Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

30653853Title: THE UPSIDE OF UNREQUITED
Author: Becky Albertalli
Release Date: April 2017
Pages: 336
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)
Review on Goodreads

This was such a light, charming read! I finished it in two days because I simply could not put it down!

Molly Peskin-Suso is a seventeen-year-old girl who has had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. She’s funny, tenacious, artistic – and fat. She’s not looking to lose weight or get a makeover. Molly generally has no issues with her body, but she’s uncomfortable with how other people might react to it. This has made her hesitant when it comes to relationships. Considering the rampant fatphobia in our culture, this is a perfectly reasonable reaction. The Upside of Unrequited chronicles Molly’s adventures as she and her twin sister Cassie both find their first significant others.

There is so much diversity in this book. Cassie is a lesbian. Molly and Cassie’s parents are an interracial gay couple. Cassie’s girlfriend Mina is Korean and pansexual. And on and on. The variety of people encountered in this book is stunning, which renders it realistic and believable. Something the author does that I very much appreciate – and that is rarely seen in books – is describe characters as “white.” Often it is only non-white characters who are described by their ethnicity or skin color, which leads to white characters being the default in the narrative. Albertalli deliberately subverts this, which was refreshing!

I also appreciated the layers and complexity to various characters. This isn’t a Utopia and people aren’t perfect. Molly’s grandmother, despite being vocally supportive of her daughter’s bisexuality, makes off-kilter racist and fatphobic comments. Cassie and Molly can both be selfish and self-centered (which makes sense, given that they’re twins!). Their aunt Nadine, a single lady with four dogs, is homophobic. The characters felt like they could be real people. In that same vein, the dialogue was excellent! The teens sound like teens, and the adults sound like adults. The conversations are never stilted or awkward, even though at times Albertalli will emphasize the pauses and stutters that can occur in real conversations.

The main criticism I’ve seen surrounding this book is its alleged obsession with boys and boyfriends and being in a relationship, and that the main character appears to only find self-worth once she’s in a relationship. While I understand that viewpoint, I can’t agree with it. Molly’s confidence is not dependent upon a relationship. From what I saw, the issue was that she mostly felt lonely and isolated from her friends, who were already embarking on that chapter in their lives. She also wanted to love and be loved – I don’t see anything wrong with a female character wanting that, especially since it doesn’t consume her. She has other issues and concerns besides boyfriends – namely, her relationship with her twin sister Cassie, who she worries is growing distant. Also, even if Molly’s desire to have a boyfriend teeters on the obsessive (it doesn’t, in my opinion), she’s seventeen! Remember what it was like to be seventeen? The tiniest things can seem like life or death. When you’re seemingly the only one in your friend group who hasn’t dated, and you’re dealing with fatphobia that makes you think you’re undesirable, of course this is going to be on your mind!

Speaking of fatphobia. It’s important to note that Molly is fat, and she stays fat, and she gets a boyfriend anyway. Maybe if Molly were your standard thin girl this resolution would be played out, but the thing is, fat girls hardly ever get to see themselves as the love interest. As Molly herself says, fat girls in movies are the joke, not the girlfriend. So for Molly’s storyline to culminate in her falling in love with someone who also loves her and finds her desirable is pretty damn awesome. I don’t think this sends the message that fat girls are only worthy if they find someone to love them – I think it sends the message fat girls can be loved. It may not seem like a big deal, but imagine being a fat teenage girl who has never seen someone who looks like her be loved and desired. It’s affirming. Like Molly’s mother says, nobody needs a significant other, but it’s okay to want one. Of course it is.

Plus, Molly’s freaking awesome. I loved her as a protagonist; she’s creative, artsy, witty, but can also succumb to jealousy and pettiness. In other words, she’s real. She also grows more and more confident over the course of the novel; though she is initially somewhat passive, she begins to assert herself as time goes on. When some douchebag at a party tells her she’s gorgeous “for a big girl” she responds with “fuck you.” It’s an amazing moment.

This is definitely a Young Adult novel in that its characters act like teens and their problems are reminiscent of teen problems, but I say that as a good thing. The relationships in this book are fraught with misunderstandings and miscommunication that might make us adults claw at our hair, but I think for teens this book would be quite relatable! Overall, this was a super fun, cheerful read with an overwhelmingly positive message throughout. Loved it and would highly recommend!

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Book Review: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

30363359Title: THE THIEF
Author: Megan Whalen Turner
Release Date: 1996
Pages: 279
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

Yikes, that was terrible. Really, truly, terrible.

It’s very disappointing to read a book so beloved by everyone only to end up hating it. Or, no, not hating it – the only emotions this book roused within me were boredom and apathy.  As a fan of high fantasy, I know that the Hero’s Journey is a popular trope, and ordinarily I enjoy it, because that journey is full of twists and turns and interesting events. In this book, the journey is literally just that. I mean, we are treated to hundreds of pages of characters just traipsing through the land and having discussions about the lore and history of their country. It’s the exact type of exposition we as writers are taught to stay away from. The way the story unfolded was so uninteresting that even moments that should have been fraught with tension were incredibly dull.

I have so little to say about this book, because so little happened. I had to force myself to make it to the end, because I kept expecting it to get better, but it was just a lot of repetition. A lot of walking around, and talking, and worrying about where to find food. Not much else. The big reveal at the end was rather obvious, so I was completely expecting it when it happened. I suppose the characters were all right, but they were also all men, which, if you know me, you know that means that 50% of my attention span is already gone.

Otherwise…I don’t know, what can I say? The writing is fine, I guess, solid but not astounding. The worldbuilding is derivative and unoriginal. By the very end I was skimming lengthy passages just to get to the end. This was one of the blandest high fantasy books I’ve ever read.

I’ve heard that the sequels to this are better, but I care so little about the characters and this world that I don’t know if I can bring myself to give it a try.

Book Review: Witchtown by Cory Putman Oakes

30971734Title: WITCHTOWN
Author: Cory Putman Oakes
Release Date: July 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆ (2/5)
Review on Goodreads

This is one of those books that appears to have a spectacular premise, only for the execution to be a huge letdown. It’s also one of those books whose blurbs is misleading – from the description, I thought Macie and her mother would be a well-oiled machine, a team. Instead, the mother is a cartoonish villain with hilariously unbelievable motivations and actions, and her daughter pretty much hates her, though it’s difficult to tell, since Macie is so bland.

Essentially, the premise of the book is this: Macie and her mother Aubra settle into a witch haven called “Witchtown” (oh, the creativity) intending to rob it for all it is worth. Once they dig deep into the town’s finances, they discover the town is broke. And then…basically there’s a lot of drama between Macie and her mother, a lackluster romance, some nonsensical and pointless twists, and very little excitement.

I’m going to break down some of the issues I had with this book one by one.

First, the setting. This is a town of witches! And yet the town is one of the blandest settings I’ve ever read. The author simply did not have the talent to show us how magical such a town could be. And yet, the town is never really described, never fully fleshed out. In Sweep, Cate Tiernan did a much better job crafting the wonder of magic, and her characters weren’t even living in a town of witches!

Second, this novel is blindingly white while usurping a narrative of oppression that belongs to people of color. At the start of this novel, we are told that witches have been persecuted and forced to the fringes of society, an event described in a way that made me seriously side-eye the entire book. The main characters are white, but then, so is literally everyone else! In fact, the only person of color in the entire novel is Macie’s old boyfriend Rafe, whom she describes as “dark and dangerous” and had apparently mistaken for a drug dealer when she first encountered him. We discover that Macie has lost Rafe – the love of her life, apparently – only five days before arriving in Witchtown, and yet she already begins to fall for milquetoast white boy Kellen.

Third, the characterization. All of the characters here were completely bland. I could barely tell anyone apart. The only somewhat interesting character, Aubra, is revealed to be cartoonishly evil, to the point of trying to seriously hurt her own daughter. After this, Macie appears to be perfectly fine, when one would think she would be utterly distraught after losing her mother, the only person she has in the world. Even if the author had wanted to have this relationship be complex and grey rather than supportive, she could have done it in a much more subtle way. The dialogue is really cringey at times, especially when Aubra uses words like “defy” like she’s Mother Gothel and we’ve been transported into a Disney movie.

Fourth, the plot. Or the lack of a coherent one. Initially we are made to think this is going to be a heist novel, but that falls apart. Then, we’re made to think that, because the town is being sabotaged, there’s going to be some kind of mystery to solve. That is also tossed aside. Instead the story jumps from one subplot to another without really laying out a coherent narrative. Also, this is a very boring book. It took me nearly a month to finish it because the first half is so dull. It’s a lot of introductions and expositions that should have been interesting – because hey, witches! – but is instead really boring. Finally, the “twist” was one I could see coming a mile away.

This was a disappointment. I was already predisposed to like this – mother/daughter stuff, witches (witches! I love witches!), strange towns, a heist – so I went in with high expectations, but I’m sad to say I was let down on every single point. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it’s a relatively light, easy read, but overall I would say it’s a waste of time and energy.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Woman Crush Wednesday: Jessica Huang (Fresh Off The Boat)

I’ve been wanting to watch Fresh Off The Boat pretty since I started seeing GIFS of Jessica Huang being amazing.  Once the entire series went up on Hulu, I immediately jumped on it and was not disappointed.  Jessica, who should really be credited as the show’s breakout character, is a hilarious, pragmatic, tough-talking mother of three.  In her youth, she immigrated to the United States from Taiwan and is now a successful real estate agent.

jess2 jess1
jess11 jess3

 
One of the things I love about Jessica is her complete and utter confidence in herself. She will often make off-hand remarks about how she is the best at absolutely everything, but it’s pretty true. She aces her real estate exam, she’s a great businesswoman, she’s fantastic at raising her kids, and she pretty much gets shit done.

jess14 jess6
jess9 jess15

 
One of my favorite quotes by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi applies here: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Sure, Jessica does embody some traits that we consider Asian stereotypes: she’s a strict parent, she is very concerned with her kids’ grades, she’s thrifty…but those are not her only traits. She is also hella self-assured, clever, and ruthless. She loves Stephen King and colonial American history. She’s also gorgeous (and knows it), super proud of her Chinese identity, and comfortable with who she is. She’s just…well, there’s no other word for it – cool. And her casual disdain for white culture makes my day everyday.

jess4 jess5
jess12 jess7

 
I mean, how often do we see characters like Jessica on TV? How often do we see comedies about immigrant families? Though my family is Arab and not Chinese, we have so much in common with the Huangs, and Jessica very much reminds me of my own mother. It’s so refreshing to be able to laugh at situations I could see cropping up in my own life. It’s nice to finally see one aspect of my experience in the media I consume. Seriously, y’all, go watch this show. You’ll love it and you’ll love Jessica.  She’s one of the most badass female characters I’ve seen in a long time.  I want to transplant her personality into my brain.

And finally, because I can’t resist:

jess13 jess16

This or That Book Tag

Chelsea @ Spotlight on Stories has nominated me for the This or That Book Tag! Thanks Chelsea!

Rules:

  • Mention the creator of the tag (Ayunda @ Tea and Paperbacks)
  • Thank the blogger who tagged you.
  • Choose one of the options, you don’t have to tell the reasons why you chose that but you can also do them if you want to.
  • Tag other people to do this tag to spread the love!

This or That?

Reading on the couch or on the bed?
The only couch we have in my house doubles as my mom’s bed, so I normally have to read on my bed.  I think I would prefer a couch, though, as reading in bed tends to be uncomfortable.  And then, if it somehow manages to be comfortable, I’m likely to fall asleep!

Male main character or female main character?
Female main characters for sure! To be completely honest, I tend to avoid books with male main characters (who don’t share the spotlight with female protagonists). I just have no interest in men’s narratives.

Sweet snacks or salty snacks?
Hmm, it really depends on my mood. I tend to get really intense cravings, and I also have blood sugar issues, so it just depends! I’m also one of  those people who loves mixing sweet and salty because of the contrast.

Trilogies or quartets?
I don’t think I’ve ever met a quartet! I’ve only seen duologies, trilogies, and epic 6-10 book series.  To be honest, it takes a really amazing series to hold my interest past a trilogy.  Normally stories that stretch themselves out over four huge books are slow and include a ton of superfluous details.  Also, I get bored pretty quickly, so there’s a good chance by the time I get to the fourth book I’m just about ready to bow out.  I’m really not a fan of this recent series trend in YA (and fantasy in general).  I miss stand-alone novels!

First person POV or third POV?
I actually like both! First person is so personal, it really helps me get into a character’s head, but third person reads more like a story, I guess, and it gives you the chance to be more literary.

Reading at night or in the morning?
At night.  I’ve been known to stay up until sunrise finishing a particularly compelling book.

Libraries or bookstores?
Oh, man. As a budding librarian, I have to say libraries. Not to mention, as a kid growing up with no money, libraries were the only way  I could read! I have so much respect for the library as a community center.

Books that make you laugh or books that make you cry?
Sometimes I like books that make me laugh because of something epic the character has just done, or if a character has overcome a challenge.  But I like dark books too! I just like to mix it up.

Black book covers or white covers?
Like, hardcover? Hmm, black, I guess? I’m not a fan of hardcover in general.

Character driven or plot driven?
A good combination of both! I need to feel connected to the characters on some level to get into the story, but I am not very likely to stick around if little to nothing ever happens. In general, though, I would say people know me as a fan of plot-driven work.

I Nominate:

Steph @ Lost Purple Quill
Sue @ Sue’s Reading Corner
Katie @ Read With Katie

 

Book Review: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

31626660Title: WOMAN NO. 17
Author: Edan Lepucki
Release Date: May 2017
Pages: 320
Publisher: Hogarth Press
My Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)
Review on Goodreads

This book was, in one word, underwhelming. The blurb advertises a “sinister, sexy noir” and relationships that take a “disturbing” and “destructive” turn. I saw none of that. The novel does capture some hints of noir in its cynicism and moral ambiguity, but the overall tone is not dark and moody, and there’s no mystery. It is gritty in some of its descriptions of sex, bodily fluids, etc, but almost in a way that seems like it’s trying too hard.

Most of the novel takes place in Hollywood Hills, an affluent California neighborhood where Lady, one of the protagonists, lives with her two sons. Seth is eighteen years old and suffers from selective mutism. Marco, Seth’s father, abandoned Lady when Seth was barely two years old. Now, Lady is separated from her husband, Karl, with whom she has a toddler named Devin. In order to write her memoir of her life with Seth, Lady hires a nanny to watch Devin. The nanny Lady hires – which she does without conducting a background check or following up on references – is Esther “S” Fowler, who decides to become a nanny as part of an elaborate art project wherein she “becomes” her mother by dressing like her and adopting her alcoholism.

I feel like this book had a lot of potential, but it all ultimately fizzled out, resulting in a lot of pretentiousness and inane aphorisms. The entire novel seemed to be building up to something significant, an explosive conclusion, but the conclusion was incredibly anti-climactic and abrupt, to the point where I wondered if this were intentional. I also expected a lot more of the friendship between S and Lady, which really only materialized towards the very end of the book and then fizzled out rather quickly when Lady discovers something about S. The very final chapter skips eight months ahead. I’m normally fond of time jumps, but this one did not really provide me with closure or any sort of new information, so I think it should have either been scrapped or altered.

I also expected to see more of their relationships with the protagonists’ respective mothers, since that seemed to be such a huge part of the plot. The book had some interesting implicit commentary on motherhood, but again, it never really reaches any sort of satisfying conclusion, never really digs deep the way I wanted it to. Lady is unhealthily attached to her son Seth and wants to keep him all to herself; there are some disturbing sexual undertones to this relationship particularly given how Lady talks about Seth’s father, and I honestly thought that was where this was headed, but in the end it yet another detail that was just…there. There was a lot more that could have been said about motherhood and the toll it takes, the necessary sacrifice, the belief that once you are a mother you are no longer a person…the book circled around all that but it never really commits to anything.

Essentially, this novel felt like a whole lot of Chekhov’s Guns strewn about. Very little happens that isn’t just rich, privileged white people being dissatisfied with their lives. It’s that sort of pretentious MFA literary fiction that tries to unveil some sort of universal truth but ultimately just ends up being pompous. It was difficult to relate to either character’s ~ennui when both of them are so well-off and have people in their lives who care very much about them (both men, interestingly the women in this book are not shown in a positive light at all). That said, the book was a quick read, and it definitely wasn’t boring despite the lack of plot, so that speaks to some writing talent (and the writing does have some pretty unique and fresh metaphors)! I’m probably being overly critical because I had such high expectations for a book that is way outside of my preferred genres.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book!

Mystery Blogger Award

Man, I’ve been MIA for a while now! I was visiting a friend for a few days, and when I got back home I realized that I was somehow already behind on schoolwork (grad school started without my knowledge).  Given all that, I haven’t had very much time to be on here or to read! But I don’t want to leave this blog without a post for much longer, plus I was tagged for this meme by two people – Rachel @ paceamorelibre and Steph @ Lost Purple Quill.  Which means I’m mixing up the questions!

mystery-blogger-tag

The Rules: 

  • Put the award logo/image in your post.
  • List all the rules.
  • Thank whoever nominated you and leave a link to their blog.
  • Tell your readers 3 things about yourself.
  • Nominate 10-20 people and notify them.
  •  Link back to the creator of the award.
  • Ask nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with a weird or funny question.
  • Share the link to your best/favourite post of yours.

3 things about myself

  1. I’m currently working full-time and enrolled in two Masters degrees simultaneously, because I am a ridiculous person. Well, actually, it’s because that just happens to be most convenient, in terms of finances and my Life Plan.
  2. I really want to get an MFA in Creative Writing at some point in my life. However, this would likely entail moving to the Midwest, where all the fully funded programs are, so it would just take a lot of planning and consideration.
  3. My favorite season used to be Winter, before I came to my senses and realized there’s really nothing that great about being freezing all the time (though I would always rather be freezing than hot, and I do love snow and Christmas!). My actual favorite season now is Fall.  It’s such an aesthetic-heavy season, with all the pumpkins, hot cocoa, cinnamon, sweaters, boots…plus Halloween!

Questions:

  1. What is your dream job?
    Novelist! Or something to that effect.  I’m really not a big fan of the heavily structured 9-5 routine, so pretty much anything that allows me to work creatively and/or from home would be the dream.
  2. If you had to live in another country for a year, where would you choose?Oh, United Kingdom, hands down. I was actually just thinking about this; I really want to live in Europe for a year, but not on the continent, in the UK.  In addition to the fact that I would be comfortable speaking English, the UK is very culturally familiar. I wish I were adventurous enough to live in a non-English speaking country by myself, but that’s something I would only do with a friend or significant other (what can I say, I’m quite susceptible to loneliness and homesickness). Plus, the UK is so, so, so gorgeous and cozy.
  3. What’s something you used to love, but have no interest in at all now?
    Anime. From the ages of 11-18 I was absolutely obsessed with anime.  I watched it all the time, I read manga, I bought action figures and various other paraphernalia. Now, though, I only very occasionally watch it, if I hear about a particularly good anime (Attack on Titan, for example), but for the most part anime has a particular breed of blatant misogyny that I just can’t stomach any longer.
  4. Describe your ideal breakfast in detail.
    This question is made for me! I love breakfast; it’s my favorite meal.  On weekends, my mother cooks full Egyptian breakfasts.  They consist of: ful, or fava beans, which are flavored with lemon, olive oil, salt, and cumin; taamiya, the Egyptian version of falafel, made of fava beans rather than chickpeas; and tomatoes with olive oil and feta cheese.  With this I usually like to have an ice coffee and warm pita bread!
  5. Do you believe in ghosts? Why or why not?
    Nope! My life would be much more exciting if I did, I’m sure. I’m fascinated by the idea of ghosts and hauntings, though! I’m one of those people who loves watching reenactments of a family being haunted or readings about various supernatural things people have experienced (and trying to figure out scientific reasons for them!). Funny story: my brother is convinced ghosts exist because when we were little, living in our little one-bedroom apartment, we both saw a chair move by itself and completely freaked out. I barely remember the incident, but my brother insists it happened and that it was a ghost.

Tagging

Because I’m lazy, I’m not going to tag anyone.  If you do this, though, be sure to link back here so I can read your answers! Oh, and also because I’m lazy, rather than make my own questions, you should just use the mishmash I’ve got here!