Book Review: The Love that Split the World

The Love that Split the WorldTitle: The Love that Split the World
Author: Emily Henry
Genres:  Magical Realism
Pages: 390
Publisher: Razorbill
Review Copy: I should start owning stock in Barnes & Noble
Availability: Available Now

Summary: Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.

Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.

That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.

Review: Emily Henry’s debut novel is being marketed as a mix between Friday Night Lights and The Time Traveler’s Wife, and while I haven’t read Friday Night Lights, I did fall in love with The Time Traveler’s Wife so I figured I would most likely enjoy this novel. And I was right. I greatly enjoyed Henry’s novel and found myself lost in the story, trying to discover the mystery of who was Grandmother.

While this novel is being marketed as a romance, I feel like it was more a novel of discovering the self. The story opens with Natalie graduating high school and preparing to leave for Brown University in the fall. She is preparing for her goodbyes from family and friends, yet is also looking forward to beginning a new life. This time of change, for many who decide to go away for school, is a time where you reflect on your life, specifically your high school years, and try to anticipate what your college life will be like. Natalie is going through these emotions, but with an added pressure by her “Grandmother” to save him. Natalie doesn’t know who “he” is, but also learns that “Grandmother” the supernatural being who has been with her, sharing beautiful parables with her throughout her life will also be leaving her. And with that knowledge, Natalie sets out to discover who “Grandmother” really is and what role the old lady plays in her life. Natalie has to look inward, at her past, her childhood, and even look at her heritage, in order to find her answers. To me, this search for self was much more powerful and interesting than the romance. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the romance, but Natalie’s search for understanding herself, understanding her own mind and beginning to take ownership of her ability to manipulate time really connected with me.

Natalie was already on a path of claiming herself and her heritage, she is American Indian and adopted by a White couple, by deciding to forge her own path. Henry did an excellent job portraying the personal tensions that come from when a child is a different heritage from their parents, and she even mentions the complexities of American Indian adoption. I loved that Henry did not pretend that Natalie’s heritage didn’t effect her outlook on life, but that it colored how she viewed her world.  About a year prior to the start of the novel, Natalie has experienced an identity shift where she decides to be true to herself and to stop trying to fit in to a concept of who she should be. She has quit dance and has become more outspoken about many social issues. I think by having Natalie already think about her role in the world and already be on the journey of discovering the self, what she experiences, the growth she undergoes through the novel, helps the reader understand the choice she makes at the end.

One part about this novel I do want to mention is the parables that Grandmother shares with Natalie. Henry did a great job of presenting different types of parables from different American Indian nations and even includes a Biblical parable. Like any elder, the stories Grandmother shares with Natalie not only teach her about different cultures, but also provide lessons and insights into Natalie’s situation, helping her solve the mystery of who Grandmother is and how Natalie needs to save him. Well, not all the parables add to the mystery, sometimes a story is just a story that elders tell to their children, and that is what really endeared me to many of the tories. In her acknowledgements, Henry gave credit to the nation’s stories that she used and it was clear she did proper research.

Recommendation: Overall, I found Henry’s debut very enjoyable and got lost in the story. If you are a fan of time bending romance, this is the book for you.

Review: Juniors

JuniorsTitle:  Juniors
Author: Kaui Hart Hemmings
Genres: contemporary, romance
Pages: 320
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Availability: September 22nd, 2015

Summary: Lea Lane has lived in between all her life. Part Hawaiian, part Mainlander. Perpetual new girl at school. Hanging in the shadow of her actress mother’s spotlight. And now: new resident of the prominent West family’s guest cottage.

Bracing herself for the embarrassment of being her classmates’ latest charity case, Lea is surprised when she starts becoming friends with Will and Whitney West instead—or in the case of gorgeous, unattainable Will, possibly even more than friends. And despite their differences, Whitney and Lea have a lot in common: both are navigating a tangled web of relationships, past disappointments and future hopes. As things heat up with Will, and her friendship with Whitney deepens, Lea has to decide how much she’s willing to change in order to fit into their world. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Juniors is pretty much the perfect spring fling type of book. It’s the kind of book I’d expect to read when the weather’s warm, the sun’s out, and I’m chilling outside.It’s a book filled with luxury, surfing, romance, and, well, more surfing.

The heroine of Juniors, Lea Lane, moves to Hawaii for the last half of her junior year of high school with her actress-on-the-rise single mother. At the start, Lea’s having a hard time adjusting to her new school, setting down roots and making friends. When her mother gets invited by her rich friends to move into their cottage, Lea strikes up a friendship with the friend’s daughter Whitney and starts crushing on Whitney’s brother Will.

Throughout the book, you get a combination of Lea’s life in Hawaii — local culture, beach houses, trekking to the ocean — and her inner struggles. Like any teenager, she’s struggling to figure out who she is, how she fits in, and who her friends are. Her awkwardness, snarky remarks, and her hot-and-cold relationship with her mother were vividly depicted. Lea’s voice is strong throughout the book.

At times, her voice felt a little too real. Lea is certainly not perfect. She has insecurities a-plenty, including ones where she cringes at being thought of less than her rich friends, or viewed as like a maid or a foster child (hello, classism). She regards places that are frequented by locals as kind of sketch, and, like her peers, makes offensive jokes. It was hard to tell whether this was meant to show Lea as a realistic and flawed teen, or meant to be read surface-level (yikes).

Once you move past that — which can be kind of tough — it’s an enjoyable journey with Lea. The book left me wanting to head out to the beach, enjoy the sunset, and live life. The strength of Juniors mostly centers on Lea and her mother, which is one of the best mother-daughter relationships I’ve read in a while.

Ultimately, Juniors was a fun read. Check it out if you want a mostly-light read to pass the time!

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Review: The Weight of Feathers

The Weight of FeathersTitle: The Weight of Feathers
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Romance, Fantasy, Magical Realism
Pages: 320
Publisher: A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin’s Griffin
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: For twenty years, the Palomas and the Corbeaus have been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for over a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows—the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught from birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep can be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees.

Beautifully written, and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

Review: The Weight of Feathers is a beautifully written book that depends not only on a cast of memorable characters but also a vivid, magical world. I purchased this book because I needed something to read on a late-night, three-hour airplane flight, and it kept me entertained the entire time.

The star-crossed lovers setup can lose a lot of its punch when the feud appears ridiculous or is easily circumvented, but Anna-Marie McLemore neatly dodges that trap with the tension between the Palomas and the Corbeaus. With the “inciting incidents” for the feud within living memory for the bulk of each large, tightly knit family, the conflicts feel immediate and raw. Deaths, sabotage, serious injuries, assaults—many members of each family have been perpetrators, victims, or indirectly affected. So when Lace is “cursed” with a feather mark during the disaster at Almendro and gets kicked out of her family, it takes no small amount of courage for her to venture to the Corbeau camp to try to earn her way out of the curse.

McLemore’s strength in creating engaging characters is immediately apparent with our two protagonists, Lace and Cluck. Their circumstances and personalities are well crafted and the arc of their friendship and romance felt believable and appropriately complicated due to their feuding families. There are a number of memorable characters in the supporting cast, though Cluck’s grandfather is easily the most interesting. Due to Lace’s exile, getting to know the other Palomas is a little harder, but I appreciated how McLemore compared and contrasted the two families. It was particularly interesting to me that each family thought the worst of each other, yet both were more than willing to do horrible things to their own people.

While my experience with magical realism is limited, I was immersed in The Weight of Feathers. McLemore created a world where magic ranges from practically mundane things like pairs of mermaid scales on skin or feathers hidden in hair to curses to radical transformations. It feels both surprising and expected at the same time thanks to being grounded by characters who worry about less fantastical things like fitting in, becoming an adult, stage makeup, family abandonment, abuse, and rape.

The Weight of Feathers has a few flaws—luckily, this book hit me at a time where I was in the mood for this style of prose. I imagine others will not be as thrilled, but that is something that can easily be found out by reading the preview chapters on Goodreads. Also, initially I was a little disappointed with the ending confrontation, but upon a second reading of the final chapters, I found myself far more satisfied with it.

Recommendation: Buy it now if you’re a fan of magical realism or star-crossed romances. While The Weight of Feathers isn’t perfect, it is a strong, engaging work that serves as a great introduction to magical realism. I look forward to future works by McLemore.

Where Our Magic Lives: A Queer Latina on Magical Realism at Diversity in YA

Magical Realism & Culture: Author Anna-Marie McLemore at YA Interrrobang

Review: Never Always Sometimes

Title: Never Always Sometimes
Author: Adi Alsaid
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Pages: 308
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Review copy: Purchased by reviewer
Availability: On shelves now


Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

Review: As I started the book, I figured that I knew where it was going. I did anticipate many things accurately, but Alsaid managed to throw some curves in there. I appreciated that he mixed it up a little. The first part of the story is told from Dave’s perspective. I really enjoyed Dave as a character. He’s a nice guy and the comfortable friendship he has with Julia is appealing. They read each others’ silences, know each others’ quirks and have been best friends for years. They seem the picture of soulmates. The torture of being so close yet unable to profess his love, does have its downside though.

This seemed to be gearing up to be a fairly typical romantic comedy as Dave and Julia lightly hopped through their list of Nevers bantering along the way. Humor can be found in many places. Without giving too much away, I will just say there is even a poem that manages to make math sexy. The scene is more than a little bizarre, but definitely has comedic potential for readers.

The romance did not go the way I expected though. First, a third party became involved. Love triangles are not a favorite for me. Also, as the novel progressed, the story switched to Julia’s perspective. That was where I started to lose a little interest. Julia did not have my sympathy. Yes, Dave was a follower so maybe he should have shared the blame in my mind, but he just wasn’t as conceited as Julia. She started the Never list because she didn’t want to be like all those other high school students who were clichés. She looks down on nearly everyone in the school. As their relationship became increasingly complicated, I enjoyed the book less and less. I can’t go into the details of why without spoiling the book, but the second part of the book was not nearly as entertaining as the first. In addition, the conclusion made sense and felt right, but seemed rushed.

Recommendation:  If you like light romances, this might be something that you will want to get soon. It has humor and a romance with unexpected twists and turns. The twists may put you off though. Otherwise, for most readers, this is one I would recommend you borrow someday when you are looking for a bit of a laugh. It was fun, at least for the first part, and was a quick and easy read, but wasn’t particularly outstanding.

Review: Out of Darkness

darknessTitle: Out of Darkness
Author: Ashley Hope Pérez
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 408
Publisher: Carolrhoda LAB
Review Copy: ARC received via NetGalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: “This is East Texas, and there’s lines. Lines you cross, lines you don’t cross. That clear?”

New London, Texas. 1937. Naomi Vargas and Wash Fuller know about the lines in East Texas as well as anyone. They know the signs that mark them. They know the people who enforce them. But sometimes the attraction between two people is so powerful it breaks through even the most entrenched color lines. And the consequences can be explosive.

Ashley Hope Pérez takes the facts of the 1937 New London school explosion—the worst school disaster in American history—as a backdrop for a riveting novel about segregation, love, family, and the forces that destroy people.

Review: I knew walking into this story that I was being set up for tragedy and thought I was prepared; I was not. While the New London school explosion kicks off the final act of the book, the meat of Out of Darkness is centered on Naomi and her struggle to survive in her stepfather’s home as more of a maid than a family member. This is a dark, difficult book, and in addition to the racism mentioned in the summary (which escalates to beatings and lynch mobs), it also deals with topics including child sexual abuse, sexual assault, rape, and marital rape. Ashley Hope Pérez does not pull her punches in Out of Darkness, and it makes for a raw, brutally honest (and brutally bleak) look at systems of inequality, entitlement, religious fervor, toxic masculinity, and other above-mentioned “forces that destroy people.”

Naomi is a compelling narrator, and her character arc from an observer who endures what she can to someone who seeks after friendship and love is mostly a satisfying one. Her grief for her mother and her difficulties in trying to preserve something of her mother for herself while simultaneously sharing those memories with Beto and Cari can be heartbreaking. While Pérez also enlists other points of view, such as Wash, Henry (Naomi’s stepfather/the twins’ father), and Beto, some of her most memorable scenes have multiple or first-person-plural points of view (e.g., Naomi and Wash, The Gang). “The Gang” scenes are particularly interesting as we get an outside look at what the other kids at school think of what’s going on with the main characters and provide a feel for the mood of the oil town. Wash’s constant negotiations between how he was expected to act around white people and what he actually wanted to do made for some great (and tense) character moments. I also liked the glimpses we got into Beto’s personality and his struggle with his father’s expectations of what a man ought to be.

I really enjoyed the development of Naomi and Wash’s romance and felt that the transition from strangers to friends to lovers was a comfortable process, despite the many social (and personal) forces arrayed against them. Pérez did not shy away from having Naomi experience sexual desire or giving her a loving, respectful, sexual relationship with Wash, which is something to be appreciated in romantic plotlines.

Despite all of the many things I enjoyed or appreciated about Out of Darkness, I will admit that the ending soured the experience for me. There isn’t much I can discuss that won’t spoil the ending, so I’ll simply say that the hope spot offered between two fraught, potentially tragic moments felt like a cheap setup for shock. I disliked the epilogue immensely, mostly because it struck me as a last-minute patch to lessen the impact of what had happened and thus finished the story angry instead of sad-but-hopeful/moved/etc.

Recommendation: Get it soon if you are a big fan of dark historical fiction and tragedy, but borrow it someday otherwise. While Pérez offers engaging protagonists, heartwarming romance, interesting prose, and complicated sibling relationships in the midst of an unflinching look at racism and other systems of oppression, the ending of the book felt like it was written primarily for shock value. Undoubtedly, readers’ opinions will vary on this point, as will how it influences their opinion of the book overall.

NBC interview with Juan Castillo about Out of Darkness

Conversation with Edi Campbell about Out of Darkness and growing up

Review: Everything, Everything

EverythingTitle: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 320
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Review Copy: ARC received via NetGalley
Availability: Available September 1, 2015

Summary: This innovative, heartfelt debut novel tells the story of a girl who’s literally allergic to the outside world. When a new family moves in next door, she begins a complicated romance that challenges everything she’s ever known. The narrative unfolds via vignettes, diary entries, texts, charts, lists, illustrations, and more.

My disease is as rare as it is famous. Basically, I’m allergic to the world. I don’t leave my house, have not left my house in seventeen years. The only people I ever see are my mom and my nurse, Carla.

But then one day, a moving truck arrives next door. I look out my window, and I see him. He’s tall, lean and wearing all black—black T-shirt, black jeans, black sneakers, and a black knit cap that covers his hair completely. He catches me looking and stares at me. I stare right back. His name is Olly.

Maybe we can’t predict the future, but we can predict some things. For example, I am certainly going to fall in love with Olly. It’s almost certainly going to be a disaster.

Review: I was surprised by how quickly I was charmed by Madeline Whittier (AKA Maddie), the biracial heroine of Everything, Everything. The first person point-of-view, which was threaded through with wit, loneliness, and later a fierce longing for the outside world—and Olly—combined with the sometimes cute, sometimes painful, but often hilarious illustrations/book reviews/etc. made for a heroine with a compelling personality and unique voice. Due to Maddie’s Severe Combined Immunodeficiency diagnosis, the bulk of the book’s action took place within her childhood home, online, or via the view from the windows, which furthered the intimacy of Maddie and her story. I looked forward to every commute so I could read more, which is definitely a win in my book.

Carla and Olly were the two other standout characters in this book, though I was particularly fond of Carla. Her mixture of roles as nurse and companion provided Maddie with face-to-face friendship, a sounding board, and a co-conspirator. I loved the affection Maddie and Carla had for one another, especially when Carla repeatedly proved she wanted Maddie to be happy. As for Olly, once I got over how quickly he and Maddie fell for each other, I grew to like him a great deal. He isn’t as interesting as Maddie, troubled family situation notwithstanding, but he fulfilled his role in the story and had several wonderful moments—both friendship-wise and romantic—with our heroine.

However, I do have one major concern with the story, which is practically impossible to discuss without ruining the book. (I did a brief search for other reviews, and the event in question appears as divisive as I anticipated it would be.) Suffice it to say, I came down slightly more on the side of thinking this event was a “cheat” as opposed to a paradigm shift that I enjoyed. It left a somewhat bitter aftertaste, but many other people seemed to love it, so your mileage will vary. I would love to see a contributor at Disability in Kidlit tackle this book, actually, for a more informed opinion. Edit: Here is Disability in Kidlit’s review of the book, which I suggest you read.

Recommendation: Get it soon if quick, sweet romances are your thing. Nicola Yoon’s prose and David Yoon’s illustrations have created a lovely portrait of a young woman who deals with both isolation and love so deep it can be painful. Maddie is a wonderful character, and her involvement with Olly hits many of the best romance notes. Unfortunately, the ending of this book kept me from completely loving the story, but I am still looking forward to Yoon’s next book.

“YA author Nicola Yoon on diversity and her new novel, Everything, Everything by MJ Franklin

“Ask the Author: Nicola Yoon” by Alice Reeds