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Monday, October 26, 2015

Things I've Read Recently (22): Laina Rants Too Much Edition

If you're new around here, Things I've Read Recently is a series of posts I do that are basically mini-reviews of books that I either forgot to review, didn't have enough to say for a full review, or just didn't want to do a full post about for whatever reason. Sometimes it's a way for me to write a more free-form review, as well, if I'm not as good at sticking to the "mini" thing.

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman

Published: August 11th, 2009 by Wendy Lamb Books
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 217
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): It's off-season at the Jersey shore. The boardwalk belongs to the locals—including Rosie and Skate, sisters who are a year apart in age but couldn't be more different. Rosie's fifteen, shy, and waiting for her life to begin. Skate, sixteen, is tougher and knows what she wants.

Rosie still believes in their widowed father, a likable drunk, who is spending a few months in jail for petty theft. Skate thinks he's hopeless. Rosie wants to experience her first love and is drawn to Nick, a boy in her support group. Skate and her boyfriend, Perry, are madly in love - inseparable. But this fall Perry goes off to college, leaving Skate behind.

Thoughts: I don't know, guys. I think this is one of those books I wanted to like more than I did. I didn't dislike it or anything, and there were parts of it that I liked a lot. I loved the boardwalk setting. It's so cool seeing the "off-season" setting especially, because I don't feel like I read that a lot. We have a lot of tourism where I live, and I do know the attitude of "town people versus lake people", for example, but this kind of tourism town is much different than what I experience. The setting is very vibrant and very real.

I liked the relationship between Skate and Rosie, but I would have loved more scenes with them together. The book is through alternating POVs between them, but they don't connect as often as I would have liked. I would have loved to have seen more of their relationship, because they don't have a ton of time together, just being sisters. Their stories didn't connect as often as I would have liked.

Honestly, I wasn't sold on some of the romance of the book. It felt like that romance and an alcoholic father and a sister relationship is just... kind of too much to cram into 200 pages, and one of the romances, in particular, just did not work for me. It kind of came out of nowhere, and I was sitting there going "can these girls not have one male friend who doesn't want in their pants?" And I love romance! But it was just... it was too much, I think.

Also, dude. The first time either of the sisters talk about their cousin Angie, they feel the need to mention she's "pretty, but a little chubby" (and that is a quote), and of course she decided to diet and attempt to lose weight. Why is chubby a "but" to being pretty? Why can't she be chubby AND pretty? Why can't you have one chubby or fat character in the book who's okay with their body? I expect better from you, modern YA! Body diversity! Lose the fat hate!

I don't regret reading this one, and someone recommended another book by the author, but I think maybe this was just not the book for me. Maybe I'm too sensitive. I did enjoy the attitude about sex in the book. In general, it was treated like something that was okay for the characters, and an individual decision for each person. *sigh* I hate writing reviews like this where I'm so wishy-washy!

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb

Published: February 13th, 2007 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 232 plus an afterword and the acknowledgements
Part of a series? No.
Got via: Also the library.
Amazon / AbeBooks / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): "If she dies, I'll die," are the words 15-year-old Mia Perlman writes in her journal the night her mother is diagnosed with cancer. Twelve days later, Mia's mother is dead, and Mia, her older sister, and their father must find a way to live on in the face of sudden, unfathomable loss.

For Mia, this means getting through a funeral led by a rabbi who belongs in Las Vegas; dealing with a social worker who appears to have been educated at the local beauty academy; sharing "healthy heart" meals with her father, who seems to be seeing her for the first time; trying to relate to her sister, whose idea of fun is solving quadtratic equations; and developing a crush on Cancer Guy, who is actually kind of cute. But mostly it means carrying the image of her mother with her everywhere, because some kinds of love never die. Still, even in grief there is the chance for new beginnings.

Thoughts: This one is interesting. I was kind of expecting something a little different, but I liked it more than I thought I would. For a book about grief and the loss of a mother, this one isn't rip your heart out sad. It could be because I haven't lost a parent to death, while books where best friends die hit a little more close to home because of my history (see, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, Saving June, Love You Hate You Miss You), but I've read other books that have made me cry with this subject. I'm realizing as I'm typing this that it's a spoiler so feel free to skip the next paragraph if you haven't read the Young Wizards series, although frankly that book is ten years old, does it really count as a spoiler at this point. But when I re-read them recently, I found the arc of Nita losing her mother very poignant, and it choked me up several times.

So I think that this book didn't make me bawl my eyes out is actually something about this book - I didn't mind that at all, though. Obviously there are some sad moments, but there is also humour in it, even at the darker times. It's just not one of those books where the grief is stifling and makes you cry so hard you can't see the words, which I think works. I think it's a different view of the mourning process, and probably a lot of people will relate to that.

I really enjoyed how Mia's family grew closer to each other as the novel progresses, and how their family changes and adapts. The book is broken up in a way that's really unique. There are eight unnumbered "chapters", and the first chapter has little sections within that while the rest don't. I liked how Mia daydreamed all the time, and was a little silly, and a little lost.

Things I didn't like were definitely how her sister occasionally slutshamed, and the "heart-healthy" stuff kind of made me twitchy, although I think that's more me than anything. It was just a little much. (One character claims to be allergic to white flour, but not whole wheat. Yeesh.) I also, honestly, didn't think it needed to be set in 1991. The afterword says that the author lost her own mother in 1991, and I understand that, but modern YA set in the 90s is an odd thing to me. I'm almost twenty-three and I was born in 1992. I didn't even understand all the references in this book - is that really a thing that appeals to teen readers of today, or is it just us older readers/authors being in our own comfort zones? It didn't seem essential for it to be set in 1991 beyond that it was emotional for the author. That's strange to me.

This got long! All in all, this one surprised me. It was different, and I really enjoyed it. The characters were good, the writing was beautiful, and it's good to see Jewish characters. (Mia's mother was Jewish, but Mia's immediate family didn't really observe - her mother had a complicated relationship with faith that I thought was wonderfully explored.) There were also some very nice female relationships, and the romance was really sweet and cute, but didn't overwhelm the plot, or Mia's growth, or healing. Thumbs up, basically.

The Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Robin Palmer

Published: June 27th, 2013 by Speak
Genre: Contemporary YA
Binding: Paperback
Page Count: 386 in my copy plus advertisments for other books and whatnot.
Part of a series? Nope.
Got via: The library.
Amazon / AbeBooks / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): Sixteen-year-old Annabelle Jacobs never asked to be famous, but as the daughter of Janie Jacobs, one of the biggest TV stars in the world, she is. Growing up is hard enough. Having to do it in public because your mother is a famous actress? Even harder. When your mom crashes and burns after her DUI mug shot is splashed across the internet? Definitely not fun. Then your mom falls for a guy so much younger than she that it would be more appropriate for you to be dating him? That’s just a train wreck waiting to happen.

Thoughts: Okay, before I say anything else - that guy, Billy, is 26. Annabelle only turns 16 halfway through the book. In what world, Goodreads, is it more appropriate for a 26 year old guy to date a BARELY sixteen year old than an over-forty woman? What world, Goodreads? This is why I don't trust you!

*exhales* Okay, I'm alright now. I'm good.

This one kind of surprised me. I had some issues with it, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. I'll knock my biggest issue out first, yeah? And that was that throughout the book, there's just this sneaky little thread of fat hate. Like, why does the only fat kid gotta be a loud, kind of gross eater? Why, when a character is hesitant to talk about his home life, is one of the things Annabelle thinks he could be ashamed of that his mother might be "obesely overweight"? Like, really, his mom's fat so he won't let you in the house??? Why are you so casual about eating disorders and use your emotional eating friend (who also apparently has an eating disorder that you just don't care about?) as a punchline???

Like I realize that this is a book about Hollywood, and Hollywood isn't exactly kind to fat bodies, but why do you do that to your fat readers? Fat readers already know that people hate them because of their bodies. Do the books they read need to reinforce that? Really?

The good in this - actually, putting it in this post helps because I was comparing it some to Rosie and Skate. There are romances in both, but in this one, the romance doesn't even begin until two hundred pages in. The other aspects of the book and Annabelle's life are allowed to grow organically without shoehorning a romance in. Annabelle being able to open up to any relationship is a sign of her healing, as she struggles to let people in at all, be it in a romantic sense or just in a friendship way. Her relationships with her friends, with her romantic interest, with her mother, with herself, all are given time to grow and bloom. (Although, dude, chill with the insta-love a little.)

I also liked that, despite that weird summary that is not on the back of the book, there is never any inappropriateness between Annabelle and Billy. There are boundaries and Billy wouldn't cross them. At one point, he calls her gorgeous while giving her guy advice (it's a very sweet scene), and then immediately checks to make sure that it didn't make her uncomfortable and reassure her that he didn't mean it in a way that was sexual or anything. They were linked because of her mother, but he also just likes her and treats her very well, and it's very refreshing to see a relationship like that not go a bad place, or have any ulterior motives.

Also, even comparing this one to Rosie and Skate, where I liked the Al-Anon/Alateen/whatever (I can't remember the exact name it was called in that and I returned the book) angle, I like it a lot better in this. Something about it is more... natural, I guess. Since the book is almost four hundred pages, everything just has more room.

Man, I liked most of this so much that the parts I didn't like really annoy me! Slightly more frivolously, I think all the pop culture references date the book, even though it's only 2 years old (who uses FourSquare anymore? What's Hipstamatic?), and that will continue to get worse as the book gets older. But the thing I disliked most is just the casual bigotry. Besides the fat jokes, and the eating disorder jokes, there's also a line where the book makes a joke that is essentially riffing on the idea that a boy could have a boyfriend and also be into girls. Bisexual people exist! This isn't a wild concept here!

Like, I understand that most people reading books like this aren't really going to see these things, but I think that's kind of a problem in society. We accept jokes that use people as the punchline far too often, and we don't speak up and say, "Hey, not okay." Then those people run into these jokes and it affirms to them that "Yes, the world hates me". When I start talking about these things, I always sound like a buzzkill, but I don't like being the butt of a joke just by existing, and that's what these sort of "jokes" are. They're, "Haha, bisexual people don't exist, boys don't have boyfriends if they're not gay" or "Haha, fat people exist and boys with fat moms should be so ashamed of them they shouldn't let their potential girlfriends into their houses".

We just shouldn't accept these things as harmless, or funny, because they become such a part of society that people grow up thinking the problem is them, not society, not the jokes. And part of that for me, is that despite how much I did like this of book, I have to spend most of my review talking about things I didn't like, and it loses major points with me because of these things. I don't expect books to be perfect, but I expect them to be better than this. I expect to be able to read books and not be told that if I have kids one day, they should be ashamed to bring dates home to meet me because I'm fat. I expect better.

Should I cut this off at three because it's so long?

Oh, you know what. I just wanna mention these two real quick, so we'll do this.

Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken

Published: January 1st, 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian
Binding: A giant, humongous hardcover
Page Count: 507 plus acknowledgments
Part of a series? Yes, it's book two of The Darkest Minds series.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

I have decided not to put summaries of these because they are series books, and I don't want to spoil if you haven't read the first one. If you want to see my thoughts on the first one, check that out here.

Also, how pretty is this cover? It's shiny silver in real life, but yes, very very pretty.

In the Afterlight by Alexandra Bracken

Published: October 28th, 2014th by Disney-Hyperion
Genre: YA Science Fiction/Dystopian.
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 535 plus acknowledgements.
Part of a series? Book 3 of the Darkest Minds series. There are also 2 novellas in the series which were released originally as ebooks, and there will be a bind-up of those two novellas plus a new third released in print in October 2015. That's exciting!
Got via: The library.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Thoughts: I really enjoyed this series. I don't personally read a lot of ebooks, so I haven't read the novellas, but it'll be exciting when they're released as a bind-up!

These actually have to go back to the library in like... two hours, so I'm not gonna go into a ton of detail here. Suffice to say, I enjoyed this series, although I probably shouldn't have ordered it in hardcover because wow, heavy, and I'm glad I read them.

Thanks for reading if you made it through all that ranting!

Peace and cookies,

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