Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: The F-It List by Julie Halpern

The F-It List by Julie Halpern
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: November 12, 2013
Page Count: 247
Genre: Contemporary YA
Goodreads & Amazon

It's always easy to forgive your best friend. It's even easier when you find out she has cancer. Or so Alex has learned. She wasn't sure if anything could be worse than having to attend a funeral for her father, but it does when she finds out her boyfriend slept with her best friend Becca on the same day. Ouch. Alex takes a summer apart from her best friend, and returns to school in the fall ready to forgive and forget. Only one thing is missing from making up with Becca: Becca. It's then she learns from the school gossip that her best friend has been diagnosed with cancer, and her survival is uncertain. Their drama over a boy now seems insignificant as Becca's health slowly declines, and Alex struggles to deal with the death her father, and the potential loss of her best friend. To raise their spirits, Becca introduces Alex to her Fuck-It List, kinda like a bucket list but less depressing. Alex then takes on the responsibility of completing tasks from this list that Becca has been creating since elementary school. With the help of a zombie-loving cutie, Alex discovers she's not just living a life for someone else, she's also living one for herself.
The only thing worse than having my best friend sleep with my boyfriend the night of my father's funeral would be if she killed my dad herself. Becca didn't, which was the one thing that redeemed her. Still, I allowed myself the entire summer after the trampful event to be mad at her.
Alex is one of my favorite characters that I have read in recent memory. I described her as being 'Winona-Ryder-character cool.' What I mean by this is she is sarcastic and witty, definitely not virginal, edgy, and seems to have her shit together all the way up until a moment when it all spirals out of control. Alex is a horror-flick obsessed teen with dreams of being a horror film director. She is well-versed in all things horror and gore, and has a clear vision of herself being one of the best in the business at scaring the pants off of anyone. I really enjoyed the banter between her and Becca. Even though we could see why Alex was disappointed that her boyfriend slept with her best friend, we can definitely see why she decided to forgive Becca and give their friendship another chance. It was refreshing for me to read a character who seemed comfortable with her sexuality and who she was as a person. Alex has a lot of stuff to deal with in the aftermath of her father's unexpected death, and now cancer with Becca, but that doesn't change her goals and feelings about herself. I also appreciated Julie Halpern for giving Alex an interest that wasn't just something on the surface to give her a quirk. Horror is how Alex relates to those around her, and it's how she ends up bonding with Leo, her maybe-boyfriend-maybe-not. Her passion is palpable when she attends a horror convention, too, and I thought it was cool to see a character's interest be such a huge part of their life.
"I better let you go. I'm going to see Bruce Campbell tonight with Leo Dietz. Wish it was you, though." Did I really, or did I feel obligated to add that? God she looked like shit.
After Becca didn't answer, I started to say, "Well, bye. I'll talk to you--"
"Alex. Alex." B came back to life and spoke urgently. "You gotta do something for me," she breathed.
"What? Anything." I meant it, too.
"Find out if he's circumcised." And then she definitely was asleep.
Even sick as fuck and pumped with meds, Becca was a complete pervert. She better not die on me.
 One thing I saw negatively mentioned in Goodread's reviews of The F-It List was how 'over sexualized' parts of this book were. As I mentioned above, Alex is definitely not virginal, and neither is Becca, who is actually quite sex-obsessed. It may be awkward to discuss on a book blog, but when it came down to it, this book contained two things that I have never, ever read in another young adult book and those were (cover your eyes if you're sensitive!): female masturbation, and cunnilingus. Yup, I said 'em. Female sexuality is an important thing that seems to be void from a lot of YA novels that I've read. I think it's also valid in the YA context, because these kinds of things happen and should be discussed in that upper-teen age bracket. It's not all about the dudes, so I thought it was awesome to see our female protagonist be on the receiving end. So, yes this book has quite a few more sexual aspects that one would expect in a book about a girl whose best friend is maybe dying of cancer, but it was written about in a healthy way so I could hardly fault it for that.
From downstairs, I heard the garage door close and my brothers' clumsy footsteps fill the house with life. I didn't want to be alone, a rarity, so I headed downstairs and spent two hours splayed across the couch watching AJ and CJ destroy zombies. It wasn't quite as good as a movie, but their aggressive banter helped me temporarily erase the vision of Becca puking that was on repeat in my head. I must have been pretty fucked up to watch horror movie after horror movie, not to mention my brothers ripping intestines out of realistic dead humans, and only be disturbed by a little puke. Forgetting about that day, and so many others, felt like a constant goal. I hoped there would come a day I would want to remember.
Then, there is Leo. Was there anyone who read this and didn't see his appeal? He is very much like Alex: also horror obsessed and a little sarcastic, but much more mysterious. He's also the kind of boy that proves that you can't judge a book by it's cover. Not only does he help Alex through her coping, but he's also an A+ gentleman to Becca when he meets her. The conflict within their relationship, though ('cause every relationship has to have one!) was very sudden though and didn't seem to make very much sense. When it happened, I actually had to read back a couple of paragraphs, reassess what was happening, and then feel frustrated about it, haha.

The F-It List by Julie Halpern is definitely one of those books that will make you laugh, swoon, and probably cry. This is a book about friendship, living life to the fullest, and having a lot of fun and intercourse along the way. The characters each had such a strong dynamic with each other that made this book so engaging and unputdownable, and the way female sexuality was handled in this book had me recommending it to several of my friends.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you interested?

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: September 21, 2013
Page Count: 274
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Elise Dembowski is even more unpopular than the most unpopular kids at school. The daughter of a former rockstar father and activist mother, she has always been the best at everything, except for becoming popular. One summer, she attempts to change this. She watches all of the popular music, reads all of the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and follows the hottest trends. When she returns to school, it's painfully obvious that things aren't going to change for her popularity status, and she makes a bold move that backfires entirely. Six months later, she is more ostracized than ever. Her parents won't leave her alone, and she can't sleep at night. She takes to slipping out of her mother's house late at night, exploring her town with earbuds in her ears. That is how, in the middle of the night on a street full of warehouses, she finds Start--the hottest underground dance club in town. Start could be the new start of her life Elise has been looking for all along. She meets the loud and flamboyant set of best friends Pippa and Vicky, Mel, a wise bouncer, and DJ Char, a charming young DJ who takes Elise under his wing and breathes life into a passion she never knew she had.
You think it's so easy to change yourself.
You think it's so easy, but it's not.
What do you think it takes to reinvent yourself as an all-new person, a person who makes sense, who belongs? Do you change your clothes, your hair, your face? Go on, then. Do it. Pierce your ears, trim your bangs, buy a new purse. They will still see past that, see you, the girl who is still too scared, still too smart for her own good, still a beat behind, still, always, wrong. Change all you want; you can't change that.
I know because I tried.
I was born to be unpopular.
I was really looking forward to this book. I've heard nothing but rave reviews about it from several bloggers, and it held a theme that I could easily relate to: being saved by music. I've had my fair share of teen angst, and feeling like I didn't 'fit in' with a particular group. Even though Elise's friend/school situation is much more dire than mine ever was, I could still sympathize with her struggle to fit in. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed by this one, and most of it stemmed from Elise's character. We know her to be the butt of every joke since elementary school, the perpetual outcast that only has two friends who sit on the very outskirts of the cafeteria circle. Everyone else in the school is out to get Elise and make her life miserable. This is why I was so surprised to read Elise as such a judgmental character. She judges her two friends for being so unpopular and lame, even though they are very sweet to her. She judges her father's attempts of 'staying young' with his one-hit-wonder rock band from the seventies. She judges her classmates and their interests very harshly. Her cynicism makes sense given her being the brunt of her classmates torture, but it was disappointing, especially, to see her being harsh to those who love her and were there for her. For some reason, I also had a hard time believing that EVERY single student in her high school hated her and was out to get her.
School was normal, which is to say soul-crushingly depressing. I sat in class and wrote the lyrics to "Dancing in the Dark" in my best cursive handwriting in the margins of my notebook. I imagined Vicky sweeping into the room, with Pippa stalking in behind her on four-inch heels, and announcing to the class, "Elise is with us! None of you appreciate her, and you don't even deserve her. Elise, it's time. We are here to take you to your real life. You have suffered long enough through this one, but this was only a test, and the test is over now." And then I would rise to my feet and join hands with them, and together we would run off into the sunset.
The parts of this novel that truly shined were when Elise was at Start with Vicky, Pippa, Mel, and Char. This was where Elise was most positive, for one thing, but it was also where we could really feel her passion. When she is up in the DJ booth, staring down at a crowd of people screaming and dancing to music that she has chosen to play, we feel her adoration for the music and the people, and we feel the power and control that she is able to grasp up there that she isn't able to grasp anywhere else. I also liked the friends she had at Start, because unlike the bullies that terrorize Elise at school, they were round, three-dimensional characters. The bullies at school never grow into being anything other than bullies. Pippa, Vicky, and Char are all awesome to and for Elise, and they all seem so comfortable in their skin, but they had to climb mountains to get there, and learning what those mountains were like turned them into real people. I wanted to be friends with and dance with Vicky. I was charmed by Char. I was enlightened by Mel. All of these characters were very wonderful, and it made me wish that the whole book could have stayed in Start. There is also a lot of really amazing music mentioned. From The Cure to The Breeders to New Order, a lot of awesome music is played at Start, and if this book inspires kids these days to give The Smiths a try, or fully develop an appreciation for the opening of Love Will Tear Us Apart, then I'm all for it!
"Enough sad tales of my youth," Vicky said. "Your turn, Elise. Who are you in the teen movie of our lives?"
I opened my mouth, then closed it. I'm a super-cool under-ground DJ sensation, I wanted to say. But that wasn't right. Char had just made it clear that I was nothing of the sort. I'm the super-cool underground DJ's girlfriend. But I wasn't that either. Who was I? 
I stayed up very late into the night reading this book. Even though I didn't much like Elise as a character and didn't appreciate her horrible attitude towards those who love her, I wanted to see something go right for her, and she does eventually start to see a flaw in her line of thinking, which was redeeming for her. There is also a fair share of drama being thrown in her path. She is deceiving her parents by sneaking out, so that raises the stakes of her underground DJ career, and, like in every love affair, there are some kinks along the way, and I powered through them wanting to know how everything works out.

This Song Will Save Your Life is definitely for anyone who has ever felt left out or put down. And if you haven't been left out or put down in a big way like Elise, then you've at least probably felt the power of music, which is all over in this novel.
3.5 stars

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

If You Only Had a Heart

Hi readers!

I am always sharing works written by other authors, but today I would like to share something with you that I wrote myself! As I've mentioned before, I studied Fiction Writing in college. This is a piece I worked on and redrafted for a year and a half before it finally hit the right chord with me and everyone else who read it. Then my professor who helped me get it to where it ended up recommended me to Connu, a start-up publisher that shares short fiction with it's mobile subscribers, but also offers them online.

Today, my short story If You Only Had a Heart went live and I am so excited! If you download the app for iPhone and iPad, it will show up as the daily story and will be listed all week before moving into the archive. Or you can read it at THIS LINK HERE. Please give it a read, I am so excited that this story finally has a place in the world, and thank you to Connu for giving it a home!

Thank you!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Get Ready For: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Expected Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Page Count: 240
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult

**I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher in exchange for review. This in no way swayed or influenced my opinion on this book, I promise!**

Typically in my reviews, I write a synopsis of each book to give you guys an idea of what it is you're getting into when/if you decide to read the book. In the case of We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I'm not going to give you a synopsis. I'm not even going to attempt to write one because 1) anything I write about this book would never be able to fully sum it up or give it justice, and 2) this book is one that you absolutely don't want to know everything about. Even the synopsis from the publisher is vague, and that's the way it should be. Typically I like to know what the book I'm about to read is about, but as I flew through this book, I was glad I went into this one blind.
Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family.
No one is a criminal.
No one is an addict.
No one is a failure.
--quote is from an advanced reader copy & could be subject to change
We Were Liars is written in the most beautiful way. Each page radiated with that gauzy haze of summer, and it made me feel nostalgic for experiences and family members and beach houses that aren't even mine. On the first page we are welcomed into the beautiful Sinclair family, a family built on old money, and welcomed we are. Lockhart has created an onion of a group, meaning there are SO many layers to this family and there is always something lurking below the surface. I kept turning the page, desperately wanting to see what would be revealed next. And the tension that comes with each of these layers was just astounding. Yes, there's romantic tension. But there's like, eight other kinds of tension, too, making the book unputdownable and left me with a slight feeling of unease throughout the whole read. That unease was also not unwarranted, there is a lot of suspense in this novel, and I don't even want to get into that for fear of spoiling even a little bit and I cannot do that!

Then there are the Liars. Dreamy sigh. They are a beautiful, smart, ambitious, and tight knit group that I was quickly sucked into. Their dynamic is electric, and I love them as if they were my own group of friends.

We Were Liars is definitely a book you're going to want to get ready for. Add this book release date to your calendars. Tell all of your friends to buy it, too, so you have someone to discuss with (I am DYING to talk to someone in depth about this book). This is one of the best books I have read in a while, and I couldn't stop blabbing to my boyfriend about it. I can't even fully articulate to you guys with words how amazing this novel was for me. It really grabbed at my heart and held on tight. And yes, I cried, and cried, and cried some more, even though it's rare that I openly cry over a book, and I kept telling myself that I wouldn't. Usually I am able to jump from one book to the next, but I think I'm experiencing my first book hangover because I cannot even think about starting a new book yet. We Were Liars is a hauntingly beautiful reading experience that is fitting for all audiences, and I can't wait to talk to more people about this once the book actually comes out.

Are you going to read this book when it comes out? Have you been lucky enough to read already? 

BIG thank you to the publisher for letting me experience this book early. It's likely that We Were Liars will still be lingering with me at it's release date and beyond that point as well.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Review: 40 Things I Want To Tell You by Alice Kuipers

40 Things I Want to Tell You by Alice Kuipers
Publisher: HarperTrophy Canada
Publication Date: February 10, 2012
Page Count: 283
Genre: Contemporary Young Adult
Goodreads & Amazon

Amy, aka Bird, has all that a high school girl could ever want. She has quirky and supportive parents. Her best friend, Cleo, is involved and caring. Her boyfriend, Griffin, adores her. She writes an anonymous advice blog, and she's on the path to attend Oxford University. She is always careful, always predictable, and always perfect. But then Pete Loewen shows up at school, and she is everything he is not. A rumored drug addict, seemingly so much older, and unambitious...and so, very, damningly handsome. Bird finds herself straying off of her perfect path, like a moth to Pete's flame, and she quickly sees that one small walk on the wild side is enough to shatter everything she's been working towards.
Dear MetalGirl,
Tips to Take Back ControlTake a deep breath when you are feeling like you're not in control.
Write a list of all the things you need to do.
Stay on top of your homework and try to keep your work space tidy--it helps keep your mind tidy.
Meditation, Pilates, or yoga can help reduce your blood pressure and calm you down, and you'll find some great classes online which you can watch.
Talk to your friends and family about your feelings.
Remember, you are in control, always.
From one teen to another...
Miss Take-Control-of-Your-Life
From the very beginning of the book, Bird seems as perfect as you could ever imagine a teenaged girl being. She keeps to-do lists. She schedules her homework. She gets to school early for extra studying, and is constantly discussing with her teachers the best ways to prepare for early admissions at Oxford. She even schedules in time for exercising to keep her head clear, and she has put a hold on losing her virginity with her boyfriend Griffin. Even her advice blog gives us an idea of just how perfect she is, or how perfect she thinks she is, and her best friend Cleo whines to her that she is too predictable. Of course, nothing gold can stay. When Pete Loewen, the sexy new student with a hurricane of rumors surrounding him, shows up, her perfection starts to crack, and not only her own perfection but the perfection of her parent's marriage, and her perfect lifelong relationship with Griffin. Bird is, of course, drawn to Pete. He is everything she isn't, and definitely holds no similarities to Griffin. But there is something about him that quickens her pulse and makes her desire to be near him.
I was the worst teenage advice columnist ever. I couldn't figure out how other people made it look so easy to give advice when I was so clueless. I typed out a lame answer and deleted it, retyped it, deleted it again. I needed to find my confident Miss Take-Control self. Everything going on in my own life was getting in the way of me being able to deal with CyberG's question, and I was sick of being so overwhelmed with my own drama: Griffin, his mum, Pete. Okay...kissing the wrong person--with my own recent experience, I should be able to figure out the right thing to say.
For Pete being such an integral part of Bird's story and drama, I didn't feel like I knew anything about him. We are only given the rumors, which Bird hear's through the grapevine, and she hurls at him in moments of high tension, but he never clears these rumors or addresses them enough to let us know whether or not they are true. Each time he and Bird interacted with each other, I felt like I was coming into the middle of their conversation. Even just the first time they spoke to each other, I felt like I had missed a previous conversation and flipped back a few pages to make sure that I hadn't. There was no build up to their flirtation and physical relationship, it just started happening with little or no lead in and left me with general feelings of 'WTF?!' At one point, I actually set my book down because I couldn't even believe what was happening.
source: realitytvgifs
Speaking of 'WTF' moments in this book, Amy was at the base of most of them, making her a very unlikeable character for me. I can usually jive with unlikeable characters, and they typically can make a book more conflicting and exciting when you end up liking them anyway. For example, Amy, and her husband, in Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. It takes little time for Bird to completely shed her Miss Take-Control persona and morph into a person that becomes almost unrecognizable from the Bird at the beginning of the book. It is hardly explained in her first person narrative, either. I would've liked to see her reflect more on her actions and try to find a reason or two why she was acting completely out of character, but there isn't any sort of contemplation which leads the big 'WTF' moments to seem random and out of left field. I'm all about character's changing in books, and they show, but usually they grow into something better or some other realization. I've never seen a character take so many steps in the opposite direction of where they should be going. Even worse for me was that as Bird lets her life spiral out of control, she becomes more volatile and dislikable and there is not even a shred of who she used to be involved in her decisions.
Griffin. I had to tell Griffin.
I had to tell Dad.
The teachers.
This was really happening.
How could Pete have done this to me?
I heard the first bell as I pushed my way through the mocking faces of everyone around me. My heart was racing. I marched out of the school building, trying to keep my head high. As I passed the park opposite of school, I could feel my cheeks burning. I though of Pete and his metallic-grey eyes when they looked at me. I felt desire. And something else. Hatred. I hated him for ruining my life. Hated him.
I read this book, obsessively, though, like one would watch a Lifetime movie: the acting is not very good, it's super overdramatic, and it's a Lifetime movie, but you still find yourself watching it and talking about it to all of your friends. I found myself ranting to my boyfriend and co-workers about 40 Things I Want to Tell You, which I feel is a sign of a good story. The kinds of things that happen to Bird in this book are real things that happen to real teenagers, and are real things that they struggle with. My biggest issue, though, was that a character like Bird had been given her situation and instead of making the best of it and taking control as she usually would have done, she let it get the best of her and just watched her life spiral out of control, all while ruining the relationships she had with everyone around her. I think she really could have made it out on top: her parents stood by her side, and her best friend remained to be involved, but she eventually made it impossible for them to get through to her, which was saddening.
The next day, I was so tired I could hardly think as I went from class to class at school. At one point I stumbled and leaned against my locker. When I looked up, Griffin was staring at me, his vivid blue eyes filled with pain. His hair was wet--he must have come from gym class and just had a shower. I attempted a smile. He pushed his hair from his face and his gaze ran down over my body. I wanted to say something to him but there were no words left. His lips puckered like he'd eaten something bitter. I could almost see his heart breaking all over again. He turned away.
It was so hard for me to rate this book, mostly because I could not agree with how Bird's character was handled, and her interactions with Pete and his lack of real backstory. I liked Griffin and Cleo's characters though. They were always sweet to Bird and gave her a support system that she rejected. And because of all of the drama in this story, I could not put the book down during the last half. There is so much more that I could tell you guys, but then I would veer hard into Spoiler Territory. I just wished that Bird had stuck to her characterization and took better control of her situation. Despite really disliking Bird, though, this book is worth a read and serves more like a cautionary tale than one to learn from.

Do you ever feel conflicted rating books where you enjoyed reading the story but really didn't like the main character? 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Moment of Weakness

Remember that update I made like, just one week ago about how restricting my library access was going so well and maybe I'll just continue it through March, and how I've barely even thought about it?

Yeah, no.

I caved.

In my defense, I had to go to the library. I needed to print concert tickets on Thursday evening, and my printer is out of ink, and the library is so close and cheap. After I had my concert tickets printed and in my hand (I saw Neutral Milk Hotel last, so, so amazing), I could have just walked straight past the stacks and out the door. But, after forcing myself to not eat a single bite of doughnut at work that day, my willpower was quivering, so I figured I could walk by the Young Adult section for old times sake.

Everything was going fine and dandy until I got to the tiny little shelf that holds the new releases, and there, on a tiny little pedestal were two books that I have been really just DYING to read. Two books that I have actually looked into buying for my Kindle so I could read them as soon as possible. Two books that I have heard nothing but great things about.

And I had to have them.
Their covers were so shiny and beautiful. They were practically begging for me to grab them. When I first heard about the premise of Not A Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, it immediately piqued my interest. The world is going through a drinking water shortage, and a girl's family has a pond in their backyard that they fight night and day to protect and conserve for their own. Besides having a gorgeous cover, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales is about something that I can particularly relate to: being saved by music.

We can blame Neutral Milk Hotel on this one. If I didn't have to print tickets for their show, I would have held strong until March ;) But I think this was totally worth breaking my library ban for!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: Don't Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse by Alida Nugent
Publisher: Plume
Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Page Count: 188
Genre: Non-Fiction / Memoir
Goodreads & Amazon

When Alida Nugent, blogger of The Frenemy, graduated from college with a degree in writing, she had a pretty good idea of where her life was heading: sophisticated adulthood with money to spend on real things. Her picture certainly didn't include struggling to pay her bills, moving back in with her parents, and scrapping together the money for her student lines. But c'est la vie, right? With the type of wit and humor that only a twenty-something can deliver, Nugent takes us on a ride with her throughout the years following her graduation. From her return to working a retail job, to struggling with the idea of friends actually getting married, she covers it all and offers her advice to us along the way.
Nobody wants to say, "I'm trying to get my feet on the ground" in their twenties. They want you to think they're about to do something dangerous, or exciting, or different.
I can honestly say that these eight months since my college graduation have been some of the most 'telling' months of my life. Or the most struggle filled. Whichever. I never felt the truth of the 'struggling college student' cliche while I was actually in school, but now that I'm done, I'm wondering why they don't focus more on calling it the 'struggling post-grad' life. As much as I love my retail job, I was confident that I would have a career by now, and I was expecting to at least have, like, one designer purse, and unlimited funds to go to all of the concerts and bars I wanted, and have nail polish that wasn't chipped beyond comprehension.  But that's obviously currently not my position in life, and that's okay, because most twenty-two year olds aren't at that point in life. Which is exactly why when I heard of Don't Worry, It Gets Worse a couple of months ago, I knew I had to read it. More than once, I found myself nodding along to this book, not unlike this America's Next Top Model contestant:
Nugent shares her experiences in a way that made me laugh out loud and want to be best friends with her. She calls herself out, but also calls us as readers out as well. She shows us her dating woes, and her weariness of using the internet as a place to meet men. She tells us about her Craigslist apartment search, and the sacrifices you have to make to live in the painfully expensive city you love (i.e.: cockroaches, drippy faucets, and an apartment that somehow always looks dirty.) Uh, too relatable. I especially loved the final chapter, a love letter to New York City, where she acknowledges its shortcomings and what sucks about it, but also how that just makes her love it even more. Living in a big city at this point in life is magical, but it can also cut you down and humble you, and the final chapter perfectly sums this up. She shares what seems like jealousy of people who seem to have it all together, who are actually finding jobs in the career, and finding the love of their life in romantic ways, and getting married.
A few years ago, I graduated college, diploma in one hand, margarita in the other, completely oblivious to the shit storm that was coming my way. Here's a preview: becoming a living, breathing, job-having, bill-paying, responsible adult? Really fucking difficult. I know every old person you ever meet says it's so easy to be in your twenties now, what with our lack of world wars and easy access to Jamba Juice and our constant stream of devilish rock music. But I beg to differ. For some people, being in your twenties is a time of exploration and sex and going on millions of dates and having your parents pay for shit. I don't see it that way. For me, it's a time of rolling around and watching my life moments get devoured whole by the Internet, all while hoping I eventually figure out both my future and how to make my hair look nice. It's hard, but not in a way that you feel like you have any right to complain about it, which makes it even harder. 
I liked reading Don't Worry, It Gets Worse for one of the same reasons I love to watch HBO's Girls: it doesn't make me feel any more optimistic about navigating this weird, post-college, pre-career world of my early twenties, but it does make me feel like I'm not alone, and that maybe there is a light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel (that sounds a lot more bleak than I wanted it to, oops.) Besides dating woes, apartment search troubles, and the embarrassment of moving back in with her parents, Nugent gives valid advice on diving into the world of freelance writing, which I appreciated, and the chapter 'It's Your Day, Now Let Me Talk' is the speech she would give if she were ever allowed to address a graduating class. It was motivating, funny, and again I was struck with those, "eeeee, too relatable' types of feelings.  Like with lots of essay and story collections, there were some duds in the bunch, like the rambling, script-styled 'Thoughts on Being Dragged to a Bar by Your Friends Who Are Concerned for Your Well-Being' that seemed to have no significance and made me wonder what it was doing here.
And that feeling? That's the emotion I want you to hold onto--that surge of hope and promise and newness and excitement for everything the future holds for you.
That is because a couple of months from now, you will feel frustrated. You will receive your first loan check in the mail, and wonder why you need to pay for something that you no longer receive. You will have trouble finding a job, and will become jealous of others when they land one. You will not be able to afford the clothes you want or the amount of drinks you want or the vacation you think you are owed. Perhaps, most depressingly, you will start eating more ramen noodles than you ever did in college. And this is when you need hope for the future. This is when you will need to test your character much more than you did inside these four walls, when you need to buckle up and hold onto hope more than ever before. Your life will feel scary and gross and uncertain, like you will never have a safety net again.
If you are in the murky waters of your twenties, this is a book that you should absolutely read. It will make you want to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and tackle life and start actually trying for the life you imagined for yourself. Alida Nugent hilariously captures this time of our lives, exposes her shortcomings, but has an optimistic look of where she's going and where she wants to be. She's a lot less jaded than I am, and made me feel like there are actually places I can go. Read more of her adventures and advice on her blog The Frenemy.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Page Count: 240
Genre: Contemporary YA
Goodreads & Amazon

**I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changed my opinion! I promise!**

Libraries will never be the same for Emily Beam. Not after her boyfriend, Paul, stormed into their high school library and threatened her with a loaded gun before burying himself in the stacks and turning it on himself. In the tragic aftermath, Emily is sent to live in Boston with her aunt for one month before being sent to boarding school, a school attended by the famous Emily Dickinson. Always a fan of poetry, but never considering herself as a poet, Emily suddenly cannot keep writing poetry out of her daily life. Feeling almost possessed by the school's former celebrity poet, Emily writes through her darkest days, turning them from tragedy into poetry, and then using those poems as stepping stones out of her confusion and loss.
If Emily had to tell somebody what happened in the Grenfell County High School Library, where would she begin? How desperate did Paul have to be to do what he did? Emily will never understand it, never. Didn't he realize that when he pulled the trigger, the world would go on without him in it? Didn't he know that dead, he'd be nowhere?
And We Stay starts with Emily Beam's rumor-filled arrival at the Amherst School for Girls. She arrives in the middle of the year, doesn't look like the other girls, doesn't dress like them, and sounds different. Immediately, it is obvious that something dark brought her to this place and soon we learn: her boyfriend Paul has killed himself in the library of their small-town high school. Given the recent news of extremely high numbers of school shootings, this was a dark read to get through, and the tragedy of Emily Beam's relationship with Paul was felt on every page and dripping off of each poem that is shared with us. These pieces of her relationship and the downfall of it is shared in small fragments as Emily faces each one, and this slow leaking of details kept me engrossed in the story, desperate to know more about what happened in the library on that day, and what lead to that moment.
And that's okay, because Emily usually has an answer, even in subjects she doesn't care for, such as trigonometry. She is not short of opinions, and she has some ideas about a good many things, but she hasn't a clue as to how her days with Paul spiraled away from her so fast and so final.
Given the tragedy of this story, it would have been served more justice if it was told first-person from Emily's point-of-view. And We Stay is written in third person, which is probably why it's so beautifully written, as it's easier to write with poetry and imagery when you're not in the voice of a character, but I wanted to be in Emily's head in high stress moments like the scenes in the library, and her feelings of being possessed or visited by the ghost of Emily Dickinson. As for the Emily Dickinson bit, this novel toyed with the idea of paranormal activity, but it never fully formed into much, leaving the possible possession or haunting ambiguous.
When K.T. walks away, Emily reaches into her book bag and lifts out her poetry notebook. She flips through the pages, unfolding the loose ones tucked into the back, the ones Mrs. Brooker recovered from the trash. What she sees in her words are contradictions and dichotomies and wild juxtapositions. What she witnesses is a girl on the run from her innocence. Does she want it back? No, not all of it. Does she want  giant eraser? Perhaps. Does she wish for a maze-free mind? That might help. As Madame Colche said the night before over coffee and dessert, fake it till you make it. Keep on keeping on. the only way to make sense of the backward is to move forward. 
When I was studying Fiction Writing in school, one of the questions that always came up when someone wrote a story taking place in another decade was: why this year? And We Stay takes place in 1995, but if you had told me that it took place in 2014, I would have believed you. Nothing in the story screamed '1995!!!!' to me, and it was distracting trying to find the significance of the year to the story. I couldn't find one, so it just made me wish that there was some added pop culture references or real news stories that could have filtered their way into Emily's story.

And We Stay was a tragic read, but it did not ruin my day upon finishing it. I was hooked on finding out the details and downfall of the relationship between Emily and Paul, and Emily's poetry was beautiful and revealing, but I found the 1995 year to be useless to the story, and Emily's narrative would've been better served if it had come from her perspective. Already, though, I'm finding it hard to jump right into another book, because this one is lingering in my mind.

**More like a 3.75!!**

Thank you to the publisher for this read!