review: the bride test

the bride testTitle: The Bride Test
Author: Helen Hoang
Published in 2019 by Atlantic Books
Genre: Romance (adult)
Rating: ★★★ – it was okay

I received this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

my thoughts on june 19

I went into this book with high expectations because I absolutely adored Helen Hoang’s previous novel, The Kiss Quotient. Getting approved for this book on Netgalley was such a joyous moment, not only because it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year but also because being an international reader on Netgalley at the moment is rough.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love The Bride Test nearly as much as I did The Kiss Quotient and I’ll get into the reasons why today.

First, let’s discuss what I liked about the novel.

The autism representation is one of my favorite aspects of Helen Hoang’s novels. It is #ownvoices in that regard as well. Both The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test have main characters who are neurodiverse. Khai is autistic, like Stella is in the previous novel. While both are autistic, I think the author does a fantastic job at showing that people experience autism in extremely different ways. Khai can’t handle light touch, as it causes him physical pain. He’s not great with touch in general, and needs warning beforehand so he can prepare. I love that the main characters communicate on this, and that Khai tells Esme what he needs and what she can’t do. It’s so important to have a proper discussion, and I’m glad that happened.

Another aspect of the book I adored was the importance of family. I love a good family in novels because I feel that for a lot of people, family is one of the most important parts of life. Khai’s family is so wonderful and supportive, even though his mom went to Vietnam to find a wife for him… In Esme’s life, family is equally (if not even more) important. Her mom, grandmother, and daughter are her entire life and she wants to give them the world.

Lastly, I also really loved Esme’s story. She moves to the US for two months, and has to adapt to living in an entirely different country and culture. Helen Hoang shows the difficulties of that experience through small things like not noticing the smell of fish sauce, startling at the lack of a garbage smell, etc. Esme’s story line is about making your own path in life, and not letting the opportunities you get pass you by. I absolutely loved it.

[Something I forgot to mention before posting this review this morning… I really appreciated how the first sex scene unfolded between these two characters. While it was intensely awkward to read about and I was suffering from secondhand embarrassment the entire time, it was so real. It wasn’t “perfect” like it so often is in romance novels.]

Unfortunately, it’s time to move on to the aspects I didn’t like.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t read a lot of adult romance novels lately, but I was caught off guard by some things in this book. Like the neverending references to Khai’s dick. I’m not even kidding. I can’t tell you how many (terrible) euphemisms I had to endure. In the first 20% of the novel, it’s on almost every page. EVERY PAGE has a reference to his genitals, and I’m tired. I’m also side-eyeing the author for the incredible unsubtle ways of telling the reader that he is… well-endowed. Why did I need to know that??

The sex scene at about 85% of the way through the ARC also made me incredibly uncomfortable. If you’ve read the book, please talk to me about this.

I was also irritated by what I started to call Esme’s absolute idiot moments. Throughout the novel, Helen Hoang tells us that Esme is quite smart through different ways, for example the test she takes at the end of the novel. However, those are all things told to the reader. What we are shown, is the complete opposite. She knows Khai’s mom is rich because of her clothes, bag, restaurant, etc. And while Khai doesn’t live in a villa, he doesn’t hesitate to spend money on things he deems worthy of it – like his car. So why does Esme constantly remind us that she doesn’t understand why everyone thinks Khai is rich? It just makes no sense to me. It’s these small things that undermined what the other told us about Esme.

Lastly, I can’t help but wish they had the conversation about Khai being autistic earlier. They bring Esme to the US for him, make her move in with him, and never tell her about it. It makes absolutely no sense to me? Obviously, if they want her to win his heart wouldn’t it be easier if she knew what not to do at the very start? That way, she would never do something that causes him pain or discomfort. Instead, they let her blunder around, causing both of the characters pain. It makes no sense to me.


While I enjoyed quite a few aspects of this novel, I was a tad disappointed by the overall reading experience. I still adore Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, and will continue to read the novels she releases. This one simply wasn’t it for me.

Have you read The Bride Test? What did you think of it?

 

review: winter garden

winter gardenTitle: Winter Garden
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published in 2010
Genre: contemporary/historical fiction
Rating: ★★★★★ – a new favorite

Meredith and Nina Whitson are as different as sisters can be. One stayed at home to raise her children and manage the family apple orchard: the other followed a dream and traveled the world to become a famous photojournalist. But when their beloved father falls ill, Meredith and Nina find themselves together again, standing alongside their cold, disapproving mother, Anya, who even now, offers no comfort to her daughters. As children, the only connection between them was the Russian fairy tale Anya sometimes told the girls at night.

On his deathbed, their father extracts a promise from the women in his life: the fairy tale will be told one last time – and all the way to the end. 

my thoughts on june 19

I have put off writing this review for months now, because I’m not sure how to explain my love for Winter Garden. However, I’ve realized that not talking about it at all is not an option either. I’ll try to sort out my thoughts today, and hope that the resulting review is at least somewhat coherent.

When the novel kicks off, Meredith and Nina’s father is dying and the family has to come to terms with losing the linchpin of their household. Their mother has always been standoffish and cold, which is why the sisters have a much deeper connection with their father. Aside from dealing with the grief of losing a loved one, they also have to find a way to connect with their mother now that their dad isn’t there to mediate anymore.

The two sisters couldn’t be more different, really. Meredith is the “responsible” one. She’s the oldest, has a husband and two adult children, and works for the family company. When their father passes away, she takes over the family business. Nina is the “free” one. She’s a photojournalist, and travels around the world capturing photos of heartbreaking scenes. One is portrayed as uptight, strict, and a creature of routine while the other is free and following her dreams.

At first, I disliked Meredith and loved Nina. As someone who loves to travel and consider themselves independent and free, her character spoke to me more. Whereas Meredith spent a lot of time judging her sister’s choices at the start of the book. About halfway through the story, my perspective on the sisters changed. I started to see Nina as not only free, but also more of a selfish person than Meredith (which is not always a bad thing, people). Meredith is the one who shoulders the responsibility to make life for her loved ones easier, and that’s not an easy role to take.

There’s this weight of guilt and responsibility that comes with taking care of your family. How do you find a balance between taking care of them enough, yet not losing yourself in the process? Meredith reminded me of my mom, in a way, since she is the one who is always working for others and always ready to help, yet never seems to receive any thanks in return. It’s something I’ve been trying to work more on, to say thank you more often, because I don’t want people’s efforts to go unappreciated.

The main plotline of the story is related to the fairy tale their mother tells. I don’t want to give much away here because that would take away from the impact of this story, but just know that it is absolutely heartbreaking. I wanted to hug this woman so badly.

If you’re interested in adult contemporary fiction or adult historical fiction, I would highly recommend this story. While it isn’t my favorite Kristin Hannah novel, it still had the emotional impact I expected from her stories.

Have you read Winter Garden?

review: the sacred lies of Minnow Bly (the YA cult novel everyone should read)

the sacred lies of minnow blyTitle: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Genre: contemporary, mystery (YA)
Published in 2016 by Speak
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it’s clear that Minnow knows something—but she’s not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

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I bought this book during YALC 2018 in London because I remembered hearing some buzz about it prior to its release. I’ve always been fascinated by cults, so this book seemed perfect for me. I can’t believe it took me almost a year to read it, because it was incredible.

This novel follows Minnow Bly, whose parents joined the Kevinian cult when she was 5. She grew up in their compound in the middle of nowhere, following the rules of their prophet. Minnow’s doubts about the prophet have been increasing for years, and she gets punished more frequently as she gets older.

The story is divided into the past and the present. In the present, Minnow is in juvenile detention for a crime she committed after escaping. In the past, she is growing up in the cult and meeting a boy who lives with his dad in the woods close to their compound. As the novel continues, Minnow’s story unfolds and you slowly learn how she lost her hands, and how she eventually escaped.

That’s right, I said ‘how she lost her hands’. One of the few things you know going into this book is that the Prophet ordered her hands to be cut off for disobeying him (and thus, God). I have to admit that reading how this happened, and why, was devastating. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

In those moments, I wish I could’ve articulated how unremarkable brutality is. How common.

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite timeline in this book. Both had their fascinating, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking moments, which is why this was such a fast read for me. I didn’t want to put it down at all. I think this is the perfect book for those in a reading slump because the compelling nature of it will make you want to read it in one sitting.

What stood out to me most is Minnow’s life in juvie. She meets a ton of other girls there, whose lives mirror hers in one aspect or another.

Here, my scars are the only part of me that could be called normal. It seems like every girl here has had their own personal Prophet.

It truly made me think about the huge amount of girls who grow up in abusive homes, have abusive partners, or grow up in poverty. The odds are stacked against them from the start, and there’s barely a way out of that life. When they finally fight back against their abusers in the only way accessible to them, they get sent to juvie/jail.

It left me stuck in this grey area of morality. Of course I don’t think we should all murder or assault people. But what else were some of these girls supposed to do? Just take the abuse forever? They have no power, and need to take some back in one way or another. I just felt so much for them, and it makes me want to do more research on juvenile detention centers in my own country.

Aside from Minnow’s life in juvie, a large part of the book also takes place at the cult’s compound. I don’t want to say too much about this part, because this is where the mystery aspect of the story comes into play. What I will say, is that the intriguing part of the cult is the different way it affects the followers.

Part of her doubting the teachings of her Prophet results in her trying to get others to leave the compound with her, to escape. She’s baffled when she realizes that not everyone wants to leave. I think the author did an incredible job portraying the mindsets of the cult people. The ones who are so indoctrinated, the ones who are simply to afraid to take action, and the ones who would do anything to leave.

But the offer of freedom doesn’t mean anything to people who already think they’re free.

This story does partly revolve around love, as Minnow meets someone while she lives at the compound and falls in love with him. The romance aspect never takes over the rest of the story, however. It’s an important part of the main character’s life which is why it’s entangled in her memories. But it’s not the core of the story. I loved the way the author managed to intertwine all these different aspects of a person’s life, without allowing one to overwhelm and overtake the others.

I don’t know how else to convince you to pick this book up. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll give it a try. It’s a brutal read, and will make you doubt humanity once again, but it’s an important read as well. Family, friendship, and love are all prominent parts in Minnow’s life, and Stephanie Oakes portrays both the beautiful and ugly parts of the relationships in the main character’s life.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?

 

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.

 

review: noteworthy | a cappella, girl disguises as boy, and boarding school greatness

noteworthyTitle: Noteworthy
Author: Riley Redgate
Genre: contemporary (YA)
Published in 2017 by Amulet Books
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it

It’s the start of Jordan Sun’s junior year at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Unfortunately, she’s an Alto 2, which—in the musical theater world—is sort of like being a vulture in the wild: She has a spot in the ecosystem, but nobody’s falling over themselves to express their appreciation. So it’s no surprise when she gets shut out of the fall musical for the third year straight. But then the school gets a mass email: A spot has opened up in the Sharpshooters, Kensington’s elite a cappella octet. Worshiped . . . revered . . . all male. Desperate to prove herself, Jordan auditions in her most convincing drag, and it turns out that Jordan Sun, Tenor 1, is exactly what the Sharps are looking for.

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When I picked this up, I was in need of a cute contemporary read after finishing some heart-wrenching and moving books. I wanted something lighter, a novel that would leave me happy by the end. If you’re ever in the mood for some contemporary YA, fluffy or not, I’d recommend Noteworthy

Noteworthy revolves around Chinese-American student Jordan Sun, who recently started her junior year in musical theater at the Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. As the author is also Chinese-American, this is an #ownvoices novel in that regard. She’s just found out she didn’t get the lead in the upcoming show, and after confronting her teacher, discovers it’s because she is an Alto 2. Female leading roles in musicals tend to go to sopranos, after all. There’s nothing Jordan can really do about it, as it’s not a skill she can work on or improve. It’s simply her voice.

Then she receives an email that could change her life at school. The Sharpshooters, the most revered a cappella group on campus, have an open spot and are holding auditions. The only problem? They’re an all-male group. Jordan decides to dress up as a guy and audition anyway – and then gets stuck in an endless cycle of lies when she gets in.

To be honest, I liked everything about this book. The story was engaging, fun and light, yet thought-provoking. The pacing was pretty consistent, and I found myself reading huge chunks of the book in one go. I didn’t want to put it down at all. 

I’ve always loved the gender bending stories, and this one is no exception to that rule. I think it tackles to topic far better than most, as it delves into a discussion on sexuality and gender as well.

I’ll say it now: I absolutely loved Jordan. She’s such a fun main character. In fact, I would read more contemporary books if female leads were more like her. She was funny and witty at times, awkward at others. Sometimes she knew exactly what to say, other times she was lost for words. She got into the most ridiculous situations because of her lie, yet it never felt over the top. I related so much to her, even though we have pretty much nothing in common. I wish I could be her friend.

Honestly, I wish I could have been friends with all of the Sharpshooters. Their little found family is so fantastic and adorable, and I want to be part of it.

This is basically a brilliant and diverse version of the gender bending story we’ve all read before. Note that I said brilliant AND diverse. AND. The book is not brilliant simply because it is diverse. It’s an incredible book, and it’s incredibly diverse.  It’s a novel about teenagers with different religions, ethnicities, sexualities and so on, but it doesn’t focus solely on that aspect of their characters. It’s not a story about Jordan being Chinese-American or bisexual, even though she is. I also want to say that I loved the fact that one of the Sharpshooters is dyslexic. I feel like with regards to diversity, we don’t talk enough about disability representation.

What I loved most about this book is that it addresses gender identity and how it affects people differently. Jordan dresses, acts, and shows herself to the world as a guy, even though she doesn’t identify as male. She isn’t trans, but she finds herself in a situation a lot of trans people go through. She becomes Julian to be a part of the Sharpshooters and boost her level of experience – and possible save her future career. But she also realizes that for a lot of people, these things are not so frivolous. The trans community deals with things like secretly buying boys’ clothes and becoming someone “else” all the time, in a far more serious and often terrifying way. I say terrifying because unfortunately the world is full of pieces of shit who abuse trans people for being who they are. I like that the author addressed that this isn’t fun and games for everyone.

In the book, you see Jordan struggling with applying tips she finds on forums for trans people and people in drag to her life. She knows that she is borrowing from a community she doesn’t belong to, and it makes her feel like shit. Thank you, Riley Redgate, for including stuff like this in your book!

FINAL THOUGHTS

If it’s not obvious by now, I don’t know what to say. I absolutely loved this book. It’s a diverse, own voices novel with tropes I simply adore yet it isn’t afraid to address the real issues hiding behind those tropes either. If you want to read a contemporary YA novel, I’d recommend picking this up. Seriously. READ IT.

 

review: American Street | a fantastic YA novel about U.S. immigration and family

american streetTitle: American Street
Author: Ibi Zoboi
Published in 2017 by Balzer + Bray
Genre: contemporary fiction (YA)
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

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American Street is a book I’d been interested in reading for a while, but not necessarily enough to purchase a copy of my own. I don’t mean that in an offensive way, before anyone asks. There are just so many books I want to read, and I can’t afford to buy them all. I was lucky enough to spot a copy of this novel at my local library, and knew I had to take it with me. I’m glad I got a chance to read this, because it was absolutely fantastic.

This is the story of Fabiola, who is immigrating to the U.S. with her mother. They’ve left Port-au-Prince, not only to find a better life but also to be reunited with their family. When they arrive in JFK Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, and Fabiola has to continue the journey to Detroit on her own. Her cousins are there to welcome her to the U.S. and take her to her new home, which is her aunt’s house.

I found this to be such an interesting take on immigration, and I’d urge pretty much everyone to read this. There’s a duality in Fabiola’s life in Detroit. On the one hand, she wants to belong and fit in with her new country, and her family. That requires her to become more “American”, and drop some of her habits and beliefs that she held so close in Haiti. On the other hand, she needs to hold on to those habits and beliefs, because they have made her into the person she is. They’re such a big part of her, and she doesn’t want to just forget about them. While she’s dealing with all of this, she’s also trying to reunite with her mom.

There’s so much going on in this book; I don’t really know where to start. One of my favorite parts of American Street was watching Fabiola adjust to life in the United States. It’s so different from her life in Haiti, and it left her feeling like she was being swept away by the river at times – like she couldn’t find her footing. She has to enroll in school with her cousins, and act a completely different way. In Detroit, she has to look tough. She has to let people know they can’t mess with her. It’s so far removed from the girl she actually is, and you can see her struggle to put up a front. I truly felt for her when she talked about how much she missed speaking (Haitian) Creole, because her aunt wouldn’t allow her to do so. She needed to speak English at all times, even at home with her family. She missed Haitian food, and cooking with her mom, so much but had to settle for American food instead. I can’t imagine having such a big part of who you are taken away from you: your language, the face you present to the world, and the cuisine you were raised with. I know that I’m privileged to have never known what that’s like, since I was born and raised in Belgium and still live here.

Fabiola also learns to practice her religion in the dead of night, so no one will see her and misinterpret. After all, people will easily assume that she’s “doing voodoo” which has been given an awful connotation by Western people. She even tries to hide it from her family members, but doesn’t want to give it up at the same time. She needs to pray. For her mom. For her cousins. For her aunt.

American Street is an #ownvoices novel when it comes to immigrating from Haiti to the U.S. as the author did the exact same with her mother at age 4. I think she drew such a vivid portrait of that experience in this book, and I’m grateful for the glimpse into her life it provided me.

There are so many interesting characters in this book. I’ve already talked about my love for Fabiola’s character earlier, but I feel like I can’t properly express my feelings for her still. Other important characters in the novel are her cousins: Chantal, Donna, and Princess. You truly start to care about all of them, even if you can’t agree with their choices. That especially applies to Donna, here.

There’s also a romance in this book. Fabiola starts dating a guy she meets through Donna’s boyfriend even though she isn’t entirely sure about it at the start. He’s incredibly nice to her and always treats her with kindness, which leads to her developing feelings for him gradually. All I wanted is to wrap him up in a blanket and protect him from the world. While I didn’t think this book necessarily needed a romance, its presence didn’t bother me in the slightest.

Aside from immigration, this novel also talks about drug use, abuse, and drug dealing. I think it’s necessary to include topics like this in YA literature, because removing them from the conversation won’t stop it from happening. It gave the book a tense, dramatic story line that kept the reader glued to the pages.

My only criticism for American Street is that I felt it was a tad too short for everything it was trying to achieve. It’s only 336 pages long, but discusses so many topics. In my opinion, that lead to some things not being developed as well as they could’ve been.


Obviously, this is a book I’d recommend. Even though I didn’t think I’d end up loving it at first – because I don’t read that much hard hitting YA contemporaries – I’m so glad I decided to give it a chance.

review: solve for i | a wonderful f/f contemporary

solve for iTitle: Solve for i
Author: A.E. Dooland
Published in February 2017
Genre: contemporary (adult)
Rating: 4/5 stars – really liked it

Maths wiz Gemma Rowe has found the one problem her maths can’t solve: she’s fallen for her female & very heterosexual best friend. 
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Gemma Rowe is a shy maths nerd from Sydney who, despite having an affinity for probability and logic, only just worked out at 28 that she’s not actually straight. Not only is she not straight, but she’s developed feelings for her best friend Sarah. 

Sarah and Gemma go way back—since they met at university, they’ve been completely inseparable. They’ve travelled together, got jobs at the same company, and shared each other’s triumphs and sorrows. There was even that one memorable time when Sarah, completely drunk, told Gemma she couldn’t live without her. A relationship seems like the perfect solution. 

There’s just one teensy little problem with this whole equation: Sarah is straight. 

my thoughts on - review black (1)

I have no idea how I came to buy this ebook, but it had been on my Kindle a while before I decided to read it. I’ve been trying to read more LGBT+ fiction, especially f/f relationships since they’re so underrepresented compared to m/m ones. Solve for i is an adult contemporary novel that revolves around Gemma, a 28-year-old woman who is coming to terms with the fact that she might not be straight after all.

Gemma has been in love with her best friend, Sarah, for years but has always blown it off as the love of a best friend or a girl crush. However, she’s been struggling with being just friends with Sarah more and more, and her painful shyness does not help her case at all. What is she supposed to do? She can’t tell Sarah, because Sarah is not only heterosexual, but also in a loving relationship and pregnant. But how do you get over someone you spend all your time with? That’s the dilemma Gemma is currently facing.

I have to admit that I struggled a bit with the first half of this book. Gemma is 28 years old, but I constantly felt like I was reading from the perspective of a woman who is definitely younger than I am – I’m 24, by the way. I guess that’s because I’m not incredibly shy, and while I am afraid to speak up at work sometimes, I don’t let it hinder me as much as she does.

What I had most trouble with at the start is how the friendship between Gemma and Sarah was way too dependent. It’s like they couldn’t function without each other! They were angry when the other didn’t immediately answer a call or respond to a text or were worried when they didn’t want to spend an evening together or had other plans. That seems so utterly ridiculous to me, at 28! People live busy lives, and can’t always respond to a text or answer a call. And maybe they’re busy and can’t spend a day with you. That’s not the end of the world! It just seemed so ridiculous to me, that these two adult women could have a friendship that didn’t allow room for much else in their lives.

That’s especially notable in where Gemma works. She only started working at that company because Sarah works there, and even requests a transfer into Sarah’ team – marketing – even though she has no interest in it whatsoever. That’s so messed up to me!

However, the author made up for that in the second half. We watch Gemma accept herself, and admit to herself that she’s gay. We watch her go on dates, and become more involved in the other friendships in her life. She learns to let go of Sarah somewhat, and become more of her own person. Their relationship becomes much healthier, and I couldn’t be happier to see that.

I have to admit that I flew through the second half of the book. I suddenly cared so much about Gemma, and her new date (won’t say who though). I fell in love with the side characters, especially Min, and wanted to read more about them too. The second part of the book was basically the feel-good f/f romance I was expecting to read from the beginning.

I will definitely read more works by A.E. Dooland! I discovered that there are two books that focus on Min, who was by far my favorite character in this novel. I can’t wait to check those out!


Overall, I would recommend this if you’re searching for more LGBT+ contemporary with f/f relationships. It was fun, cute, and made me root for the characters by the end. Just be warned that it starts out with a not-so-healthy friendship (in my opinion). I think there is 1 more explicit scene, but if you don’t like to read about sex, you could easily skip that part. It’s not very relevant to the plot at all. If you are into that, there you go! From what I remember, there’s only one though.