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review 2017-05-26 06:02
Review: The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares
The Whole Thing Together - Ann Brashares

Quick review for a somewhat quick read for me, though it felt like I had to push myself through this novel several times. "The Whole Thing Together" has many issues, but I would echo concerns that much of this novel suffers from rampant cliches, insensitive references in the measure of racial attribution (considering it uses a racial slur casually and struggles constantly to accurately and sensitively portray the multiracial character who struggles with her identity) and sexism (slut shaming and odd fixations on physical details of the characters). In addition to those issues, I think the biggest downfall of this novel really came in that I just couldn't find a space to connect with the characters. Not as much as I wanted to, because there were parts of the narrative that had the potential to go interesting places, but never quite reached that point and abruptly halted in places where the development could've provided more intimacy than the narration allowed.

At its heart, "The Whole Thing Together" is a family drama, showcasing teens as well as young adults in a separate sections of the same family struggling through multiple phases and revelations in their lives. Think "Parenthood" or "Brothers and Sisters" in terms of TV dramas, only I think the characters in this novel were far less fleshed out. As ambitious as this narrative sought to be, it tried to take on far too much in a narrow scope, to the point where nothing really worked well. The narrative voices blended far too much for me to truly connect to them (I don't mind third-person omniscient POV, I read it quite often in many genres). I would hesitate to call this YA, it feels more like it straddles the line between YA and New Adult (at least if you think about certain themes tackled in this book).

The surprise revelation towards the ending was emotional, but I honestly think that it could've had more impact if the character constructions were stronger. In the end, it's a narrative with strong intentions, but the execution leaves an unmemorable and sometimes offputting portrayal that doesn't showcase the best of what Brashares can do, and as someone who liked the Sisterhood series, this left me greatly disappointed.

Overall score: 1.5/5 stars.

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.

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review 2017-05-25 03:29
Review: Burned (Burned #1) by Ellen Hopkins
Burned - Ellen Hopkins

Quick review for a quick read that I picked up from my library's audio collection. Powerful and really wonderful character exploration, which is typical of Ellen Hopkins's books. Pattyn is a young woman living in a tightly knit religious community and abusive household. She strongly laments her inability to grow as a young woman - in relationships, in asserting herself among other things - as well as watching her mother being subjected to her father's fists. After a series of incidents in which she acts out, she's sent to live with her aunt and begins to know what it means to have a better life for herself, including being valued in a romantic relationship with her S.O. (Ethan). In the end, she's not prepared to return to the household that cast her out, yet she never really wanted to leave completely behind, and things only turn for the worst after that point. I'll admit it hit me like a punch to a gut and I couldn't shake the emotional upheaval it left within me long after turning the final page.

"Burned", like the other books of Hopkins I've read, went down so smoothly and quick for the overarching read - I really enjoyed the audio narration of the novel as well as the poetic form she uses to tell Pattyn's story. She captures Pattyn's thoughts, questions, fears, uncertainty, and emotion to the teeth, and I liked being able to follow her throughout. I thought her fears and concerns were front and center, making me feel her struggle, but I think there were opportunities of depth and debate (particularly around the religious community concerns, since Pattyn lives in a Mormon household) that were missed. I definitely look forward to reading the next novel in this series, though the cliffhanger ending makes me all the more anxious to get to it as soon as possible.

Overall score: 4/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-21 01:52
Ponyboy, Ponyboy, Where have you been?
The Outsiders - S.E. Hinton

After listening to The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, I can see why this book has been a staple of the High School curriculum.  Ponyboy Curtis is a young adult struggling to find his place with his brothers and in the larger society.  While some of the language is a bit dated (referring to a tobacco cigarette as a "weed?"), or perhaps because of those language choices, The Outsiders does a wonderful job depicting nostagic Americana.  I enjoyed it, though found some of the digressions into description a distraction.

 

 

I read The Outsiders for Booklikes-opoly Square Main Street 11: Read a book that takes place between 1945 and 1965 or that was written by an author who was born before 1955.  It feels the events of The Outsiders could be happening anytime within 5 years of 1960 or so. (The book itself never states a year or any identifying information such as a political figure, but the Wikipedia article says that the book is set in 1965).  Regardless, S.E. Hinton was born before 1955.

 

192 pages

Bank Balance $38

Not rolling again until I finish the rest of my Dewey's Bonus Roll selections (unless I hear otherwise)

 

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review 2017-05-09 04:33
Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

I've been fortunate that the last several books that I've read in a stretch this year have been among my all-time favorites, and Angie Thomas's "The Hate U Give" is no exception to that. Any review that I write really won't convey the depth of how much I loved and appreciated this book, but nonetheless I'm going to do my best to try and hope that it inspires others to read this undeniably necessary and engrossing book.

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement alongside actual events that have occurred in the past several years, "The Hate U Give" is the story of Star, a young woman who witnesses her friend Kahlil being shot by a police officer after they are pulled over one night. What transpires after that is a realistic portrait of racial tensions and family struggles that Star finds herself within front and center. I thought the characters and voices conveyed in this book were so honest, real, and dimensional that I couldn't put the book down - I was very invested in her overarching story. Whether it was talking about the differences between her home and school life, her family history, her grief over seeing two people she knew and loved dearly killed at gunpoint, Star's narration held my attention from beginning to end. (It certainly helped that Bhani Turpin provided a great narration to the audiobook.)

This is a book with many different layers to pull from. Usually I say the best stories that stick in my mind are those that are multidimensional in not only the showcasing of the events, but also provide dimensional portraits of the characters within. From the beginning of this book, Star's strong voice and personality lept off the page for me. I liked her interactions with her friends, her honesty, confidence and even pieces of her vulnerability and doubt as events transpire through the story. Watching what happened to her and Kahlil broke my heart (especially knowing so many real life stories that mirror Kahlil's). Her grief comes in waves through the narrative as she struggles to come to terms with it alongside her family as well as her community. I honestly thought it was refreshing to see a YA story that also focused so strongly on Star's interactions with her family and friends. There are moments that are tense given the events, insecurities, and flaws each of the members of Star's family (Star included) have, but there are also refreshing moments of humor and grounding that I really appreciated. The romance is very well done for the bit showcase it has in the story.

Ultimately, Star plays an important part of the narrative as she struggles to seek justice for Khalil against the people and perceptions that skew the person she knew him to be. She doesn't find the strength to speak up right away, especially with so many different events and setbacks that make her fearful and angry. The narrative takes an honest look at racial prejudices and injustices from a multitude of angles, some overt and others more subtle. It gave an honest look at Star's reactions and rationales to a number of things she endures and witnesses through the narrative, and I think that's something many people will get out of this narrative long after the final page is turned. She doesn't back down from trying to do the right thing and have people understand her, and even when realizing the reality of situations that go horribly awry, she ultimately learns when to stand up and speak and when to let go (even if it means letting go of relationships she once had).

I definitely appreciated the whole of "The Hate U Give" and indubitably consider it one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Overall score: 5/5 stars.

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review 2017-05-09 04:27
Review: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno
Fireworks - Katie Cotugno

Quick review for a progressive read. Katie Cotugno's "Fireworks" was a struggle for me to read in places, but in the end, I'm glad I read it, especially considering the turns it took in the story. The ending was bittersweet and not quite the impression and direction I thought it would go given the beginnings of the story. Yet even saying that, I'll admit I struggled to hold interest in the novel for a while.

The story is told through the viewpoint of Dana, a young woman stuck in a small town with a mother who drinks too much, a job that ended upon her graduation, and a struggle to decide how to escape what seems an inevitable future. Dana's best friend Olivia seems to have everything that Dana doesn't: a supportive family, a college career, and a chance to go to be a part of a pop group in what seems to be like an X-Factor music competition. Olivia begs Dana to accompany her to the competition, but Dana gets the shock of her life when she's asked to be a part of the group after an impromptu competition. Alongside a budding relationship with a guy that's a part of rising boy band maintained by the same manager, things seem to be going well in Dana's circles despite rivalries with her group and rising tensions between herself and her best friend as the practices and training roll on.

One might think this is the kind of novel in which Dana is a special snowflake who gets everything she asks for (the prospective accidental singing career, the boy, the supportive best friend through thick and thin with some moments of emotional tension, etc.) and has a talent that makes her the TCO of the work: but that would be far off the mark, especially as the novel finally hits the ground running in a different direction after the midpoint of the novel. I appreciated that it wasn't so predictable and unrealistic as to paint Dana as a practically perfect underdog heroine. She was selfish and immature on many fronts, but the novel showcases places where she makes mistakes, growing and learning from those decisions/interactions on her own accord. Her emotions are palpable to the encounters/betrayals/relationships she has.

Like Cotugno's other novel "99 Days", the decisions and interactions between the characters aren't so much glorified as they are put into perspective relative to the interactions and passions of the characters within. For another point against the narrative, though, I felt an odd sense of detachment throughout the novel that kept it from being a more meaningful experience for me. For one, the pacing was very slow and the setup in the beginning is so cliche ridden and predictable that it was hard for me to feel invested in Dana's experience. I mean, I got that she got the chance of a lifetime, something that seemed to offer an out to the downcast spiral her life seemed to be. Dana's character, I understood, was incredibly passive and going with the flow, being the odd woman out among vocalists - including Olivia - who had been training their entire lives for the opportunity in this 90s-era singing competition (the novel takes place in the late 90s when boybands/girlbands are all the rage. There are spot references to frame the era, but they're not superfluous. I'd argue that they also weren't as immersive as they could've been, though.)

Dana's narration through the novel is at an odd distance and lacks a passion/immersion that I would've thought could've grown with each experience she had with respect to her experiences in Orlando. The romance in this wasn't poorly done for intent, but again - I felt like I couldn't fully invest in it because of the way it was presented: telling more than it showed. The showcasing of the competition and relationships within was weirdly mechanical in dictation and I wish it could've been more intimate and invested.

The latter part of the novel was actually when I finally became invested as I watched the interactions between Dana and Olivia move in some fluctuating high and low tensions, ultimately culminating in something that was less than ideal. I had a feeling it would likely turn out that way after a point, but I was still surprised. I liked the direction, but I didn't like the execution, and I almost wish that Olivia could've had a narrative perspective to see what she thought on the other end of the events that transpired in this story (because I feel like that would've held my attention by being a different take).

In the end, it was an okay novel, but not really one that I loved from Cotugno. I feel like it could've had much better execution for the intent and premise.

Overall score: 3/5 stars.

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