Afterparty

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Title: Afterparty
Author: Ann Redisch Stampler
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: December 31, 2013
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

Emma is tired of being good. Always the dutiful daughter to an overprotective father, she is the antithesis of her mother — whose name her dad won’t even say out loud. That’s why meeting Siobhan is the best thing that ever happened to her…and the most dangerous. Because Siobhan is fun and alluring and experienced and lives on the edge. In other words, she’s everything Emma is not.

And it may be more than Emma can handle.

Because as intoxicating as her secret life may be, when Emma begins to make her own decisions, Siobhan starts to unravel. It’s more than just Dylan, the boy who comes between them. Their high-stakes pacts are spinning out of control. Elaborate lies become second nature. Loyalties and boundaries are blurred. And it all comes to a head at the infamous Afterparty, where debauchery rages and an intense, inescapable confrontation ends in a plummet from the rooftop…

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I wasn’t sure what to rate this book. I like Stampler’s writing style quite a lot, but too many other things fell short.

I am so sick of the good-girl-gone-bad story. I get it. Repressed suburban girls need to have a little fun sometimes. Characters like Emma are getting really cliche and overused in YA, though I will admit Emma did have some unique things behind her story.

Stampler also did a good job showing just how controlling Emma’s father was. A lot of times in this type of story, the parents don’t seem to live up to how bad the teen narrator makes them out to be. I think the clincher with the parent in this book was how he didn’t even allow Emma to keep the real name that her drug-addicted mother gave her.

Another thing I can acknowledge was the unpredictability of the story, at least in terms of the ending. When you first start the book, it seems like it’s going to go in one direction, but then does something different and twisty than what you originally think it’s going to be.

That said, too much of it was same-old same-old for me. Repressed good girl, charismatic best friend who everyone loves, a downward spiral into partying and sex, etc. On the note of partying, I also had a really hard time believing a lot of those scenarios in Stampler’s novel. I just couldn’t imagine parties that crazy and that glamorous really happening. Admittedly, I’ve never been a partier, so my views on this subject should be taken with a grain of salt, but I found myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the melodrama.

This is a weird book for me because I liked the writing, just not the characters or the story. Still, I am convinced that I could love other books by this writer based on the writing style alone, so I’m definitely adding Where it Began to my ever-growing TBR list.

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Picture Me Gone

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Title: Picture Me Gone
Author: Meg Rosoff
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: October 3, 2013
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary
Source: School Library Journal Summer Virtual Conference
Rating: 3/5

Mila has an exceptional talent for reading a room—sensing hidden facts and unspoken emotions from clues that others overlook. So when her father’s best friend, Matthew, goes missing from his upstate New York home, Mila and her beloved father travel from London to find him. She collects information about Matthew from his belongings, from his wife and baby, from the dog he left behind and from the ghosts of his past—slowly piecing together the story everyone else has missed. But just when she’s closest to solving the mystery, a shocking betrayal calls into question her trust in the one person she thought she could read best.

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Sadly, Meg Rosoff is proving to be another one-hit-wonder author for me. I loved How I Live Now so much that it’s impossible for me not to compare her other books to it, and so far, nothing has measured up. Just in Case was okay, but Picture Me Gone was just plain weird.

Maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it or something, but I felt like I didn’t get Meg Rosoff’s 2013 release. I felt it was very slow and kind of just meandered around with no real plot or point. The writing was good, I guess, but the story and characters didn’t really do anything for me. I’m also not a fan of this new trend in YA of including illustrations or photos. I felt the images in the book didn’t add anything new to the story and didn’t need to be there.

For one thing, it took me forever to figure out that Mila was only twelve. She came off sounding about fifty years old to me, though of course there were some “adult things” she didn’t understand. I know she was played up as being really precocious and insightful, but the fact that she was twelve made me not really believe it. I think Mila’s talents and maturity could have been expressed in a way more appropriate to her age, but as it is, the novel makes her sound beyond a young adult.

I also found myself uninterested in the plot. I kept waiting for something to happen, but not much did. I felt awkward reading about another family’s problems for some reason, even though they were fictional, because I felt like Mila and her father were looking into things they shouldn’t necessarily be looking into. I wanted more about Mila, who ended up seeming like a vehicle to tell someone else’s story more than like her own character.

The one thing that kept this book from being a two heart read for me was the interaction near the end of the book between Mila and Matthew when she realizes he was planning on killing himself. It intrigued me that Mila could see this though she’d just met Matthew while Gil, her father and Matthew’s best friend, could not. Reading how she processed that realization was one of the books more powerful moments, so I was at least somewhat glad I’d decided to stick with it.

All in all though, Picture Me Gone was another Rosoff novel that failed to live up to the emotional depth and pure amazingness of How I Live Now.

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The Cutting Room Floor

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Title: The Cutting Room Floor
Author: Dawn Klehr
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Pages: 305
Genre: Thriller/Mystery
Source: BEA
Rating: 3/5

Behind-the-scenes secrets could turn deadly for Desmond and Riley.

Life in the Heights has never been easy for seventeen-year-old Riley Frost, but when she’s publicly dumped and outed at the same time, she becomes an immediate social outcast at her high school. So Riley swears off romance and throws herself into solving the shocking murder of her favorite teacher, Ms. Dunn.

Riley turns to her best friend, budding filmmaker Desmond Brandt, for help. What she doesn’t know is that Dez has been secretly directing her life, blackmailing her friends, and hoping his manipulations will make her love him. When his schemes go too far, Dez’s web of lies threatens to destroy both of their lives.

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This book wasn’t quite what I expected. When I first read about it, I expected that The Cutting Room Floor would be glaringly suspenseful and creepy. What I got was a novel that was quieter, still with a certain amount of creep and suspense, but creep and suspense that unraveled more slowly.

I really liked that this book had two narrators, because I feel like I’m not seeing multiple narrators as much anymore. YA is in love with single first person, so it was nice to take a little break from that with Riley and Dez. I will admit, however, that there were times when I wished that Dez would narrate the whole story, because I found him more interesting than Riley.

I feel like the best way to describe this book would be “subtle.” The murder mystery, Dez’s creepiness, and Riley’s relationship troubles all seemed to get equally balanced attention, and while I did wish for more intensity at times, Klehr’s slowly unraveling story worked for me.

My favorite part of the story was Dez and Riley’s relationship. Klehr’s quiet style worked especially well with that aspect of the story. I think that by writing about Dez’s manipulations in so casual and unassuming a way made it more creepy than if it had been nail-bitingly suspenseful because it normalized what Dez was doing, even though it’s clear that there’s something wrong.

I also thought Klehr handled Riley’s struggle with her sexuality well. She explored Riley’s confusion through the lens of sexuality as a fluid thing, rather than the typical binary of gay or straight. In most books about bisexual characters I’ve read, the person seems to be convinced they have to be one or the other, and have a very hard time seeing anything in the middle. I liked that Riley never came to a solid definition or label of her sexuality by the time the book ended, because it showed that you don’t have to confine yourself so other people can understand.

The Cutting Room Floor had its pros and cons, but eventually I warmed up to it though I had wanted something different from it. It’s worth reading for the strange relationship between Dez and Riley, but don’t come into it expecting to be on the edge of your seat the whole time.

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The Difference Between You and Me

Title: The Difference Between You and Me
Author: Madeleine George
Publisher: Viking Children’s
Publication Date: March 15, 2012
Pages: 261
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Rating: 1/5

Jesse cuts her own hair with a Swiss Army knife. She wears big green fisherman’s boots. She’s the founding (and only) member of NOLAW, the National Organization to Liberate All Weirdos. Emily wears sweaters with faux pearl buttons. She’s vice president of the student council. She has a boyfriend.

These two girls have nothing in common, except the passionate “private time” they share every Tuesday afternoon. Jesse wishes their relationship could be out in the open, but Emily feels she has too much to lose. When they find themselves on opposite sides of a heated school conflict, they each have to decide what’s more important: what you believe in, or the one you love?

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Unfortunately, I can honestly say I hated this book. I read it because I was considering using it for a paper I’m writing about LGBT themes in YA lit, but I don’t know if I can even stand to think about it, much less write about it past this review.

This book had so many problems. It sounded like it had the potential to be really good, but it fell laughably short. I didn’t like any of the characters, even Jesse, who I probably would be attracted to in real life. They all  felt really fake and almost caricatured. Jesse was a little too over the top for me, and I felt a lot of her character was built around stereotypes.

I also hated Emily and wanted to bang my head against a wall ever time she uttered the words “corporate sponsorship.” I didn’t find her at all believable, because I simply couldn’t imagine a high school kid caring about things like corporate sponsorship. She was extremely irritating and made me want to break things.

Another issue I had with this book was the perspective from which it was written from. Jesse’s chapters are written in third person, while Emily’s and Esther’s are written from first. Emily’s chapters were very choppily written, but thankfully Jesse’s were a teeny bit better. I was also unsure as to why Esther had to have her own chapters at all, especially since there were only two of them.

I think the part of the plot dealing with the SmartMart controversy could have been a little more interesting if the book was more well written. I think Madeleine George may have been trying to emulate “teen speak” in Emily’s chapters with all the “like”s and fragmented sentences, but it gave me a serious headache. As previously mentioned, Jesse’s chapters were a little better, but only by a small margin.

I can’t think about this book without getting angry at how terrible it was, so I’m going to stop now and leave you with the one quote from it that I actually liked:

“I’m sorry, honey. I’m sure if you were a terrorist, you’d make a wonderful one.”

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The Elite

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Title: The Elite
Author: Kiera Cass
Publisher: Harper Teen
Publication Date: April 23, 2013
Pages: 323
Genre: Dystopian
Source: Purchased
Rating: 5/5

Thirty-five girls came to the palace to compete in the Selection. All but six have been sent home. And only one will get to marry Prince Maxon and be crowned princess of Illea.

America still isn’t sure where her heart lies. When she’s with Maxon, she’s swept up in their new and breathless romance, and can’t dream of being with anyone else. But whenever she sees Aspen standing guard around the palace, and is overcome with memories of the life they planned to share. With the group narrowed down to the Elite, the other girls are even more determined to win Maxon over—and time is running out for America to decide.

Just when America is sure she’s made her choice, a devastating loss makes her question everything again. And while she’s struggling to imagine her future, the violent rebels that are determined to overthrow the monarchy are growing stronger and their plans could destroy her chance at any kind of happy ending.

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Oh Kiera Cass, let me count the ways that I love you. Well okay, maybe it’s Maxon I love. Or maybe not, because he was kind of a dickbag at points in this book. But then again, it’s not really his fault, and America kind of was one too, but…

Oh my god. This book just gave me so many feels. SO MANY. When I started reading it, I was positive I wanted America to choose Maxon, but then he did some things in the book that made me want to do this:

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and even more things that made me think this:

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which also made America do REALLY STUPID THINGS. She is not so good with jealousy, although there were definitely certain things Maxon did with certain people I really dislike that made it more understandable. But because she now has influence due to her position at the palace and access to media, she can do even more stupid things than if she was just back in Carolina. But GRRRRR AMERICA, WHY?! Sometimes she’s so childish it makes me want to throw things. This doesn’t keep me from liking the book though, and it actually helps make her more of a complex character. To me, the things she does in response to Maxon make sense and make her seem more like a teenager, which is important since she’s in a situation that’s foreign to many teens.

I’m glad that in The Elite, Cass complexified (yes, I know that’s not technically a word, but whatever) both America and Maxon. In the first book, Maxon was portrayed as basically perfection, but in this book he had flaws that made me doubt him. I’m glad Cass played up the creepiness of the Selection by having America feel upset about the time he was spending with other girls. I’m also glad America has competition now, because that raises the stakes in the story, which makes it even more suspenseful than it already is.

In terms of America and Maxon’s relationship, I think Cass did a great job making it seem more real in this book. They have actual problems (other than Aspen, which Maxon still doesn’t know about) that happen in relationships. They both lose trust in one another and will have to fight to regain it. Their relationship isn’t perfect like Maxon’s with Kriss seem to be, and I think that if they can work past what they’ve both done, they could come out of it with an even stronger relationship.

Another thing I’ve really liked about The Selection series is the juxtaposition of the dystopian society with the more “old-fashioned” things, such as the palace and the castes. It’s a really interesting combination that I haven’t seen in other books, although it kind of reminds me of Melissa Marr’s Cinder for some reason. It’s also interesting to view what’s happening in the world from inside the palace in the lap of luxury with America, rather than directly in the messed up society like all the other dystopian books out there.

The Selection is also unique in that America is not directly involved in the resistance. After The Hunger Games, the majority of YA dystopians followed the rebel-revolution-resolution plotline, but these books don’t. Sure, the palace is invaded by rebels a couple times, but America isn’t part of it. I’m still having minor suspicions that one of the girls in the Selection is a spy or something, or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I really want America to have an interaction with a rebel that’s more than just being curtsied to by one (oops, spoiler). I hope that America learns to use her position for good, and doesn’t only express her true views when provoked by Maxon or the king.

On that note, I was also glad Cass had America put more consideration into the fact that if she chooses Maxon, she will also be a princess. I felt that that part of the story wasn’t as focused on in the first book, which made sense because it was more about getting to know Maxon and palace life. I’m happy America is thinking seriously about her ability to be a leader, though in my opinion it’s obvious she would be great. The other girls don’t seem to have doubts about the princess part of the Selection, so I liked that America is being realistic and practical in the midst of the romance.

Both of America’s romances kept me guessing. At the end of The Elite, I’m still not sure who she’s going to choose, and I’m not certain anymore if I want her to choose Aspen or Maxon. I liked Aspen a lot better in this book, and wasn’t a fan of Maxon at times. I like when a YA book genuinely keeps me in suspense, because a lot of times I feel like I can guess the twists and endings. The unpredictability makes this series quite the delight to read, and I will be very sad when it’s over

In The Elite, America really comes into her own, and I can’t wait to see her blossom even more in the trilogy’s final book, The One!

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The S-Word

Title: The S-Word
Author: Chelsea Pitcher
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Pages: 304
Genre: Contemporary
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 1/5

Summary from Goodreads- Lizzie’s reputation is destroyed when she’s caught in bed with her best friend’s boyfriend on prom night. With the whole school turned against her, and Angie not speaking to her, Lizzie takes her own life. But someone isn’t letting her go quietly. As graffiti and photocopies of Lizzie’s diary plaster the school, Angie begins a relentless investigation into who, exactly, made Lizzie feel she didn’t deserve to keep living. And while she claims she simply wants to punish Lizzie’s tormentors, Angie’s own anguish over abandoning her best friend will drive her deep into the dark, twisted side of Verity High—and she might not be able to pull herself back out.

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In short, Chelsea Pitcher’s debut was an awkward, sloppy mess.

In…well, long, I think I’ll start by saying what I think her intentions were before explaining why this book just didn’t work for me. I think Pitcher meant to write a story about the dangers of bullying; how it affects the victim, and how it affects everyone involved. When I started reading, I was hoping that maybe Pitcher would discuss the double standard for boys and girls where the word “slut” is concerned, because obviously that word is a big part of the story. She touched on it a little bit, but definitely not enough to make for a meaningful story. I also thought she would talk more about Angie’s grief and guilt, which we surely get some of, but to me this didn’t end up being a very emotional (at least realistically) story. The way Pitcher carried it out made it into more of a revenge story, which severely diminished the impact it could have had, and the way it was written didn’t help it at all.

I felt like the writing was really sloppy and awkward, as I mentioned earlier. Every time someone spoke, I cringed a little, because the dialogue was just…bad. It always seemed kind of forced and I felt like the voices of the characters were inconsistent. That might make sense for Angie, since she turns out to me mildly insane, but it was still really irritating, especially at the beginning when Angie and Shelby are talking and Pitcher tried for a more sleuthy-sleuth tone. That voice in particular just felt out of place and out of time. I simply couldn’t imagine high schoolers talking that way. I also didn’t like Lizzie’s diary voice. I felt it was ingenuine and, again, that a high school girl wouldn’t really talk that way.

In terms of characters, the majority of them were boring, flat, and one-dimensional. You knew what each character’s deal was right away (minus Angie, but I’ll get to that later), which doesn’t really make for interesting reading. I didn’t like any of the characters, although of course I felt sorry for Lizzie and Kennedy, but I still didn’t feel a connection to any of them.

*NOTE: NEXT PART MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Where plot was concerned, I had a lot of problems, since there were so many gaping holes in the plot. At the beginning of the book, it seems like The S-Word is going to be a story like Pretty Little Liars, where a girl (or in that case girls) works to expose a creepy stalker determined to control her and mess with her head and make her feel guilty for all the horrible things she’s done. It continues on that path when Angie immediately starts investigating, looking for whoever wrote Suicide Slut on Lizzie’s locker and stole the pages of her diary. She employs many of Lizzie’s tormentors, including Shelby, Kennedy, and Marvin, into her search, until the dramatic twist near the end, when Jesse discovers that Angie set all of them up so she could know exactly who hurt Lizzie and how so she could get the proper revenge.

Let me tell you, that twist was absolutely ridiculous. First, Jesse finds KILLER etched into Angie’s skin, leading her to admit she was the one who wrote Suicide Slut on Lizzie’s locker and planted the pages in people’s lockers. This could have been an interesting twist, if we had had any clue at all that Angie was doing it all along. When she confesses, it seems she knew she was doing all of those things, but for the majority of the story she’s looking for answers. I don’t know if she’s completely psychotic or just a really good liar, but either way that conclusion was so ridiculously bad it was almost funny.

Besides that, I felt like there was too much else going on for the story to be meaningful in any sort of way. Every time a new twist came up during the last 20% or so, I honestly kept rolling my eyes because it was all just too much. Pitcher tried to bring in so many issues that I think most readers will feel like they’re drowning in drama. Besides the suicide issue, which wasn’t discussed enough for my liking, she also tried to bring in LGBT issues, making Jesse a bisexual cross-dresser and making Lizzie gay and in love with Angie on top of it. She also brought sexual abuse into it with Lizzie’s father, who abused Kennedy when they were very young. The only part of the book that held any real meaning for me was when Angie discovered Drake had raped Lizzie, not just cheated on her with Lizzie as she had originally thought.

All in all, there was far too much going on in the disjointed plot to extract much emotional meaning, and the author’s writing needs a lot of work. I didn’t think such a big disappointment would come so early in the year, but there we go. All I have left to say for this one is, DO NOT READ, or, to be nicer, READ ON PAIN OF CONFUSION AND EXTREME DISAPPOINTMENT.

Hooked on you

Title: Hooked
Author: Liz Fichera
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: January 31 2013
Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Summary from Goodreads- When Native American Fredericka ‘Fred’ Oday is invited to become the only girl on the school’s golf team, she can’t say no. This is an opportunity to shine, win a scholarship and go to university, something no one in her family has done.

But Fred’s presence on the team isn’t exactly welcome — especially not to rich golden boy Ryan Berenger, whose best friend was kicked off the team to make a spot for Fred.

But there’s no denying that things are happening between the girl with the killer swing and the boy with the killer smile…

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I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I wasn’t expecting much from it, since as you can see from the cover it’s clearly a romance, and because I read that it was about golf, and I’m really, really not a sports person, but I actually ended up really liking it because of its uniqueness.

First off, anyone who reads YA today knows that whitewashing is a big problem in YA lit. There are very, very few books featuring characters of color, and to see a book with a Native American protagonist was even more unusual. Fred is an unusual female character also because of her interest in athletics. Her being the only female on Lone Butte’s golf team is a major point of interest throughout the book. However, Fichera focuses more on how Fred’s being Indian affected the way people saw her and her playing than the fact that she was female. If I could change anything about this story, it would probably to have brought the gender issues to the forefront a little more (not necessarily to have it overshadow the issue of race, but just a bit more recognition).

Hooked will definitely be an eye-opening read to other readers as it was to me. Life for people who live on Indian reservations isn’t something that’s talked about either in school or in general society, so it was refreshing to read about a character who lives a life different from what we might consider typical. I do wish Fichera had spent a little more time at the Rez. Most of the story took place either at the high school, the golf club, or tournaments. We got to see more of the Rez closer to the end of the story when Fred’s friends started coming to tournaments and Ryan went to see Fred at her house.

I was also really digging the pace of Fred and Ryan’s relationship. I feel that sometimes YA novels have romances that move at a somewhat unrealistic speed, so Fred and Ryan’s tentative relationship seemed very genuine to me. It certainly wasn’t easy-going for them, and while they didn’t necessarily resolve all of their issues by the end of the story, that actually made it more of a suspenseful romance than if they’d both gone head-over-heals right away. Their romance was also unique because they had to overcome the barrier of racial prejudice, which is something you don’t find a lot in YA.

All in all, Liz Fichera’s debut (yay DAC2013!) was refreshing and unique, a great start to the 2013 reading year. (And there’s going to be a sequel!)