Review | Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

Emmy’s best friend, Oliver, reappears after being kidnapped by his father ten years ago. Emmy hopes to pick up their relationship right where it left off. Are they destined to be together? Or has fate irreparably driven them apart?

Emmy just wants to be in charge of her own life.

She wants to stay out late, surf her favorite beach—go anywhere without her parents’ relentless worrying. But Emmy’s parents can’t seem to let her grow up—not since the day Oliver disappeared.

Oliver needs a moment to figure out his heart.

He’d thought, all these years, that his dad was the good guy. He never knew that it was his father who kidnapped him and kept him on the run. Discovering it, and finding himself returned to his old hometown, all at once, has his heart racing and his thoughts swirling.

Emmy and Oliver were going to be best friends forever, or maybe even more, before their futures were ripped apart. In Emmy’s soul, despite the space and time between them, their connection has never been severed. But is their story still written in the stars? Or are their hearts like the pieces of two different puzzles—impossible to fit together?

Readers who love Sarah Dessen will tear through these pages with hearts in throats as Emmy and Oliver struggle to face the messy, confusing consequences of Oliver’s father’s crime. Full of romance, coming-of-age emotion, and heartache, these two equally compelling characters create an unforgettable story.

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“Well, that’s growing up, isn’t it?” my dad said. “You don’t always have to know. And things aren’t always fair. You just have to keep moving forward. A step in one direction.”

I’ll admit that Emmy & Oliver is a book that I picked up entirely for the cover. I went in expecting a cute romance, and instead got a coming of age story set in a small town. It’s about growing up and finding your path in life, and Benway perfectly balances heartfelt and sweet moments with moments of heartbreak.

Emmy & Oliver explores all kinds of relationships: friendships, family, and romantic. I loved how involved and present the parents were, and the evolution of Emmy’s relationship with her overprotective parents, in particular, was very positively depicted even in the midst of Emmy’s frustrations. I especially enjoyed the friendship dynamic between Emmy, Drew, and Caro – it was honest, authentic, and a lot of fun. And, of course, the tentative friendship turned something more relationship between Emmy and Oliver was very sweet. I appreciated that their relationship took time to form, and was based on mutual understanding and trust.

Overall, Emmy & Oliver is a beautifully written, heartfelt exploration of love in all its forms and the nature of growing up.

Review | Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler

Reagan Forrester wants out—out of her trailer park, out of reach of her freeloading mother, and out of the shadow of the relationship that made her the pariah of Charytan, Kansas.

Victoria Reyes wants in—in to a fashion design program, in to the arms of a cute guy who doesn’t go to Charytan High, and in to a city where she won’t stand out for being Mexican.

One thing the polar-opposite best friends do agree on is that wherever they go, they’re staying together. But when they set off on a series of college visits at the start of their senior year, they quickly see that the future doesn’t look quite like they expected. After two years of near-solitude following the betrayal of the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart, Reagan falls hard and fast for a Battlestar Galactica-loving, brilliant smile-sporting pre-med prospective… only to learn she’s set herself up for heartbreak all over again. Meanwhile, Victoria runs full-speed toward all the things she thinks she wants… only to realize everything she’s looking for might be in the very place they’ve sworn to leave.

As both Reagan and Victoria struggle to learn who they are and what they want in the present, they discover just how much they don’t know about each other’s pasts. And when each learns what the other’s been hiding, they’ll have to decide whether their friendship has a future.

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Is it too early to say that Just Visiting is my favourite contemporary of the year? It perfectly captures the uncertainty that surrounds post-secondary life – there are so many options and possibilities to explore, and it’s kind of overwhelming because what if you make the wrong choice? College is an opportunity to be independent and reinvent yourself – whether it’s changing your name to “Tori” like Vic did, or going from waist-length hair to a pixie cut like 18 year old me did – so I loved how true to my experiences this book rang. Most importantly, though, I loved the emphasis that Adler placed on finding the path that is right for you – that could be college/university, but the traditional choice isn’t the only choice.

Just Visiting is also very much a book about friendship. I loved watching the relationship between Vic and Reagan grow from people who are friends by default to true best friends, as they learned to share their whole selves, without reservations. And I also loved how Vic and her mom were incredibly close – it’s nice to have parents who are present and invested in their children’s lives.

Just Visiting also covers a lot of issues while remaining un-preachy, including poverty and having an unsupportive home life. The characters are very diverse, but they aren’t just there to fill a requirement; all of these characters’ identities are touched upon, even if just briefly. I loved how sex-positive Just Visiting is: it deals with consent, unprotected sex, and birth control, and is very clearly against slut-shaming.

The only aspect of Just Visiting that I didn’t love was the romance. I liked the banter and the love interest, but the way that Reagan treated him made it very hard for me to become fully invested in its success.

Overall, I have a feeling that Just Visiting will be one of my favourite contemporaries of the year. It’s diverse, sex-positive, and has a healthy and positive friendship – all of which are major plusses in my book.

Waiting On Wednesday (December 30)

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Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly book meme hosted by Breaking the Spine, which spotlights upcoming releases that are eagerly anticipated.

This week, I’m waiting on This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang, which has an expected publication date of March 22, 2016.

The heart-wrenching new novel about best friends on a collision course with the real world, from the author of Falling into Place.

Janie and Micah, Micah and Janie. That’s how it’s been ever since elementary school, when Janie Vivian moved next door. Janie says Micah is everything she is not. Where Micah is shy, Janie is outgoing. Where Micah loves music, Janie loves art. It’s the perfect friendship, as long as no one finds out about it.

But when Janie is date-raped by the most popular guy in school—a guy she’s had a crush on for years—she finds herself ostracized by all the people she thought were her friends. Now only Micah seems to believe she’s telling the truth. But when even Micah expresses doubt about whether or not she was “asking for it,” it leads to disastrous consequences, and Janie Vivian goes missing.

Using a nonlinear writing style and dual narrators, Amy Zhang’s astonishing second novel masterfully reveals the circumstances surrounding Janie’s disappearance.

I absolutely loved Falling into Place. It was beautifully written, thought-provoking, and poignant – all of which are important, given the sensitive subject that This Is Where the World Ends deals with.

Which books are you waiting on? Leave me a link or a list to your Waiting on Wednesday post below.

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Review | Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid

24338298Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

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I had heard enough positive things about Let’s Get Lost that I just had to request this one – after all, the premise sounded quite cute and fluffy. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t for me.

Julia and Dave, our main characters, seemed like something out of a John Green novel – they were quirky and overly intelligent, and Julia seemed like a manic pixie dream girl. That’s not to say that they weren’t realistic, though – when I was in high school, there were many individuals that tried very hard to avoid being a high school cliche. I didn’t particularly like either Julia or Dave – the former was manipulative and a pretty awful friend, and the latter spent way too much time lamenting over the fact that he was in love with his best friend – but their banter was rather entertaining.

I was expecting a friends-to-lovers relationship, which I suppose is what I got – the way that it came about, though, did not sit well with me. That being said, although it was an ending that I didn’t particularly enjoy, it was one that I didn’t expect…

Overall, Never Always Sometimes had all the makings of an “Erin story,” but unfortunately did not live up to my expectations.

I received a copy of this book from Harlequin Teen and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

23310763Artist Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive . . . and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in Beatrix’s own family’s closet tear them apart?

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After seeing that adorable cover, The Anatomical Shape of a Heart quickly found its way onto my wish list. I went in expecting a cute story and lots of banter, and while that’s exactly what I got, I was strangely disappointed.

Since I love lists, here are some things I liked:
– Bex and Jack have open and honest conversations about sex. I loved how the discussion centred around making it comfortable and enjoyable for both parties, and emphasized that you’re not defined by the number of people that you’ve slept with.
Diversity. This book touched on a wide range of topics – from sexuality to mental illness – and the characters located within its pages were just as diverse.
Parents are present. They’re not conveniently absent; they pay attention to Bex and Jack’s comings and goings, and deal out appropriate punishments for breaking ground rules.
The romance is cute. There’s banter and fluff and snark and lots of really sweet scenes.

… & here are some things that didn’t work for me:
– Jack came across as a manic pixie dream boy, both in his descriptions (gorgeous, hipster, rebel with a cause) and the role that he plays in Bex’s life.
The characters aren’t particularly memorable. Sure, their interactions were cute, but a few days later, I find that nothing really stood out to me.
Everything was far too smooth. The main “conflicts” of the story were easily resolved, and centred around secondary characters who weren’t developed enough to make it compelling. To add to this, the “mystery” surrounding Jack was far too easy to solve, and didn’t cause the tension that I had anticipated.

Overall, I really wanted to love this, but unfortunately the manic pixie dream boy-esque love interest & unmemorable characters outweighed the positive aspects.

Review | More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-relief procedure seems too good to be true to Aaron Soto — miracle cure-alls don’t tend to pop up in the Bronx projects. But Aaron can’t forget how he’s grown up poor or how his friends aren’t always there for him. Like after his father committed suicide in their one bedroom apartment. Aaron has the support of his patient girlfriend, if not necessarily his distant brother and overworked mother, but it’s not enough.

Then Thomas shows up. He has a sweet movie-watching setup on his roof, and he doesn’t mind Aaron’s obsession with a popular fantasy series. There are nicknames, inside jokes. Most importantly, Thomas doesn’t mind talking about Aaron’s past. But Aaron’s newfound happiness isn’t welcome on his block. Since he can’t stay away from Thomas or suddenly stop being gay, Aaron must turn to Leteo to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he is.

Adam Silvera’s extraordinary debut novel offers a unique confrontation of race, class and sexuality during one charged near-future summer in the Bronx.

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More Happy Than Not was one of my most anticipated debuts of the year, so when my hold finally came in, I immediately dropped everything to start giving it a read. If it weren’t for the fact that I needed to go to work, I would have devoured this in one sitting… but, as it stands, More Happy Than Not was beautiful and heart-wrenching, and I can’t wait to read it again.

Having recently re-watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between it and More Happy Than Not – especially since the relationships and characters took centre stage, not the idea of memory erasure. That being said, I was still completely surprised by all of the twists and turns that the story took, so any expectations that the movie gave me did not dampen my reading experience.

The structure of More Happy Than Not and Aaron’s narration were what really made this story for me. Although it’s told in a linear fashion, each chapter can be viewed as a memory. Aaron’s voice captured my interest immediately; it’s raw and honest, confused and realistic. We get to watch him fall in love, make mistakes, and desperately try to find happiness – even if that happiness means giving up a part of himself.

Aaron’s relationships with Genevieve and Thomas add much-needed lightness to the story, from Trade Dates and rooftop movies to comic books and banter. They truly cared about Aaron, and were an excellent support system.

And can I just say how much I loved the diversity? More Happy Than Not contains characters of different sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds, and the protagonist and other major characters were PoC.

Overall, More Happy Than Not is one of those books that will stick with me for a long time. It’s poignant, heartbreaking, and (surprisingly) hopeful, and I highly recommend giving it a read.

Review | Winger by Andrew Smith

Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

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After hearing a friend rave about this book for the past few weeks, I just had to see if it was that good. Although I had a few complaints, I’m happy to say that Winger is a rather charming coming of age story that I quite enjoyed reading.

One of Winger‘s strongest points is its incredibly compelling narrative voice. Ryan Dean West, a fourteen year old junior and rugby player, reminded me a lot of how my younger brother was at that age: “hot” girls and sex occupy the majority of his thoughts, he tosses the word “gay” around carelessly, and makes a lot of penis jokes. Once I got used to the awkwardness and juvenile nature of Ryan Dean’s thoughts, I realized just how much I liked his narration. His adventures were so absurd and entertaining, and I loved how his own comics and graphs were interspersed in the story to quantify his thoughts and emotions.

The secondary characters were memorable, even if some weren’t particularly likeable. One character in particular stood out to me: Joey, the captain of the rugby team and Ryan Dean’s best friend. He’s sweet, dependable, and consistently the voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s friend group. I also appreciated how he pointed out just how problematic Ryan Dean’s behaviour was, since I frequently wanted to shake Ryan Dean and tell him that his treatment of the other characters (especially the women!) was not appropriate.

My main issue with Winger, though, lies in its ending. The last 40 pages or so take an incredibly dark turn that is completely at odds with the rest of the story, despite the fact that it did receive a bit of foreshadowing. I understood the reason for its abruptness, however the twist wasn’t appropriately resolved, making it seem very emotionally manipulative. All of Ryan Dean’s character growth was shoved into that final portion of the story, and I’m not entirely certain that he changed all that much.

Overall, despite its faults, Winger was a very enjoyable read. If it weren’t for the ending, this would have received a 4-4.5 star rating.