my thoughts on 3 YA contemporaries I never reviewed

I’m so far behind on my reviews, it’s not even funny. A little while ago, I realized that there are 3 YA contemporaries I read but never reviewed on this blog. Sometimes, I don’t have all that much to say about a book which leads to me never reviewing it at all. To combat that, I’ll try to make more of these combined mini reviews. Here are my thoughts on Leah on the OffbeatI Believe in a Thing Called Love, and I Was Born For This.

leah on the offbeatTitle: Leah on the Offbeat
Series: Creekwood #2
Author: Becky Albertalli
Rating: ★★★★ – really liked it

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended. 

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When Leah on the Offbeat was first announced, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I loved the first book in this companion duology/series, and wanted to know more about Leah as a character. After its release, the book started to get some mixed reviews which made me incredibly nervous. What if I didn’t like it?

I shouldn’t have worried. I absolutely loved this book, and read it in one sitting. It’s not a perfect novel, which I’ll discuss later, but I don’t really believe that exists. The reason most people didn’t like this book is because they disliked Leah as a character or person. I would be a complete hypocrite if I were to say that though, because Leah is basically me as a teenager.

As a teen, I was horribly insecure. Yes, I’m still somewhat insecure, thank you for bringing that up. I was afraid of being the one in the friend group who didn’t really belong, and couldn’t really talk about my feelings. I pushed my friends away and distanced myself from them instead of talking it out, because that’s all I could deal with. I could see so much of myself in this teenage girl, which is why I loved this book so much. I’m happy to say I’ve grown out of that mindset though.

The reason I can’t give this book 5 stars is because of the way Leah reacts when someone comes out to her. She basically denies their sexuality and claims it can’t be true, and honestly it’s just the worst way to react. It isn’t challenged in the book, which is why I feel like we need to address it.

Overall, I absolutely adored this book. I’m so grateful to have gotten to know Leah better.


I believe in a thing called loveTitle: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Author: Maurene Goo
Rating: ★★★ – it was okay

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends. So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life.

She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study. Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

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I picked this one up because a) the hype surrounding it, and b) the main character tries to win over her crush with tips she got from her favorite K-dramas. Doesn’t that sound wonderful and hilarious? I love K-dramas, no matter how cliche they might be at times, so I figured this would be the perfect light and fluffy read for me.

I was wrong. I ended up giving this 3 stars, but I’m still somewhat conflicted on my rating for this book – even though it’s been a year since I finished reading it.

One the one hand, I enjoyed a large part of this book. I loved all the K-drama references and little tidbits you learn about Korean culture while reading. Desi’s dad is one of my favorite characters ever, and I wish to protect him forever. Lastly, I’m also glad this wasn’t a love triangle. I was kind of scared that would happen when I first started reading. All in all, this is a quick and enjoyable read.

On the other hand, I hated what Desi did. Yes, I’m aware of how cliche dramas can be, and how they are full of tropes that aren’t necessarily healthy especially when it comes to relationships. However, Desi took it to a whole new level in this book. What she did was incredibly dangerous and completely insane. The worst part is that there were really no consequences to what she did. I can’t really accept that as a reader, so I decided to lower my rating. It truly tainted the entire book for me.


i was born for thisTitle: I Was Born For This
Author: Alice Oseman
Rating: ★★★.₅ – liked it

For Angel Rahimi, life is only about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are currently taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything – her friendships, her dreams, her place in the world.

Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark too. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band is all he’s ever dreamed of doing. It’s just a shame that recently everything in his life seems to have turned into a bit of a nightmare.

Because that’s the problem with dreaming – eventually, inevitably, real life arrives with a wake-up call. And when Angel and Jimmy are unexpectedly thrust together, they will discover just how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.

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I read this before going to YALC in July 2018, because I wanted to read all of Alice’s books before meeting her. I Was Born For This is Alice Oseman’s latest novel. It revolves around the frontman of a band called The Ark and one of their fans called Angel.

Angel is preparing to go to The Ark’s concert with her best friend, who she is meeting for the first time. They’ve been fangirling over The Ark online for ages, and became friends along the way. Now, they’re going to see their favorite band live.

This is a story of friendship, fandom, fame, and family. Ah, the alliteration. I couldn’t help myself. While I think this novel explored these aspects incredibly well, I didn’t fall in love with the book itself. I loved what Alice had to say about how fandom and sexism and (online) friendships. I tabbed certain passages because I was so glad to see my thoughts written in a book.

I was also quite intrigued by some of the characters. Jimmy, the frontman of The Ark, has to deal with fame and addiction as well as being outed against his will by someone else, and the transphobic comments still thrown his way. I wish I could have read more from all the members of The Ark, because I found them to be the most fascinating.

While I loved a lot of the concepts of the book and some of the characters, I just couldn’t connect to the book itself. The entire time I was reading, I knew it would end up as a 3.5 star-read. One that is okay, or just good. Not great, but not bad either. Just okay.

 

Solitaire | a spoiler-free review

solitaireSolitaire by Alice Oseman
Published: July 31st 2014 by Harper Collins Children’s Books UK
Genre: Contemporary (YA)
Rating: 2/5 stars – ★★

In case you’re wondering, this is not a love story.

My name is Tori Spring. I like to sleep and I like to blog. Last year – before all that stuff with Charlie and before I had to face the harsh realities of A-Levels and university applications and the fact that one day I really will have to start talking to people – I had friends. Things were very different, I guess, but that’s all over now.

Now there’s Solitaire. And Michael Holden.

I don’t know what Solitaire are trying to do, and I don’t care about Michael Holden.

I really don’t.

my review

It pains me to write this review. I had such high expectations for this book, and I’m sorry to say I’ve been sorely disappointed. Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was really looking forward to reading more of her works. She is signing at YALC this year, so I wanted to read Solitaire and I Was Born For This before getting them signed. I now think I won’t bring this book to be signed…

This is the story of Tori (accidental rhyme), an English girl who I believe is 17 years old. I actually don’t know how to describe Tori, aside from the fact that she is struggling with her mental health and isolates herself. She doesn’t have many friends, she blogs, sleeps and spends time with her brothers.

I think the biggest issue I have with this book is because of Tori. I don’t mean to sound like a horrible person, but I think she is awful. By page 79, I was utterly disgusted with the way she talked about her “friends” and other students and the way she behaved. Here are some examples:

  • she categorizes all the girls in her year in three groups: loud, experienced girls, strange girls and so-called ‘normal’ girls. She then states she shouldn’t group them like that, but still she does.
  • constantly makes jabs at Evelyn about her blogging and her body (for example: “just post another photo of your legs, Evelyn. They already get reblooged, like, twenty thousand times.” The comments may seem harmless, but the tone of them really bother me.
  • Even though there is a M/M relationship in this book (side characters), there were some weird comments (coming from the M/M couple in this case) like: “He’s gay, isn’t he? I heard he’s gay.” “Well, I heard that he figure skates, so it’s not entirely impossible.” Yes, way to reinforce stereotypes.
  • Calling other girls attention whores (not said by MC, but still)
  • Calling her best friend a ‘bimbo’ and saying that it pisses her off because she gets such good grades and then ‘acts like a bimbo’.

Anyway, I could go on. Maybe I’m taking some of these too seriously, but I don’t care. It bothered me to read them.

I wasn’t intrigued by the mystery either. To be honest, I couldn’t care less who was behind Solitaire. The pranks they organized went from kind of funny to absolutely horrible. And then there was the reveal. Spoiler alert: what the fuck was that reveal? When they revealed why Solitaire was created it was so fucking stupid. Sorry for the cursing but I just couldn’t deal!! Oh, I did it because I love you. Even though I haven’t seen or talked to you in 11 YEARS!! And then 10 pages later: yeah, I don’t love you. WHAT?? End spoiler

I just didn’t like this. I wish this book was about Charlie and Nick instead, because I would have loved that. I do know she is writing a graphic novel about them so I might check that out instead.

This book was kind of a struggle to get through. I did enjoy the second half more than the first one! But at the end, I was just left with a unsatisfied feeling. I didn’t really see the point of this story.

Lastly, I want to say the following: there are quite a few people who have given this book 5 stars. So don’t completely write it off just because I didn’t like it. If you do decide to read it, I feel like I should give you some trigger warnings because I definitely wasn’t prepared for them.

TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR suicide, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and self-harm.

Review: Radio Silence | Wherein I am Frances?

radio-silenceRadio Silence by Alice Oseman
Published: 25.02.2016 by HarperCollins Children’s Books
Genre: Contemporary, YA

Rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads

Synopsis: What if everything you set yourself up to be was wrong?

Frances has always been a study machine with one goal, elite university. Nothing will stand in her way; not friends, not a guilty secret – not even the person she is on the inside.

But when Frances meets Aled, the shy genius behind her favourite podcast, she discovers a new freedom. He unlocks the door to Real Frances and for the first time she experiences true friendship, unafraid to be herself.

review

I originally bought this book because Kyra @ Blog of a Bookaholic absolutely loved it, and it did sound pretty interesting to me. I finally picked it up because I wanted to participate in the #Bookentine readathon by Michelle & Ely @ Tea & Titles. I’m so glad I got that little push to pick this one up, because it blew my mind. 

In all my time reading YA, and reading contemporary books, I have never come across a book I could relate to as much as this one. That made me sound really old, didn’t it? I hope you know what I mean. I actually felt like I knew Frances, that we were similar in so many ways, and that we would be great friends.

Here’s the thing: while I love stories filled with adventure or road trips and teenage (romantic) drama, that has never been my life. I’m very much an introvert. I don’t really like going to clubs or big friend groups. I do better with one-on-one conversations. There are many things I love fiercely, but don’t tell the people I know in real life about because I’m afraid they’d think I’m too weird. I was a good student. I didn’t really mind studying. Now that I am 22 years old, I love these aspects of my personality. I adore being an introvert. As a teenager, it made me feel like I was the lame or weird friend. I think reading a book like this, would have made me feel like I wasn’t alone, or weird. 

Frances has always been someone very into studying. She wanted to become head girl, so she could get into Cambridge. A good university means a good life, right? That’s always been her focus. There’s one other thing she loves even more though: a YouTube podcast called University City. It’s about a futuristic place where the world has gone to crap and someone is stuck all alone inside of a university (I think). The person sends out radio broadcasts, hoping to find someone who is listening. Frances makes fan art for the podcast, which she sometimes posts on Tumblr too. Anonymous, of course. Then she meets a guy called Aled, and finds herself with a true friend for the first time. 

I can’t tell you how much I adored this story, and these characters. Let me try though: 

  • This book is set in the UK. Somehow, I always feel closer to a teenager’s story when it’s set in the UK, rather than the US. I guess it’s a European Union thing -for now… 
  • This actually felt like a modern YA read. I know what you’re thinking: contemporaries are always modern, Jolien! Yes, I know. But I feel like the references made in this book were things I, as a young woman, understood. Instead of these weird 80s references that no teenager now actually makes. 
  • Frances is so relateable. Even though there are so many aspects of her I can’t relate to, I still feel like I am her
  • There is so much diversity in this book, without it feeling like it’s centered around it. Frances is British-Ethiopian. Daniel is Korean. She’s bisexual, something she has known for years (she’s 17 while this story takes place). This book also includes homosexuality and demisexuality -although I feel the latter could’ve been expanded on more.
  • Family is important as well. In one of the reviews I read on this book, it mentioned the bad parenting trope happening here too. I actually don’t think that’s the case. Yes, there is bad parenting in it. But there is great parenting too. Frances’ mom is honestly an incredible mother. She knows her daughter so well, and is so accepting, supporting and kind. I think she’s the kind of mother we should all aspire to be/support one day. 
  • Friendship is what this book is actually about. Is it weird that I find that so refreshing? This book isn’t about a grand romance which let’s be real, most of us don’t get at 17 years old. It’s about being a good friend, finding a friend who you can really be yourself with and how to help each other out. 
  • Education. I like that this book addresses the problems with our Western educational system. So many of us are led to believe that the only way we’ll have a good life is if we get a degree from the best school ever. And that’s just not true. Traditional education is not for everyone. It doesn’t suit everyone. There are people who thrive in real life situations, instead of in a school system. We need to be shown our other options too, which is something this book addresses. 

I could honestly go on for ages about this book. There are so many things I loved about it. I don’t think I have ever read a book like this. I felt like I was engulfed in a giant hug, while I was reading this. Saying: it’s okay. Not every teenager is all about partying. Not every teenager has a huge clique of friends. Not every teenager has this big romantic story, and/or finds the love of their life in high school. You’re great the way you are.


I would encourage everyone to read this. Even if you would normally not pick up a YA contemporary. I think this is the kind of book most people could find something to appreciate in. Thank you, Kyra and Michelle, for urging me to pick this up. I appreciate it.


As I’m writing this, I’m kind of hoping Alice Oseman will be at #YALC. I’m going this year, and I don’t think the authors have been announced yet. I would love to meet her.