Flashback Review: Tiny Pretty Things

With the release of Shiny Broken Pieces, the sequel to Tiny Pretty Things, coming out next week, we here at Rich in Color thought it would be fun to reflect on the first book to get ready for the sequel we’ve been waiting forever for.


tinyTitle: Tiny Pretty Things
Author: Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 448
Publisher: HarperTeen
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: In bookstores now

Summary: Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars in this soapy, drama-packed novel featuring diverse characters who will do anything to be the prima at their elite ballet school.

Gigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette’s desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Review:  I haven’t seen or read Pretty Little Liars, but have seen Black Swan so I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Tiny Pretty Things. I remembered the intensity of the ballet company in Black Swan, so I imagined that the competition between the three lead characters in Tiny Pretty Things would be intense. What I didn’t expect, because I was Pretty Little Liars ignorant, would be the level of “mean girlness” that existed by a few members of the ballet academy. Either way, I was so involved with the story that I sacrificed sleep to finish it. And then…that ending! Thank goodness there is a sequel because that ending was just cruel to readers with such a cliffhanger.  But I digress…

Tiny Pretty Things just killed me – in a good way. Seriously. It’s been a bit since I read it and  Gigi, Bette and June are still with me. I was so into the world that Ms. Charaipotra and Ms. Clayton created that during some true OMG moments, I had to remind myself that it was a novel. That some of the characters really wouldn’t behave that way in real life. That ballet academies are not as cut-throat as what is depicted in movies such as Black Swan and in the novel (at least I hope). But, at no time did I ever want to put the book down and take a break from all of the backstabbing and manipulation that was going on. No, I was intrigued to find out what would happen next and try to figure out which character really did what. I do love that I could never figure it out, and as one who loves to solve a mystery but is disappointed once I figure out before the characters do, I was glad that I was continually kept guessing. In fact, in reference to the cliffhanger, I still have no idea what happened. When I read the last page, I was irritated because I wanted the second book already. I needed to know what happened next. I wasn’t actually ready to leave Gigi, Bette and June behind. And that is the hallmark of a great, fun novel.

Within the YA sphere there has been discussion about creating unlikable characters, especially female unlikeable characters, and whether or not the readers will connect with said character. In Tiny Pretty Things, there are a number of female characters that the reader just loves to hate! These characters are not one dimensional, mustache twirly villains, they are complex characters whose reasons for doing the bad things they do make sense to them. Even though the characters are unlikeable, and people I really would not want to be around in person, I was still able to feel for them, connect with them because Ms. Charaipotra and Ms. Clayton, made me understand them and even empathize them. I am of the camp that YA writers should write unlikeable female characters because unlikeable girls/women do exist, but also for readers to allow themselves to stretch their compassion muscles and understand people for both the good and the bad decision they make. I salute Ms. Charaipotra and Ms. Clayton for not holding back in their creations of Gigi, Bette and June because if all three girls were sweet, model perfect ballerinas the story would have been very boring. Instead Gigi, Bette and June are interesting characters that made me feel for them all sorts of feelings – compassion, joy, anger, hate. But most of all I saw them as distinct young women each trying their hardest to achieve their dream of becoming a prima ballerina. Those three characters make Tiny Pretty Things the amazing, intense novel that it is and why I’m anxiously waiting for the sequel.

Recommendation: Go get it now so you can read it by Tuesday!

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Book Review: Away Running

Away RunningTitle: Away Running
Author: David Wright & Luc Bouchard
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 297
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Review Copy: Copy from publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Matt and Free discover the dark side of the City of Light.

Neither Matt nor Free ever imagined they would be playing American football in Paris, especially with a team from the poverty-stricken suburb called Villeneuve. Nothing in Matt’s privileged Montreal background has prepared him for the racial tension he encounters. And Free just wants to play football and forget what’s going on back home in Texas.

Review: Before I went to Paris I had a conversation with a writer friend about the Black ex-patriots who lived in Paris during the Harlem Renaissance because they felt that Black Americans were more accepted there than in the US. My friend asked, “so there is no racism in Paris?” Both my traveling buddy and I responded at the same time, “There is, but it’s different, especially towards Black Americans.” We went on to explain the racial tension that existed toward North Africans and other immigrants who live in Paris and how, for some reason, Black Americans were treated differently. So, when I received the email from David Wright about reviewing his book, I got excited because a) it was set in Paris and I was excited to relive through words a city I come to fall in love with, and b) the theme of the novel explored the very topic of my conversation with my friend.

I remember watching with horror and dismay at all the nights of riots that occurred in Paris after the three boys were electrocuted, which is the event Away Running is based on. Touched by the event, Wright and Bouchard chose to tell the story of the three boys and the rising tensions that led to the riots through the eyes of Freeman (Free) Behanzin and Mathieu (Matt) Dumas. Both young men are football stars in their hometowns on the brink of playing college ball. They also feel weighted down by family pressures and see their time in Paris as an opportunity to vacation while spending time doing something they loved. What they receive is an education that changes them greatly.

Instead of starting with the tragic event that causes the riots, Wright and Bouchard have us spend time getting to know the three boys in their friendship with Free and Matt. At the beginning, I wasn’t too fond of Matt because his privilege, even though he went to join the Villeneuve team specifically, was flat out annoying. His complete ignorance towards race and people of color experience life was expected because I knew that was part of his growth, however his inner thoughts towards Free really got on my nerves. He would judge/make fun of the way Free would talk in English and in French. He was making the same judgements towards Free that irritated him when other people would judge his Villeneuve friends. Though, Free did eventually call him on it, but I felt there was a missed opportunity for Matt to reflect on what Free said to him. I feel like some moments within Matt’s head as he grows to understand race and privilege through everything he experiences would have endeared me towards him more. Free also had to explore his own prejudice through the novel as he had preconceived notions about Arabs that bordered on Islamaphobia. His comes from his own personal experience with his father being deployed in Iraq, however, he does come to the realization that he is wrong and changes his views. It is through a touching moment with a friend’s father that really changes Freeman.

I like books that don’t insult the reader, books that don’t sugar coat the ugliness of life, and I’m glad that Wright and Bouchard chose to show the reality of life for North Africans living in Paris. When people think of Paris, they think of the beautiful City of Lights (and it is) but there are also dark parts to it that if you focus on just glittering city, you can miss what the true city is like. I remember taking note of some of the darker parts, the riots actually on my mind, so this novel brought all of those thoughts back. Wright and Bouchard did not hold back in showing the ugly racism that exists and how there are basically two sides to Paris. Both Matt and Free, because of their privilege (Free is there initially through a student exchange program and lives with a host family) live in the neighborhoods of Paris that we see in movies with the quaint architecture and beautiful streets. Villeneuve is the opposite of that, and the way the residents are treated is deplorable. Wright and Bouchard could have chosen to soften the blow, but they didn’t. The racist experiences Matt and Free witness (and experience), including the riots, are brutal and raw. The authors respect their readers, as they respect their characters, by giving us what life is really like in the City of Lights.

Recommendation: If you love football and or love Paris, this is a good book for you.

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Mini-Review: Seven Ways We Lie

SevenWaysTitle: Seven Ways We Lie
Author: Riley Redgate
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 352
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review copy: Library
Availability: March 8th, 2016

Summary: Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—whether it’s Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage; or Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: The title kind of gives it away, even if you don’t read the jacket — Seven Ways We Lie is told through the perspectives of seven students, all different in their voices, cliques, and even sexuality (a pleasant surprise). At first, it’s a lot to juggle, but once you settle into the story, that’s when the going gets good. It’s a fun and arresting read, if a little stressful thanks to the ever present mystery of the teacher-student affair and its consequences.

I was initially worried a bit about the LGBTQIA representation, but each character is written in a vivid and engaging way, so my worries were mostly put to rest. I’d be very curious to see what someone with more knowledge of Autism and neurodivergence has to say about Valentine’s portrayal.

Seven Ways We Lie manages to tackle a wide variety of issues, and for the most part, incorporates them smoothly. There were moments when certain lines rang familiar — either they were wonderfully relatable, or too much like a text post from Tumblr. But generally, the issues were handled much better than they usually are in YA. It was refreshing to read.

If you’re looking for a contemporary YA to read, this is it. Seven Ways We Lie will gobble up your time and leave you wishing for more of this band of seven students. Grab it when you get the chance!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

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Review: Secrets, Lies & Scandals

Secrets Lies and ScandalsTitle: Secrets, Lies, & Scandals
Author: Amanda K. Morgan
Genres: Contemporary, Thriller
Pages: 352
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC received from publisher
Availability: Available July 5

Summary: In the tradition of I Know What You Did Last Summer and How to Get Away with Murder, five teens must overcome their paranoia in order to keep their teacher’s death a secret in this fast-paced suspense thriller.

Nothing ruins summer vacation like a secret…especially when it involves a dead teacher.

Ivy used to be on top of the social ladder, until her ex made that all go away. She has a chance to be Queen Bee again, but only if the rest of the group can keep quiet.

Tyler has always been a bad boy, but lately he’s been running low on second chances. There’s no way he’s going to lose everything because someone couldn’t keep their mouth shut.

Kinley wouldn’t describe herself as perfect, though everyone else would. But perfection comes at a price, and there is nothing she wouldn’t do to keep her perfect record—one that doesn’t include murder charges.

Mattie is only in town for the summer. He wasn’t looking to make friends, and he definitely wasn’t looking to be involved in a murder. He’s also not looking to be riddled with guilt for the rest of his life…but to prevent that he’ll have to turn them all in.

Cade couldn’t care less about the body, or about the pact to keep the secret. The only way to be innocent is for someone else to be found guilty. Now he just has to decide who that someone will be.

With the police hot on the case, they don’t have much time to figure out how to trust each other. But in order to take the lead, you have to be first in line…and that’s the quickest way to get stabbed in the back.

Review: I wanted to like Secrets, Lies, & Scandals more than I did, especially since I’m sure there will be many people who love it. A lot of my disappointment stems from specific-to-me pet peeves; other disappointments are less subjective.

Amanda K. Morgan did an admirable job of giving the five students distinct voices and points of view in the alternating, sometimes fragmented story. Only Kinley and Cade are people of color, but they are allowed a proportionate amount of chapters. The strict adherence to the established chapter order (Ivy, Mattie, Kinley, Tyler, Cade) felt like a misstep on occasion, but the short chapters enhanced the overall pace of the book, as did the short timeline. Roughly three weeks pass between the death of their teacher and the end of the book, so there is little time to linger on anything—or really feel like characters or relationships are allowed to develop properly.

Perhaps it is just my aro/ace self talking, but I just did not understand how two (two!) couples could (pseudo-)form under the stress of killing a teacher, disposing of the body, trying not to get caught, and contemplating throwing everyone else under the bus, but it happens in Secrets. (One of the characters does lampshade the fact that they’re making out approximately twenty feet from their teacher’s not-yet-cold corpse, but that just made me want to throw the book. Can we maybe put romance and hormones on hold for a couple hours? Please? There are actually more important things to be done and to worry about right now, I promise.) I wish both developing romances had been excised entirely in order to give more space for each character’s secrets/lies/scandals, because those were far more interesting, and some were woefully underdeveloped. The ending (and epilogue with a new narrator) is an exercise in frustration, where things are resolved too easily and then tanked at the last second (as a sequel hook?).

I also had several representation issues I had with the book. Stratford, the evil teacher, is repeatedly referred to as having an uneven gait and smile, and while those are both plot relevant (barely), it pinged pretty high for me on the “doesn’t-conform-to-societal-beauty-standards = evil” trope. I wasn’t that thrilled when a character lied about having a disability, either, in order to try to cover up some other wrongdoing. Another thing that frustrated me was the discovery that a character was bisexual—which was almost immediately followed up by the revelation that the character had cheated on their prior partner. To top all that off, another character’s secret is about severe mental illness in their family, and how rage, insanity, and murder are now part of their “family’s legacy.”

Recommendation: Just skip it. While there are some good things about the premise and the writing, they were overshadowed by a number of pet peeves and representation issues.

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Review: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

3P JKT Geeks_Guide.indd Title: The Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love
Author: Sarvenaz Tash
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Genres: Contemporary, Comedy, Romance
Pages: 252
Review copy: Purchased
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: John Hughes meets Comic Con in this hilarious, unabashedly romantic coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to get his best friend to fall in love with him.

Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy…

Archie and Veronica…

Althena and Noth…

. . . Graham and Roxy?

Graham met his best friend, Roxana, when he moved into her neighborhood eight years ago, and she asked him which Hogwarts house he’d be sorted into. Graham has been in love with her ever since.

But now they’re sixteen, still neighbors, still best friends. And Graham and Roxy share more than ever—moving on from their Harry Potter obsession to a serious love of comic books.

When Graham learns that the creator of their favorite comic, The Althena Chronicles, is making a rare appearance at this year’s New York Comic Con, he knows he must score tickets. And the event inspires Graham to come up with the perfect plan to tell Roxy how he really feels about her. He’s got three days to woo his best friend at the coolest, kookiest con full of superheroes and supervillains. But no one at a comic book convention is who they appear to be . . . even Roxy. And Graham is starting to realize fictional love stories are way less complicated than real-life ones.

Review: I truly appreciated the laughs and smiles Sarvenaz Tash provided me through this book. I’ve never been to a Comic Con, but have been to multiple Anime conventions with my youngest child. Panels, costume contests, Artist Alley, standing in lines and many other things reminded me of our experiences although we never ventured into speed dating. Clearly, other readers would appreciate the Comic Con setting more than this 40 something mom, but even if I missed some of the references, the book was a ton of fun. Graham and his friends are seriously geeky and they revel in it. This book is a complete celebration of geekiness.

The author did a great job with the setting. The characters are moving through a vivid place. I had to laugh when Graham walks toward a hot dog stand and “almost get my eyes gouged out by a selfie stick being flailed around by a guy running after an almost-seven-foot-tall Darth Vader, shouting ‘Lord Vader!'” There are many interactions with unique individuals and most of the interchanges are amusing. One in particular was hilarious and involves lines from The Princess Bride. No spoilers here, but rest assured, there are plenty of humorous references to comics, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Princess Bride, The Lord of the Rings, Dr. Who, Zelda, Sherlock and the like.

With such an environment, Graham’s plan seems foolproof. Their friendship began with shared readings of Harry Potter and graduated to creating comics together. The NY Comic Con is packed with so many of their shared obsessions and memories. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, many funny and not so funny things happen to throw off Graham’s plans and deal him some crushing blows. Through it all, Graham has supportive friends both new and old. This set of geeky friends are diverse and distinctly themselves. They’re charming more often than not and make this a wonderful book for a light summer read.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re even the slightest bit geeky and want a fun book for summer relaxation.

Extra:

Sneak peek at 1st two chapters + Giveaway

Blog Tour + Giveaway

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Review: This is Where It Ends

This Is Where It EndsTitle: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary:
10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

 

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Review: Make no mistake, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel is a tough read. It is a read that, on my first reading, I sped through in one night because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was so caught up in the fight for survival for the characters that I couldn’t put the book down. My heart broke many times during that first read, and I even cried at the end (in fact, I cried at the end a second time). On my second read, while I knew what was coming, I still felt the horrors of the shooting in my gut. This is Where It Ends is the type of novel that will stay with you for a long time after; it’s one of those books where you allow the lives of the characters to linger with you for a few days before you move onto the next book.

This is Where It Ends is told through the eyes four characters who all, in some way, have a relationship with the shooter. Autumn is the shooter’s younger sister, Sylvia (Sylv) is Autumn’s girlfriend whom the shooter despises, Tomas is Sylv’s twin brother who has an antagonistic relationship with the shooter, and Claire is the shooter’s ex-girlfriend.  Autumn and Sylvia are in the school auditorium when Tyler, the shooter, begins his rampage. Tomas and Claire are outside in various locations of the school, hearing the gunshots, and both, in their own way, work to try to save the lives of their classmates and family. The story is a mix of present events and flashbacks as each of the characters reflect on their relationship with Tyler and wonder what they could have done to prevent his current actions, well except for Tomas. All he wants to do is protect his sister, and once he realizes who the shooter is, his focus is on getting people out safely and finding a way to end Tyler’s rampage.

The use of the four narratives worked well in creating realistic portrayal of such an horrific event and was an excellent device to create a full picture of Tyler. While he is clearly the antagonist of this story who betrays the love of his sister and former girlfriend, by seeing him through the eyes of people who knew and loved (and even hated) him, we get a picture of a troubled young man instead of a “mustache twirling” villain. We are also able to have moments of “levity” as we spend time with Claire and Tomas who are outside trying to help. Their terror and fear is different than Autumn’s and Sylvia’s in that Claire & Tomas are focusing their energy trying to help. This positive energy gives the reader a sense of purpose instead of being stuck in a state of terror if the reader were to be with Autumn and Sylv the entire time, because the way Nijkamp writes the auditorium scenes, it is truly terrifying. Tyler shoots without discrimination, without remorse, and characters like that leave a chill down a person’s back.

Marieke Nijkamp’s novel is timely as it allows us, those of us who have only experienced a shooting through the lens of the media, to feel the terror that shooting victims experience, the fear family members face as they wait to hear about the safety of their loved ones, and the betrayal that friends and family members of the shooter feel, for they are victims too. No one is safe in Nijkamp’s novel and the death toll is quite high, but I mourned each and every character’s death. I felt the pain Autumn, Sylv, Tomas and Claire felt and their fear. This is Where It Ends is a moving novel and a reflection of the turbulent times we are living in.

Recommendation: Get it now!

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