What to Say Next: A Review

Kit doesn’t know why she decides to avoid her best friends Annie and Violet at lunch. Or maybe she does. Ever since her father died in a car accident, it feels like no one knows how to talk to Kit or what to say to make it better. No one seems comfortable with Kit’s grief and sadness–not even her own mother.

David is floored when Kit sits at his lunch table–the first time anyone has in the 622 days he has attended Mapleview High School. David doesn’t necessarily mind sitting alone. It’s nice to have some quiet in the middle of a too-noisy day and sometimes it’s too hard to figure out what to say to people without being able to check his notebook to see if they are someone he–and his older sister Mini–thinks David can trust.

Nothing about Kit and David’s friendship makes sense on the outside but Kit appreciates David’s bluntness and his honesty. David, meanwhile, finally feels like he’s found someone who might be okay with David being himself. As they grow closer, Kit asks for David’s help understanding the inevitability (or not) of her father’s death which leads to a truth that might end their friendship forever in What to Say Next (2017) by Julie Buxbaum.

This standalone contemporary novel alternates first person perspective between David and Kit.

David is smart and self-aware despite his lack of emotional intelligence. He knows his limitations and strengths. He also knows how people are likely to perceive him because of his position on the autism spectrum and the coping mechanisms he has employed to continue to function in a sometimes overly stimulating school environment. Kit is still adjusting to life without her father–the parent who was always the one to nurture in the past–while also negotiating life in her small town as a girl who is biracial (Kit’s mother is Indian).

Seeing a neurologically diverse male lead alongside a heroine who is described as curvy and having brown skin is fantastic and makes this an obvious book to highlight and promote. That said, Buxbaum tackles a lot in this novel with varying levels of success.

David and Kit have distinct voices but the way other characters engage with David is often frustrating and demonstrates a fundamental lack of both empathy and understanding a person on the autism spectrum may engage with the world. The fact that David’s behavior is used as a plot point for one of the main conflicts between himself and Kit makes this treatment even more frustrating.

What to Say Next is an entertaining novel with unique characters, an engaging plot, and a cute romance. Readers looking for a quick but substantive diversion will enjoy this story that blends themes of connection with grief and family. Recommended for readers seeking a romance that will broaden their horizons.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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Genuine Fraud: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You stay away long enough, there doesn’t seem like much to go back for.”

Jule is strong.She is athletic. She is resilient.

Imogen is charming. She is wealthy. She is enchanting.

Together Jule and Imogen could be the perfect pair. Or maybe that was never the plan. Whatever Imogen might think, Jule knows that they need each other.

But Jule has everything under control because she is smart. Jule is the one who will save the day, not some great white hetero action hero. Jule knows that she is the center of her story and she’ll do anything to stay there in Genuine Fraud (2017) by E. Lockhart.

This inventive standalone thriller starts at the end. Jule is in Mexico. She’s on the run. And nothing turned out the way she had planned. From there the story unspools toward the beginning and the unlikely twist of fate that set Jule on this path and her collision course with Imogen.

Even knowing how it all ends, this homage to classic thrillers and Victorian novels packs in more than its share of twists and shocking reveals. Like Jule herself Genuine Fraud is shrewd, calculating, and electric.

Possible Pairings: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

Places No One Knows: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.”

“I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them.”

Waverly Camdenmar doesn’t sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can’t think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It’s easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets.

Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It’s been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing.

Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar–a little wary and a little hungry–but never anything more. Not until Waverly’s attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall’s bedroom and everything changes.

Now when the sun comes up Waverly’s carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Yovanoff’s latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall’s first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the way their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters.

Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn’t care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort.

Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn’t want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it’s wrecking him.

 

At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff’s writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story.

Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall’s relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Sun is Also a Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Because everything looks like chaos up close. Daniel thinks it’s a matter of scale. If you pull back far enough and wait for long enough, then order emerges.”

“Maybe their universe is just taking longer to form.”

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonNatasha believes in science and facts. Her life doesn’t have room for fate or destiny. Which is why it’s so hard to hope for a miracle on her last day in New York City. Natasha’s family is going to be deported to Jamaica in twelve hours. Natasha doesn’t believe in long shots but it’s the only shot she has left to try and stay in the city that’s been her home since she was a child. She doesn’t have time to waste meeting a cute boy and maybe falling in love with him. Not when she is so busy trying to balance her practical nature with her hopes for some last-minute magic.

Daniel is used to being a good son. Not the best son because that’s always been his older brother. But solidly second best. Except now his brother screwed up big time and Daniel’s parents are pinning their hopes for having a Successful-Ivy-League-Graduate-Doctor in the family on Daniel. The problem is that Daniel wants to be a poet–something his Korean immigrant parents can’t understand. At. All. Daniel believes in poetry and fate which is why he knows the moment he sees Natasha on the street in Times Square that their lives are about the change forever.

It feels like the universe or fate or something Big is conspiring to bring Natasha and Daniel into each others’ lives. But over the course of a day filled with possibility, neither Natasha nor Daniel is sure if that will be enough to keep them together in The Sun is Also a Star (2016) by Nicola Yoon.

The Sun is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel. It was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has received six starred reviews. (UPDATE:) The Sun is Also a Star also received an honor for the 2017 Printz Award.

All of that is impressive on its own but it’s also important to remember that we often hold contemporary romances like this one up to a higher standard when considering them for awards based on literary merit which makes this book stand out even more as both an exemplar of contemporary romance at its best and also as a generally excellent book.

The Sun is Also a Star is set over the course of one day but the plot is more far-reaching with interconnecting narratives and characters related to each other by six (or even fewer) degrees of separation.

The majority of the novel alternates between Natasha and Daniel’s first person narrations with their distinct voices and world views. Other chapters follow characters who are key to bringing Daniel and Natasha together including a depressed security guard, a subway conductor who has found god, and even Natasha and Daniel’s parents–all chronicled as brief histories. This shifting story maintains a consistent and deliberate voice thanks to the omniscient narrator whose sections contrast well with Natasha’s pragmatic nature and Daniel’s classic dreamer outlook in their respective narrations.

This thoughtful story also nicely subverts some of the traditional gender roles found in contemporary romances. Natasha is an unapologetically smart girl who works hard and knows that life isn’t fair. She is jaded and ambitious. Daniel, meanwhile, is a genuinely nice and optimistic boy who believes in the power of fate even while learning how to make his own choices and stand by them.

Everything in The Sun is Also a Star refers back–sometimes subtly and sometimes not–to the idea of love being a driving force in the universe. All of the tangential characters whose actions work to bring Natasha and Daniel together through happenstance or fate are working on some basis of love–the train conductor who has found god and loves life, the security guard who is lonely and mired in her own lack of love both from others and for herself, the attorney and his paralegal. It’s all love in one form or another. Even Natasha’s father and his actions are driven by his conflict between his love for his family and his love of performing.

Yoon does so many things in The Sun is Also a Star and she does them all well, while making it seem effortless with a combination of literary prose and a deceptively sleek plot. This book juggles multiple characters, narratives, and plot threads to create a coherent story about the many factors bringing Natasha and Daniel together as well as those which are conspiring to keep them apart. It evokes an authentic New York City setting not just a shiny tourist one but the dingy parts too. The Sun is Also a Star does all of that while offering an intellectually stimulating story that still manages to be upbeat and romantic. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Who Needs Magic?: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Who Needs Magic? by Kathy McCulloughDelaney Collins is ready to embrace her inner fairy godmother (f. g.) and grant some big wishes. But three months after granting her first big wish, Delaney is no closer to finding her next client.

Aside from the f. g. confusion, Delaney has high hopes for her summer. She’ll get to spend more quality (read: alone) time with her boyfriend, Flynn. She’s working at a fantastic vintage store with tons of boots she can re-make and re-style. She’s even getting along better with her father despite his tendency to shift into self-help speak and his total lack of help in sharing his f. g. magic-wish-granting ways.

Unfortunately, while Delaney knows that wishes do come true, her dreams of a great summer do not. Flynn is distant, her father is distracted, and Delaney’s powers remain frustratingly mysterious.

When Delaney meets Ariella–an f. g. with a lot more experience (and power)–Delaney starts to feel even more uncertain about her own magic abilities. Delaney will have to work hard to harness her powers and make sense of her life if she wants to get her summer back on track in Who Needs Magic? (2013) by Kathy McCullough.

Who Needs Magic? is the sequel to McCullough’s debut novel Don’t Expect Magic.

Delaney is a tough-talking, no-nonsense girl. She is sarcastic and she wears all black. This contrast between Delaney’s exterior and her fairy-godmother background continues to provide a lot of humor (and some snark) in this second installment.

Delaney’s mother has been dead for longer in this novel, but her grief is sometimes still fresh. McCullough handles Delaney’s mixed feelings about her new life thoughtfully and honestly to create an authentic portrayal of a girl who is still trying to find her way.

Who Needs Magic? is introspective as Delaney tries to balance her personal life with her wish-granting. Moments where she tries to figure out what comes next now that she and Flynn are actually dating add another dimension to this story.

While Who Needs Magic? is a lot of fun, it’s sadly not quite as endearing as Don’t Expect Magic. Delaney loses some of her focus and forward momentum in the face of self-doubt and insecurity forcing her to relearn some important lessons about trusting herself.

Who Needs Magic? is a fun addition to a previously self-contained story. Recommended for fans of the first book. Check out this series if you are fan of fractured and remixed fairy tale tropes.

Possible Pairings: Waiting For You by Susane Colasanti, Donorboy by Brendan Halpin, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

Tell Me Three Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Over email and text, though, I am given those few additional beats I need to be the better, edited version of myself.”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumJessie doesn’t want to live in California. She doesn’t want a new stepmother when her mother’s death two years earlier is still painfully fresh. She can definitely do without her snobby new stepbrother. She hates leaving her best friend behind in Chicago and wishes her dad would try to understand why she’s so upset.

Her new super fancy prep school in Los Angeles is filled with pretentious students, confusion, and very few potential friends. When she receives an email from someone, Somebody/Nobody to be more specific, offering to help her make sense of her perplexing new life Jessie isn’t sure what to think. Is his offer a genuine chance to get some help? Could it be an elaborate prank?

The potential of a new friend and some much-needed information win out. The more Jessie and SN email and text, the more she wants to meet him in person. But as she gets closer to discovering SN’s identity, Jessie also wonders if some mysteries should remain unsolved in Tell Me Three Things (2016) by Julie Buxbaum.

Jessie feels like a stranger in a very strange land when she is thrust into a higher income bracket at her predominantly white private school. This relative privilege is addressed and handled well over the course of the novel while Jessie tries to reconcile her middle class sensibilities with the new luxuries she is starting to enjoy. Jessie’s online friendship with SN and her real life struggles to befriend her classmates serve as another contrast in this story where perception can change everything.

This novel also ruminates on the nature of grief and moving on as Jessie struggles to hold onto memories of her mother while watching her father start a shiny new life. The awkward and often frustrating dynamics of becoming a (reluctantly) blended family add depth to this already absorbing story.

Tell Me Three Things is filled with humor and wit as a sweet romance unfolds. Jessie’s narration features a singular voice with a unique perspective on her surroundings and her new classmates. She is self-aware enough to acknowledge her shortcomings in struggling to reconcile herself to her new step-family and home while also harboring a healthy dose of naiveté about other aspects of her life.

Buxbaum breathes new life into a familiar premise in Tell Me Three Things. Readers may be quicker to guess SN’s identity than Jessie but that journey, like the rest of Jessie’s story, is all the more satisfying for the serendipity and potential near-misses along the way. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, In Real Life by Jessica Love, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia