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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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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Since You Asked…

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Title: Since You Asked
Author: Maurene Goo
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Pages: 262
Genre: Contemporary
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

A humorous, debut novel about a Korean-American teenager who accidentally lands her own column in her high school newspaper, and proceeds to rant her way through the school year while struggling to reconcile the traditional Korean values of her parents with contemporary American culture.

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I took a minute to warm up to this book, but once I did, I thought it was pretty good. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, since I haven’t heard a lot about it, but it ended up being adorable and funny. The characters were all cute and special in their own ways, and I found them to be totally believable, especially Holly, who is clever and witty if sometimes annoying.

This book allowed me to see the differences and similarities shared between teens of my culture and of Holly’s Korean-American one on a different level. I felt Holly was much more “Americanized” than some of the other Asian characters in the book, and certainly much more than her family. I completely believed her struggle with trying to be independent and choosing what family values mattered to her. Her journey is awkward and funny, and despite some of the cultural differences discussed in the book, I think Since You Asked will appeal to people across many different cultures.

I would also say this book is probably more geared toward older middle schoolers-younger high schoolers. It’s a quick, easy read, but doesn’t explore issues as in depth as a book for older young adults might. It also doesn’t have any romance, which might make it seem more traditionally “appropriate” for younger readers.

The lack of romance in this book really stuck out to me because, as you’ve probably figured out by now, I. Am so. Sick. Of romance (okay, maybe just bad/cliche romance). Female protagonists in YA tend to go completely gaga over a boy and lose themselves, so I sometimes get frustrated with love stories. Since You Asked proves that a book for teens doesn’t need romance to be fun and entertaining.

If you’re looking for a cute school-y read with a twist, check out Maurene Goo’s debut!

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Love and Other Perishable Items

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Title: Love and Other Perishable Items
Author: Laura Buzo
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Pages: 256
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Library
Rating: 3/5

Love is awkward, Amelia should know.

From the moment she sets eyes on Chris, she is a goner. Lost. Sunk. Head over heels infatuated with him. It’s problematic, since Chris, 21, is a sophisticated university student, while Amelia, is 15.

Amelia isn’t stupid. She knows it’s not gonna happen. So she plays it cool around Chris—at least, as cool as she can. Working checkout together at the local supermarket, they strike up a friendship: swapping life stories, bantering about everything from classic books to B movies, and cataloging the many injustices of growing up. As time goes on, Amelia’s crush doesn’t seem so one-sided anymore. But if Chris likes her back, what then? Can two people in such different places in life really be together?

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*CAUTION: CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I really, really wanted to like this book. I was so excited about it when I first read the summary, and I thought it would be cool and unique. I guess it was a little different, but it wasn’t what I had been expecting or hoping it would be. I thought from the summary that Amelia and Chris would actually try their relationship out, and that would be what the book was about, but it was basically about Amelia hopelessly mooning over Chris and Chris hopelessly mooning over Kathy, Michaela, and…well, a lot of girls, really. I just really wanted the book to be about something other than what it was, and that has probably affected my opinion of it a bit.

In addition to the plot disappointment, I was also disappointed that I didn’t feel connected to either of the narrators. I think Amelia was too young for me and seemed young even for fifteen, but then again, I was kind of a weird fifteen-year-old, so I don’t know what’s normal-seeming. I liked that she talked about books a lot, and could certainly see the connection between Great Expectations and her own life, but sometimes when she spoke, she didn’t come off as all that smart to me. I may also be judging her a little harshly because of her ridiculous comment about feminism ruining her mother’s life (thank God Chris tried to school her on that. There’s one point for him). Who knows.

I didn’t care for Chris very much either. He was kind of whiny and didn’t treat women all that nicely. From Amelia’s perspective, I could understand why she was into him, but from my own, I didn’t like him. He spends too much time wallowing over Michaela, who didn’t sound that special to begin with, then he has sex with girls he doesn’t care about, kisses Amelia, hurts her, and then moves to Japan. I also wasn’t sold on his moving to Japan thing, because there wasn’t really an explanation for why he did it, unless I missed it.

I also didn’t really like the dual-perspectives thing. I’m not really sure why we needed Chris’s perspective. It kind of annoyed me that we would go through a few months with Amelia, then rewind and do the same thing with Chris. I think it would have worked better if they were actually dating, or if he was thinking about her more than he was, but as it stands, I didn’t think the dual perspectives accomplished much.

The thing that kept this book from being a 2 for me was the humor in it and the discussions of literature. Buzo does do a good job at creating snappy dialogue, and I liked listening to (okay, reading) Amelia’s passionate conversations about books, because that is definitely something I can relate to. I think Laura Buzo has potential to be a funny, engaging writer, but Love and Other Perishable Items just didn’t do it for me.

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Mini-Review: What Happens Next

Title: What Happens Next
Author: Colleen Clayton
Publisher: Poppy
Publication Date: October 9, 2012
Pages: 310
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Before the ski trip, sixteen-year-old Cassidy “Sid” Murphy was a cheerleader (at the bottom of the pyramid, but still…), a straight-A student, and a member of a solid trio of best friends. When she ends up on a ski lift next to handsome local college boy, Dax Windsor, she’s thrilled; but Dax takes everything from Sid—including a lock of her perfect red curls—and she can’t remember any of it.

Back home and unable to relate to her old friends, Sid drops her college prep classes and takes up residence in the A/V room with only Corey “The Living Stoner” Livingston for company. But as she gets to know Corey (slacker, baker, total dreamboat), Sid finds someone who truly makes her happy. Now, if she can just shake the nightmares and those few extra pounds, everything will be perfect… or so she thinks.

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I had no intention of reading this book until I read a review of it at GReads. Ginger’s review convinced me this book was worth reading, despite the kind of lame title and kind of cheesy cover. Colleen Clayton’s debut was really good, but I do wish she had spent more time on Sid’s struggles with the rape specifically, rather than the bulimia, although I suppose that was part of the struggle. I really liked Sid as a heroine; she was spunky and insightful in a way not a lot of high school-aged protagonists are. I also really liked the romance with Corey, because he seemed very genuine to me, unlike the ‘perfect guys’ that are so prevalent in today’s YA lit. What Happens Next was definitely a worthwhile read, great for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak or Wintergirls.

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!)