The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Spontaneous: A Review

Spontaneous by Aaron StarmerMara Carlyle’s class is thrown into chaos when Katelyn Ogden explodes in the middle of third period calculus. After Katelyn’s untimely demise more seniors start blowing up. After suspecting terrorism, suicide, and other sundry conspiracies, the town of Covington soon realizes that the high school seniors are falling victim to spontaneous combustion.

No one knows why it’s happening. No one knows who might be next.

All Mara and her best friend Tess want to do is make it to graduation in one piece. But that might be harder than they think as students keep popping with no obvious pattern or warning. Mara’s senior year is going to have love, friendship, drugs, and even more explosions than the usual high school drama would suggest in Spontaneous (2016) by Aaron Starmer.

Mara’s first-person narration is dark, no-nonsense, and sometimes blatantly insensitive as she tries to make sense of her friends and classmates blowing up. She deals with the stress and the possibility of her own eventual demise with humor and avoidance.

Starmer’s prose is snappy and substantive. Like many critically acclaimed novels, Spontaneous strikes a good balance between philosophical and absurd. Unfortunately, much of the story also feels like it is being spoon-fed to readers with heavy-handed descriptions and plotting.

Spontaneous isn’t the first quasi-literary YA novel to be written by a male author with a female protagonist. It also won’t be the last. Unfortunately, and this speaks to a number of potential flaws in the text, nothing about this book makes it matter that Mara is a girl. She could be anyone from any background. Nothing about her feels distinct or unique, begging the question why is this her story and not the story of one of the other unlucky seniors at Covington High School?

Throughout the novel, Mara keeps readers at a remove both from herself and from the other characters who populate the novel. While possibly a deliberate decision by Starmer, it does little to endear Mara to readers or generate much interest in her story.

Unfortunately an interesting premise and strong writing are not enough to make Spontaneous a compelling story. Spontaneous is a wacky, macabre novel sure to appeal to fans of Grasshopper Jungle.

Possible Pairings: Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, Hellhole by Gina Damico, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

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

Daughter of Deep Silence: A Review

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie RyanThree people survived when the luxury yacht Persephone sank. Two of them are lying.

Frances Mace knows the truth but at just fourteen, with everyone who ever knew her gone, Frances has no way to contradict the lies being told by the other survivors.

Four years after the disaster, everything about Frances is a lie. Everything about her is a tool meant to help her exact revenge. Frances will stop at nothing to get justice for the victims of the Persephone even if it means giving up the boy she loves and sacrificing her own identity in Daughter of Deep Silence (2015) by Carrie Ryan.

Daughter of Deep Silence is a standalone contemporary thriller reminiscent of the TV show Revenge.

Evocative language and vivid descriptions bring the novel’s South Carolina settings and Frances’ horror-stricken memories of the Persephone to life. Ryan pulls no punches in describing the hardships Frances faced when the Persephone sank nor does she shy away from exploring the post-traumatic stress that obviously plagues Frances four years later.

With rich characters and lavish settings, this story is a classic revenge story with added depth for the main character. Frances’ life is complicated and her sacrifices in pursuing revenge are almost too numerous to count.

Although Frances is a vibrant and strong character, her singular focus and strong personality only serve to underscore the fact that the rest of the characters are thinly drawn. (Shepherd in particularly felt like a prop for most of the story meant to act as a placeholder for Frances’ conscience.)

While Frances’ revenge plot is well-planned, the logic behind it (as well as the truth behind the sinking of the Persephone) both are largely anti-climactic after a book’s worth of build up. Readers seeking a story with more substance and stronger characterization will be left wanting more from this novel.

Daughter of Deep Silence will appeal to readers looking for an edgy, fast-paced revenge story that has its smart moments.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Dial Em for Murder by Marni Bates, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, All Fall Down by Ally Carter,  With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Revenge (TV series)

 

17 and Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.”

17 and Gone by Nova Ren SumaWhen seventeen-year-old Lauren first sees the Missing flyer for Abigail Sinclair, she knows it was left for her. Against all odds, Lauren is certain that she was meant to find this poster, to find out Abigail’s story, maybe even to find her.

As Lauren digs into Abigail’s disappearance she finds out that the missing girl preferred to be called Abby. She hated the summer camp where she was working. And she definitely didn’t just run away.

The problem is no one else seems to care. The more Lauren investigates, the more missing girls she finds. All of them seventeen. All of them gone without a trace. Abby went missing in the summer. But it’s winter now. Any girl could be next. Maybe even Lauren herself.

While trying to find Abby, Lauren will have to face secrets from her past and confront several uncomfortable truths in 17 & Gone (2014) by Nova Ren Suma.

17 & Gone is a chilling blend of suspense and what may or may not be ghosts. As Lauren grapples with the missing girls that are haunting her she also comes to realize that her mind may not be as reliable as she thought. Suma deftly unravels the stories of the missing girls and also examines Lauren’s mental state from a variety of angles.

Eloquent prose and a gripping story come together here in a story that is as literary as it is unexpected. Recommended for readers who like their mysteries to be open-ended and their heroines to be clever and determined.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernard, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Damaged by Amy Reed, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

Grasshopper Jungle: A (Rapid Fire) Review

This is more a critical analysis than a review and is therefore littered with spoilers of varying degrees.

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (2014).

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew SmithBy this point, Grasshopper Jungle needs no introduction having already swept up a variety of accolades including wide critical acclaim, starred reviews, a movie option as well as winning the Boston Globe-Horne Book Award and receiving a Printz honor in 2015.  It is the bright green book that could and has helped mark a well-deserved turning point in Smith’s literary career as he joins the ranks of current hot authors. It is a madcap, diverse, clever book that blends genres, time periods and story lines.

Grasshopper Jungle is also one of those books where I can see all of the things Smith is doing that are clever and smart but I don’t particularly care for or appreciate any of them on a personal level because I am too busy deeply not enjoying it.

The diversity here and Austin being refreshingly whoever the hell he wants to be is great and much needed. Continue reading