Tuesday Reviews Day: Never Let Me Sleep, Jennifer Brozek

I really wanted to enjoy this book. The blurb was amazing, and the guest post I read by the author on Chuck Wendig’s blog really pumped me up. It seemed like it was going to fling itself into my Top 10 YA books, which is hard to do (especially considering most of the list is filled with heavyweight trilogies).

This book was … disappointing. I do not enjoy writing bad reviews so I’ll keep this short and as painless as possible. I almost hope Brozek doesn’t read this.

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Melissa Allen, a teenager in a small town in South Dakota, goes to sleep. She wakes up the next morning to find that everyone in the state has mysteriously died in their sleep, her sister and brother-in-law included. On top of all this, Melissa is on house arrest, she’s supposed to be at the doctor soon, and her meds are almost gone …. is it possible she’s to blame for her family’s deaths, and the rest of it is just all in her head?

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Literally the only thing I liked about this book was the main character isn’t the picture of perfection; she’s on probation and suffers from mental and emotional disorders, but even that isn’t well-executed (not to mention, based on the cover art, she’s still a gorgeous blonde with perfect skin and a runway-ready body that I seriously doubt belongs to a 14-year-old). There’s a LOT of telling, not much showing, and I really hate that phrase so I’ll go into what I mean here. The main character (whose name I literally already forgot, she’s so flat) explains a couple times what happens to her during her episodes, which is interesting and seems well-researched. When she has to explain to someone else the need to go back for her lost meds, though, it seems like she’s reading from one of those old-school Pill Books that lists all the side effects and interactions of every pill. It felt like reading Wikipedia, not like listening to a 14-year-old explain something she finds obvious to someone who should know better.

The story never really touches on what caused her to develop these conditions, even though it’s implied that she wasn’t born with them. (Also, why the hell was she in juvie in the first place? Did I miss that part, or… ?) The one traumatic event in her life is explicitly stated to have exacerbated but not caused the problems. And the twist hinted at in the blurb (Is the apocalypse real? Or did she kill her guardians and hallucinate it all?) is only barely mentioned, certainly not mined to its full potential. It comes into play only in the last five pages or so, and is quickly hand-waved aside.

Finally, the horror reveal comes too early and is too obvious. By the time you ‘see’ the monster, you basically already know what it is, and honestly, it’s kind of stupid. It’s so implausible and what explanation we get is reaching and still comes up thin and unlikely.

I didn’t even bother purchasing the second two books.

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How I found it: Guest post on an author blog
Genre: Young adult; sci-fi; horror
Does it pass the Bechdel test? No
Is it a standalone? No
So what worked? You can tell there’s a tiny morsel of a good idea buried in here, and I wanted so badly for the author to reach in and grab it and run with it, but she never did. This story has massive potential, none of it realized.
What didn’t work? The utterly flat main character (for several reasons), the unconvincing monsters, the thin veneer of resolution, the pacing, etc. etc.

Overall: I haven’t been quite so disappointed in a book in awhile. It’s also the first trilogy I’ve utterly given up on. I can’t with this book. The author makes an effort at the quick pacing of many popular writers but it seems to get away from her. The main character is not well developed and it seems she was only given a mental illness in an effort to perform diversity, but it comes across as pandering and patronizing. This one is a definite skip.

Tuesday Reviews Day: Bitch Planet, Vol. 1 by KellySue Deconnick and Valentine De Landro

Last week’s taste of comics made me want to dive into them even more, so I’ve added several to my TBR list, though it’s not clear when I’ll get around to purchasing them, let alone reading them. I did get one off my list for Christmas though, and predictably tore through it in a sitting. I seriously cannot wait for the next volume.

I’m a little late to the Bitch Planet party, mainly because I am nothing if not impatient. Like the ladies at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I prefer to wait for collections to come out and binge them all at once. So, finally, I’m on the train, and I can tell you with certainty I am never getting off it.

Note: This book contains graphic violence, strong language, and frequent nudity, and this review will feature images from the comic. While these topics do not personally offend me, I understand that some people may be uncomfortable with them. Please use your discretion and consider your limits before reading this review or this comic.

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Continue reading

A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

Tuesday Reviews Day: Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi

I’m ahead of the game! This has never happened before but I’m trying to keep it up. This review is actually for a novel I started before Christmas, so I’m three books past this already! Whew.

This is one of the first graphic novels I’ve read in a long time, and it was so fun. I love the mixture of prose and images and what it says about the novel. More about that later just to avoid any possible spoilers.

Chasing Shadows also fits into my No-SWCM Reading Challenge, and it made me realize I’m probably not doing this challenge right. Yeah, I’ve cut out all the SWCM authors from my reading list, but I’m still reading predominantly white authors, even if they are female. Avasthi, of course, is not white, but I realize now that I need to broaden my horizons even more. I’ve gotten some really great recommendations for works by PoC, but if you have one you’re dying to tell me about, preach its gospel in the comments!

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Savitri, her boyfriend Corey, and his twin sister Holly are the closest friends can get. They do everything together. When they’re not in school, they’re cutting new paths along the rooftops of Chicago, taming the city and making it their own.

After an afternoon freerunning session, the twins become the target of a hooded gunman, who kills Corey and leaves Holly in a coma.

Savitri and Holly are left to pick up the pieces and deal with their loss—and their survivor’s guilt—in their own ways. But when Holly wakes from her coma, she’s not the same person, and she’s eager to get revenge on the gunman. Sav struggles with the loss of her boyfriend, the slow fade of her best friend, and whether it’s possible to hold on too tight—and for too long.

A panel from Chasing Shadows; art by Craig Phillips

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; contemporary realism; graphic novel
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I like the complexity of the girls’ friendship. It isn’t just the tragedy that comes between them; the difference between their cultures cause issues that Holly seems to be blind to. I like the implications that has for their relationship, the subtle addressing of white privilege and how that can affect interracial friendships in sometimes surprising ways.

I loved the graphic portions of the novel and, as I mentioned before, their symbolism. The appearance of images coincides with and really signals Holly’s descent into madness as she struggles to parse this new reality without her twin.

And of course, I also like the pull-no-punches way the novel deals with violence and how it ripples out and affects so many people. It treats the grieving process and mental illness carefully but truthfully; people grieve in different ways and on different timelines, and none of them are wrong. And mental illness can manifest in startling and unexpected ways, but it’s important to try to recognize the signs in your loved ones and be sure they’re taking care of themselves. Sav thinks she’s helping by withdrawing when Holly pushes her away, when the reality is that Sav should have done anything but. Of course, every situation is not the same, every response is not the right one, and the novel does a great job of showing that.
What didn’t work? It seemed strange at times that the parents of any of the children were not more visible, more involved. Josh’s mom in particular seems either willfully or woefully ignorant of what’s going on with her son. Granted, the teens are all seniors in high school who can obviously drive themselves and (generally speaking) conduct themselves responsibly, and granted, this does touch on the book’s theme of dealing with grief. Many people, I’m sure, do withdraw from their families and their other children when facing the loss of a child. But all the parents were strangely absent for the majority of the story, and that struck me as slightly odd, especially for Savitri, who seems to have a strong relationship with her mom that really wasn’t displayed.

Overall: It’s a very emotionally dense read, so it took me longer to get through this than I anticipated. I occasionally had to take a step back from it, but that’s not a critique in the slightest. I loved the way it drew me in and then tore me apart. I got so invested in the characters I found myself taking things personally, even after I started disliking some of them and the way they handled things. I liked that it wasn’t some happy-go-lucky BS that wraps up with rainbows and flowers as if nothing bad ever happened. And of course, I’m a sucker for symbolism, especially when extended through a whole work like this, so the graphic element and what it meant for the story really amped up my enjoyment of it. Very, very effective.

This book is heavy. I’d assign it trigger warnings for violence and mental illness at the very least, because I want you to go into this book fully aware of what you’re getting into. But I want you to read this, because what this book has to say about life, love, and loss is utterly critical.

Tuesday Reviews Day: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Tuesday Reviews Day returns for 2016! I’m ahead of the game this year and I’m hoping to keep it that way. Look forward to some more YA reviews, plus a roundup in March of my No-SWCM Authors reading challenge. I’ll link you to all the reviews I wrote from March 2015 through March 2016, and hopefully have a few additional recommendations for my TBR pile and yours.

We’re kicking off 2016’s year of reviews with Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour.

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High school seniors and BFFs Emi and Charlotte are navigating the final months before graduation and college, juggling exams, crushes, breakups and jobs designing sets at a film studio. Emi’s brother leaves the girls his apartment while he’s traveling on business, but only if they do something “epic” with it.

When the girls get the chance to shop at a famous actor’s estate sale with their boss, they stumble upon a letter the late actor had written to his child no one knew existed. Emi and Charlotte seek out the woman to deliver the letter and fulfill the actor’s final wishes, but they learn she’s passed away, leaving behind a small child in the care of her best friend. The journey to find the lost granddaughter and set things right ends up changing more than the girls thought it would.

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How I found it: Book Riot YA box #03
Genre: Young adult; LGBT romance; bildungsroman
Does it pass the Bechdel test? Yes
Is it a standalone? Yes
So what worked? I liked the diverse cast of characters that managed to not make a huge deal out of its diversity; the character development was believable and even relatable at times. The writing style was beautiful, fittingly cinematic, and easy to get lost in, like a daydream. The ending wasn’t perfect, but when are they ever? It fit the story and it was a GOOD ending.
What didn’t work? While it wasn’t the most amazing book I’ve ever read, it was a really nice read. I don’t recall any part of it that I would have liked to see changed, no matter how much I hated Emi’s ex… [angry face here]

Overall: Someone I recommended the book to said that she liked it but it wouldn’t change her life. I can see that. It’s a romance, after all, and in my reading experience romances kind of are what they are. But for me, this book felt like a refreshing swim or a brisk walk in the woods. It was calm, relaxing, quiet. It was excellent for getting me back in the reading spirit, especially since the book I read immediately before it was pretty disappointing. The writing itself was beautiful, and it ran the gamut of emotions without feeling forced or rushed. This seems like the type of book that almost everyone will enjoy.

New year, new plans

For the last couple of years, I’ve made some resolutions that have been a little outside the box, I suppose you could say. For 2014, I resolved to become the person I used to be. Yes, to some that sounds a bit odd, I’m sure, but somehow after college I started morphing into this quiet hermit of a person who wasn’t intrusive, wasn’t offensive, wasn’t obnoxious. Wasn’t anything, really.

But, you say, isn’t it good not to be offensive?

Of course! I don’t mean storming around shouting swear words in church or racial slurs in crowds or anything like that. I mean, I started going out of my way never to hurt anyone’s feelings in the slightest, even when that meant withholding necessary truths or even allowing myself to be hurt. I wanted to be the person I used to be, because I used to be someone who was outgoing, confident, funny, adventurous… but I suddenly realized I’d become the opposite of all those things. I don’t know when it started or why, but I knew I hated it and wanted to change.

So in 2014 I decided to start identifying places in my life where I’d allowed myself to become a doormat again, and either change my own behavior or start cutting out the people who abused my silence.

I got a tattoo.

In 2015, I made a more concrete resolution: Stop giving other people so much control of my thoughts and actions.

It’s good, to an extent, to care about what others think of you. Really, isn’t that what stops us from doing a lot of things we really want to do but shouldn’t? Like finishing that box of donuts by yourself or texting your ex or fill-in-the-blank. It helps us keep the reputation we want. I don’t want people to think I’m a cruel and heartless person, but I also don’t want them to think I’m easily manipulated, waiting to be used for their purposes.

I forced myself to sit down and think about the areas of my life where other people’s opinions didn’t and shouldn’t matter:

  • My appearance
  • My career goals
  • My educational goals
  • My writing
  • Our family planning decisions

It’s stupid, I know, but I was letting worry over what people thought of me and my choices dictate almost everything I did. I didn’t get another tattoo in 2015 (I wanted to) but we did buy a new house and a new car and make plans for me to go back to school, plans I’ll be acting on very soon.

I got two new piercings. (Just my ears, piercings are the worst)

I dyed my hair every color I could think of, sometimes changing it multiple times a month. It’s now a point of conversation when I see someone at work that I’ve not run into in a few weeks.

So for 2016, I’m continuing in the same theme. This year, I’m going to stop coddling everyone around me at my own expense. I’m not going to cause needless drama or seek out confrontation, but I’ve spent the last several years bowing my head and biting my tongue and hiding my tears when what I really should have done was say what needed to be said, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. The truth really does hurt, even when you choose not to expose it. I could go in depth about what brought me to this decision, but it was a hard one to make, so I’ve spent enough time already trying to parse it.

Women's Do No Harm Shirt

My mantra for 2016. Buy the shirt here.

I feel I’m making the right choice. It’s time to stop putting myself last just so everyone else feels safe and happy no matter what. It’s time to stop excusing every offense with phrases like “that’s just the way s/he is” and “it’s okay, I don’t mind” or “things will be different next time.” But what’s right isn’t always easy, so I know this year’s resolution may be more difficult than last year’s. But I think there are better and brighter things ahead, and I’m excited to see them arrive.