Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate/Heavy (the second book deals a lot with a physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually abusive relationship)

Teenage Girl Obsesses Over Siblings Who May or May Not Be Witches | The Graces by Laura Eve [ARC]

The GracesRiver is new to town and is trying to find her place at her new high school. She watches the Grace siblings from afar and plots how she might be able to become a part of their crowd. They never keep the same friends for long, but River is determined to show them that she is the one they’ve been waiting for. When Summer Grace finally notices her, River knows that she will do whatever it takes to keep the Graces from dropping her like they’ve dropped so many of their peers. She wants the Graces to teach her about magic and how to be a witch. In particular, she wants Fenrin Grace to notice her and (ideally) to fall in love with her. As River gets deeper in with the Graces, she starts to learn some of the family secrets. As it turns out, the Graces lives aren’t as charmed as everyone seems to think they are.

This book was strange for so many reasons. First of all, let me just say that I quite liked the writing. I thought it was beautiful and gripping and I was drawn into the story from the very first chapter. The setting¬†descriptions were also incredible. Even though we didn’t get that much of a description of the town, I still feel like I can picture it. Then, when we get to the Graces’ house and the rooms are described…seriously. AMAZING. The writing also did a good job of creating this kind of creepy/unsettling atmosphere. There’s obviously something wrong. Something weird happened to River and her mom before they came to town, but we only get bits and pieces of what it was as the book progresses. The writing was kind of the book’s one redeeming quality that kept it from being a 2/5 for me.

First of all, some of these characters¬†definitely sound familiar (*cough* Twilight *cough*). But seriously! River’s so obsessed with this unnaturally beautiful, confident, and alluring group of siblings and the parents are just as beautiful and the kids never really interact with any of their peers and they’re so mysterious and BLAH BLAH BLAH. PLEASE. Spare me. I honestly would LOVE to read a book where the main character just completely sees through all of that¬†BS. And don’t even get me started on River drooling over Fenrin. But okay, I’ll get into it. There comes a point where River is worried that Summer will think River only wanted to become friends with her to get close to Fenrin which¬†she¬†protests is not the case. But actually…that’s exactly what happened! I mean, it’s true that River wanted to be noticed by any of the Graces–she just wanted to be part of their group. But the whole time her main focus is completely on Fenrin. And he doesn’t even sound that great! Aside from being a Grace and being extremely good-looking (allegedly) what does this guy have going for him? I’m sure he has other qualities, but the reader is not told about any of them. Every time River sees him she’s just drooling over his good looks. That, my friends, is not what I want to read about.

River as a main character is not very likable, though I’m not sure that she’s supposed to be. The Graces were fine if not very three-dimensional. I couldn’t help but try to imagine the Graces as real teenagers in a real high school and, I’m sorry, I’m just not buying it. Maybe in Europe, but in the United States, NOBODY IS LIKE THAT. Then there’s River’s mom who is another unbelievable character. Talk about taking the absent parent bit to the max.

Plotwise…there wasn’t really a plot. Like there kind of was…but not REALLY. Mainly we’re just watching River try to make herself indispensable to the Graces the whole book. Then there are a couple of twists near the end, but I honestly saw them both coming. I wanted so badly for the book to take an UNEXPECTED turn, but I was to be disappointed. Then the book just kind of ends? But then there’s going to be a sequel…I’ll be honest, I was not expecting a sequel. I have no idea what could possibly happen in the next book and I’m not entirely sure that I care.

Overall, I think this author has a lot of potential. I would definitely read another book by her as long as there were different characters and a better plot, etc. Some people may end up really liking this book, but I just don’t fall into that camp.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Angsty Teenagers and The Bubblegum Reaper (Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick [ARC])

Every Exquisite ThingNanette is a typical high school girl. She’s co-captain of the soccer team, goes shopping with her mother on the weekends, and sometimes enjoys school. When her favorite teacher, Mr. Graves, gives her an out-of-print cult classic for Christmas, everything changes for Nanette. She develops a friendship with the quirky and reclusive author and starts to rethink all of the choices that she’s made in her life. Soon Nanette has quit the soccer team (with much cursing and bird flipping) and starts talking in the third person (as suggested by her therapist). As Nanette continues to reread¬†The Bubblegum Reaper she will try to figure out what, exactly, she’s supposed to do with the rest of her life.

I’ll admit, I’m surprised that I requested this book on NetGalley as I don’t really feel like it’s my kind of book. But then The NOVL sent me a copy in the mail too and so I had to read it. I thought this book had a lot of really great ideas in it. The whole book within a book is very meta and it added an interesting layer to the overall story. I liked the “quotes” that the characters would mention because you think about them in the ¬†context of what’s happening in the story, but then you also start thinking about them in general too.

The characters were really lacking to me. They all just seemed a little too much–too extreme. I don’t think there were any characters that were just normal. Having a “normal” character isn’t a necessity, but when all of the other characters are so extreme, the “normal” character gives readers the opportunity to catch their breath a bit. All of the relationships in this book were very strange to me too but that might also be due to my overall dislike for the characters.

The plot was okay. I felt like it was really supposed to be reflective of the plot from The Bubblegum Reaper but then at times it was really different. In the end, it really just felt like nothing had happened. Sure, Nanette grew as a character, but not as much as I think she should have.

Overall, I’m not sure how this book compares to his other books. The writing was quirky and had a distinct tone, but everything else about the book was just okay for me. I get the feeling, though, that if you generally like this author, you’ll probably like this book too.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Heavy
Violence: Moderate. A couple characters are physically bullied.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Heavy. Talked about a lot, but no really explicit descriptions.

Note: I received this book free from both NetGalley and The NOVL Newsletter in exchange for an honest review.