To Be Perfectly Honest

Title: To Be Perfectly Honest
Author: Sonya Sones
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 496
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Rating: 4/5

Her friends
have a joke about her:
How can you tell if Colette is lying?

Her mouth is open.

Fifteen-year-old Colette is addicted to lying. Her shrink says this is because she’s got a very bad case of Daughter-of-a-famous-movie-star Disorder—so she lies to escape out from under her mother’s massive shadow. But Colette doesn’t see it that way. She says she lies because it’s the most fun she can have with her clothes on. Not that she’s had that much fun with her clothes off. At least not yet, anyway…

When her mother drags her away from Hollywood to spend the entire summer on location in a boring little town in the middle of nowhere, Colette is less than thrilled. But then she meets a sexy biker named Connor. He’s older, gorgeous, funny, and totally into her. So what if she lies to him about her age, and about who her mother is? I mean, she has to keep her mother’s identity a secret from him. If he finds out who she really is, he’ll forget all about Colette, and start panting and drooling and asking her for her mother’s autograph. Just like everyone always does.

But what Colette doesn’t know is that Connor is keeping a secret of his own…

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To Be Perfectly Honest was a thoroughly enjoyable read from one of my favorite childhood authors. One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies was probably the first novel I read written in verse, and I still think Ellen Hopkins has nothing on Sonya Sones. I’ve read and loved all Sones’ books, and To Be Perfectly Honest did not disappoint.

I love books with unreliable narrators, and Colette fits that description to a T. I had fun guessing when she was lying or not, and she definitely kept me on my toes throughout the story, all the way until the very last page. I felt like I’ve never read a character like Colette before, so Sones’ latest novel was truly a breath of fresh air for me.

I enjoyed everything about Colette’s messed-up life (no, I promise I’m not a sadist) from her insane lies to her adorable little brother, who was featured a lot more in this book than most younger siblings in YA. I felt Sonya Sones did an excellent job making Colette’s larger-than-life story believable and relateable. Even though Colette tells some outrageous lies, you can’t help but root for her and want the best for her.

To Be Perfectly Honest is a super fun read that you’ll rip through in no time despite the length. I hope other readers will fall in love with Colette’s funny, sarcastic voice as much as I did, and that Sonya Sones gets the hype for it that she deserves.

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Two Boys Kissing

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Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Pages: 208
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3/5

New York Times  bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

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To be honest, I still can’t figure out how I feel about this book, despite having read it weeks ago. There were definitely a lot of cool things about it, but there were also some things that kept me from connecting with it as much as I thought I would.

Let’s start with the good:

First things first: no one can ever accuse David Levithan of not being creative or original. The Lover’s Dictionary probably tops his most-creative-novels list, having told the story of a couple through dictionary entries, but Two Boys Kissing is certainly not far behind. For this book, Levithan chose to narrate the story through a Greek chorus made up of gay men who had died from AIDS. I can honestly say I’ve never come across a book written this way for young adults, and it was definitely an experience to read it.

Secondly, Two Boys Kissing acts as a diverse celebration of what it means to be a gay man (I will come to that distinction later). Levithan presents a variety of stories about gay teens, some intertwining, some not, and gives voice to many different experiences faced by gay and transgender youth today. There was a wide range of experiences on the happy-sad spectrum, and I felt Levithan handled each story with grace without overwhelming the reader.

That said, I did feel like the book was sometimes a little heavy handed in the way it tackled issues faced by gay teens. The Greek chorus really added to that feeling at times for me, and sometimes that part of the narration was just too much and made me want to shout, “Enough already, we get it!”

I was also a little put off by how male-centric the novel was. There were a few female characters, but they only played very minor roles and were mostly the mothers of the teens whose stories were being told. I think what bothered me about the lack of female LGBT characters was that I felt like Levithan was separating the experiences of gay men from other LGBT people a bit too much, even though other genders have had very similar experiences to gay men. Basically, the focus on queer men made me feel invisible as a female pansexual reader. I realize that exploring the experiences of multiple genders may not have been Levithan’s focus with this book, but a lot of the issues faced by the characters, including suicidal thoughts and AIDS, apply to non-male queer people as well.

Finally, I just didn’t feel as emotionally connected to the book as I had anticipated. I think that did have a lot to do with feeling invisible, but I also tend not to like books written in the third-person quite as much, even this very unique third-person.

I would definitely recommend this to queer men and their families due to the breadth of experiences Levithan covers. I think this book could be very important to gay teens as an affirmation, celebration, and recognition of their experiences, despite the somewhat narrow gender lens. Two Boys Kissing continues to mark Levithan as a master writer, and though I was somewhat disappointed by this book, I will be eagerly awaiting his next release.

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These Broken Stars

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Title: These Broken Stars
Author: Amie Kaufman & Meghan Spooner
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Publication Date: December 10, 2013
Pages: 374
Genre: SciFi
Source: School Library Journal Summer Virtual Conference
Rating: 3/5

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I can’t tell if I’m mood reviewing or not because I feel like I’ve been writing so many negative reviews in the past couple weeks, but I just haven’t liked that many things I’ve been reading lately. These Broken Stars is another book that didn’t do anything for me, except make me feel mildly irritated.

I think my problem with this book was more with the characters than the plot. The idea of a space ship crashing on a strange planet where the characters start hearing mysterious whispers and seeing things sounding like an entertaining read, but Tarver and Lilac totally killed it for me.

I know that from Tarver’s perspective Lilac is supposed to be annoying, but I didn’t like her in her own chapters either. Besides being kind of whiny, she bored me even when she started hallucinating. I think my dislike of her stems from my growing vexation with the poor little rich/suburban/valedictorian/goodie-two-shoes girls that seem to be exploding in YA. I couldn’t bring myself to feel sorry for her though her father was obviously an evil bastard because I didn’t connect to her at all. Her one saving grace was her intelligence, which proved useful throughout the book and she wasn’t afraid to show in front of Tarver, even when she realized she was falling for him.

Tarver didn’t appeal to me in the least. To me, he seemed even more judgmental of Lilac than Lilac was of him. They spend the majority of the book making ridiculous assumptions about each other that just seemed really silly to me. I liked Tarver a lot better when he talked about his family and his cottage, because he seemed more realistic to me in a way Lilac simply wasn’t. I also wished I had gotten to know more about his experiences at war, since he had his whole rags-to-war-hero image. There was a little bit of that, but to me that was one of the most interesting parts of the story aside from the voices.

For me, it was just really hard to get past not only one, but two protagonists who I didn’t like to enjoy the story. Sci-fi isn’t usually my thing, particularly space books, but I liked learning the politics of all the planets and about colonization in space (although that might be because I just finished a course in post-colonial literature, haha) and was certainly intrigued by what was going on on Lilac and Tarver’s planet.

Basically, These Broken Stars failed to live up to the immense hype it’s been getting. I think the authors had a lot of cool plot ideas and great world building, but I needed the story to be told by different characters.

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P. S. as a side note, I will say I was very happy to see a girl-in-a-dress cover that was actually relevant to the story.

The Truth About You and Me

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Title: The Truth About You and Me
Author: Amanda Grace
Publisher: Flux
Publication Date: September 8, 2013
Pages: 229
Genre: Contemporary
Source: NetGalley
Rating: 2/5

Smart girls aren’t supposed to do stupid things.

Madelyn Hawkins is super smart. At sixteen, she’s so gifted that she can attend college through a special program at her high school. On her first day, she meets Bennett. He’s cute, funny, and kind. He understands Madelyn and what she’s endured – and missed out on – in order to excel academically and please her parents. Now, for the first time in her life, she’s falling in love.

There’s only one problem. Bennett is Madelyn’s college professor, and he thinks she’s eighteen – because she hasn’t told him the truth.

The story of their forbidden romance is told in letters that Madelyn writes to Bennett – both a heart-searing ode to their ill-fated love and an apology.

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I had nothing but problems with this book. I thought I was going to like it because I enjoy forbidden relationship stories. Romance between cousins? Sure. Incest? Hit me. (References: How I Live Now and Forbidden). But this book? Heck no.

I didn’t just have a problem with the way the relationship was portrayed. I also had issues with the writing. For a sixteen-year-old student who was supposed to be so advanced and intelligent, her writing skills were somewhat lacking. The book read like it was supposed to be for a younger audience than sixteen, and Madelyn came off as very childish. That may have been the point of the book, but the author also tried to portray her as some kind of seductress, so the whole thing left me feeling kind of confused.

In addition, I realize Amanda Grace may have been trying to get readers to see the other side of the story (as in Bennett’s), but I just felt wrong about him the whole time. There is nothing redeeming about a teacher who sleeps with a student, even if it is supposedly consensual. Relationships between students and teachers can never be truly consensual because it’s impossible to give true consent to an authority figure. People can agree to these relationships out of fear or other reasons. Even though Madelyn claimed she was in love, Bennett should never have engaged in a relationship with her. The age difference doesn’t matter either. No matter if the difference is ten years or three, student/teacher relationships can’t be consensual.

I also didn’t feel Bennett was as innocent as the author tried to portray. If he really wanted to know how old Madelyn was, he could have easily found out. Or, if not easily, he would have been willing to put in the effort to investigate. His only saving grace was that he had the appropriately horrified reaction when he realized Madelyn was sixteen. However, he would have known that before if he’d pressed her for more information. But, again, in a student/teacher relationship, age difference doesn’t matter because you can’t truly give consent to someone who has power over you.

The only good thing about this book was that it was short. So, if you decide to power through Madelyn’s gross fawning over Bennett, the idiocy of him, and the fact that this book pretty much has no likeable characters, at least it’ll be over with soon. Yay.

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Blythewood

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Title: Blythewood
Author: Carol Goodman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Pages: 496
Genre: Historical/Paranormal
Source: Book Divas
Rating: 5/5

At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood.

But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.

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There’s a little something in this book for everyone: it’s got some historical fiction awesomeness, some paranormal and fantasy magic, and the perfect amount of romance. That said, I’ll admit I was a little worried I wouldn’t like this book. I tend not to like anything remotely historical fiction-y and haven’t been that interested in paranormal novels of late, but Carol Goodman won me over expertly with this delightfully dark book.

My worries about the book dissolved basically from the first sentence, and I was quickly seduced by Goodman’s beautiful writing. Goodman’s writing is in of itself as romantic as the actual romance, and drew me in with its mysterious undertones.

I also loved the blending of different genres. I love stories that explore alternate histories of real events, so I really enjoyed reading about real historical events with the added element of Goodman’s mischievous faeries. I liked that in addition to the more magical side of the story, Goodman also tackled difficult issues like the treatment of the mentally ill and classism. Normally, I wouldn’t think those issues would make sense in a book that was also about faeries and goblins, but Goodman wove all the elements of her plot together with grace.

In addition, I liked the fact that Goodman included a real variety of female characters. No two characters were alike, so it made Blythewood an even more intriguing, dynamic read. There are probably many more ways to be a woman today than there were back then, but the women of Blythewood were each very unique in their own way. Also, I think it is important to note the strong presence of female friendships in this book, as too often I feel young adult lit pits young girls against each other. I think many women will find themselves in this book, as I did.

In short, this book will appeal to readers from a variety of genres. Goodman’s beautiful writing will reel in many, and it’ll be easy to get lost in the wonderfully imagined, magical world of the Blythe Wood.

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Leap of Faith

Title: Leap of Faith
Author: Jamie Blair
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
Pages: 240
Genre: Contemporary
Source: Library
Rating: 4/5

Leah Kurtz has finally found a place to call home, a town where she and baby Addy can live in peace, far from the drug-infested place she grew up. Chris is one of the best parts of her new life, the only person who’s ever made her feel safe. And now that she’s found him, there’s no way she can tell the truth:

Her real name is Faith, not Leah. She’s seventeen, not nineteen. And the baby isn’t hers: Faith kidnapped her.

Faith’s history catches up with her when a cop starts asking questions and Chris’s aunt spots her picture in the newspaper. She knows it’s time to run again, but if Faith leaves, she’ll lose Chris. If Chris is in love with a lie, though, did Faith ever really have him in the first place?

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Leap of Faith was one of the books on my September Lust List that I wanted the most, and I can happily say my lust has been satisfied.

This book was just as good as I thought it would be, with plenty of action, drama, suspense, and discussion of complex issues. I really liked how three-dimensional Faith was, and felt Blair made her perfectly flawed. Faith is a very caring person, but is also someone who’s very damaged and impulsive.

Her decision to kidnap Addy also brought some important questions to the forefront, such as whether kidnapping can ever be justified. For me, it was that discussion that really compelled me as a reader. I liked that at the end, I still didn’t really make a decision about it.

For me, the only thing that was lacking in Jamie Blair’s novel was a satisfying ending. I don’t mean satisfying as in happy, but I felt like the ending was a bit of a cop out on the author’s part. I really wanted to see what happened to Faith, for better or worse, and the ending I was given seemed too abrupt.

Overall though, Leap of Faith is a compelling, romantic read. Blair’s skills as a writer shine brightly through, and I will certainly be reading future works from her.

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Reality Boy

What are your demands?

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Title: Reality Boy
Author: A. S. King
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Pages: 368
Genre: Contemporary
Source: SLJ Summer Virtual Conference
Rating: 5/5

Gerald Faust knows exactly when he started feeling angry: the day his mother invited a reality television crew into his five-year-old life. Twelve years later, he’s still haunted by his rage-filled youth—which the entire world got to watch from every imaginable angle—and his anger issues have resulted in violent outbursts, zero friends, and clueless adults dumping him in the special education room at school.

Nothing is ever going to change. No one cares that he’s tried to learn to control himself, and the girl he likes has no idea who he really is. Everyone’s just waiting for him to snap…and he’s starting to feel dangerously close to doing just that.

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Go get a thesaurus and look up all the synonyms to the word “amazing.” There. Those are all the words you would need to describe Reality Boy. Well okay, those plus “fascinating,” “disturbing,” and “fantastically well written.” Reality Boy may actually be my favorite book of 2013. A. S. King was a new author for me, and if this book is any indication of how good her other books are, I am a major fan.

I found this story incredibly fascinating, as well as disturbing, as mentioned above. I have an interest in YA books about reality tv, but this is the first realistic book I’ve read on that subject. Gerald’s story is especially pertinent in today’s world with shows exploiting children like Toddlers & Tiaras, and it provides a frightening, intense glimpse at how this can effect children for the rest of their lives.

Of particular interest to me were the parts about anger management therapy. For whatever reason, I found reading about the strategies and advice Gerald got from his anger management therapist really intriguing. There were a lot of times when I felt like the advice Gerald got from his anger management therapist was flawed, like when he tells Gerald he needs to think less about himself. To me, it was clear that he didn’t understand Gerald’s situation at all, otherwise he would’ve understood that Gerald had to think about himself so he could figure out how to survive in a house with his psychopathic sister.

Tasha was another interesting, upsetting aspect of Reality Boy. All of the scenes with Tasha are done remarkably well, and A. S. King definitely has a talent for writing scenes that will both make her readers uncomfortable and make them think. King also did an excellent job unfolding Tasha’s negative influence on the family in a way that created a lot of suspense. In a weird way, I loved seeing Tasha and the rest of Gerald’s family unravel, because I was fascinated by Tasha’s violence and master manipulation. Though I loved Gerald and found him a highly compelling protagonist, Tasha’s part in the story was another thing that kept me up all night reading last weekend.

Even though Reality Boy is a very dark story, it does has its romantic and healing moments as well. From the first time Gerald mentions the girl at register #7, I was rooting for their relationship. When it finally happened, I was super excited, and thought their relationship was really genuine and sweet. They both learn a lot of things from one another, and the part where they write their list of demands was really emotional and empowering.

In short, Reality Boy was wildly good, and I’ll probably be recommending it to everyone I know for a while. It’s dark but also has moments of hope, and is one of the most unique books I’ve read this year.

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