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You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney GardnerYou're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on March 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 297
Goodreads

When Julia finds a slur about her best friend scrawled across the back of the Kingston School for the Deaf, she covers it up with a beautiful (albeit illegal) graffiti mural.

Her supposed best friend snitches, the principal expels her, and her two mothers set Julia up with a one-way ticket to a “mainstream” school in the suburbs, where she’s treated like an outcast as the only deaf student. The last thing she has left is her art, and not even Banksy himself could convince her to give that up.

Out in the ’burbs, Julia paints anywhere she can, eager to claim some turf of her own. But Julia soon learns that she might not be the only vandal in town. Someone is adding to her tags, making them better, showing off—and showing Julia up in the process. She expected her art might get painted over by cops. But she never imagined getting dragged into a full-blown graffiti war.

2.5 Stars

“Silence is the loudest sound.”

You’re Welcome, Universe taught me so much about Deaf culture, and for this educational aspect alone, I’d love to give it five stars. Its theme is underpinned by lovely graphics every other page. Unfortunately, the good rep, diverse characters, and strong focus on friendship were overshadowed by an otherwise weak plot. A lovely concept that just… fell a bit flat. 

As an able-bodied person, and not knowing anyone who’s deaf, it was difficult for me to judge the accuracy of the rep, but throughout the book, I had a good feeling about it. I scanned the reviews for insight on personal experience and stumbled upon Cait’s review, which confirmed my impression that the Deaf rep was accurate and thus well researched. I recommend checking out other #OwnVoices reviews as well.

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Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira AhmedLove, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
Published by Hot Key Books on January 16th, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 288
Goodreads

A searing #OwnVoices coming-of-age debut in which an Indian-American Muslim teen confronts Islamophobia and a reality she can neither explain nor escape--perfect for fans of Angie Thomas, Jacquelyn Woodson, and Adam Silvera.

Maya Aziz is torn between futures: the one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter (i.e.; staying nearby in Chicago and being matched with a "suitable" Muslim boy), and the one where she goes to film school in New York City--and maybe, just maybe, kisses a guy she's only known from afar. There's the also the fun stuff, like laughing with her best friend Violet, making on-the-spot documentaries, sneaking away for private swimming lessons at a secret pond in the woods. But her world is shattered when a suicide bomber strikes in the American heartland; by chance, he shares Maya's last name. What happens to the one Muslim family in town when their community is suddenly consumed with hatred and fear?

4 Stars

Love, Hate & Other Filters reads like a more serious When Dimple Met Rishi. It is because of its comparison with the latter that I’ve decided to bump up the rating from 3.5 to 4 stars. The two books, both written by authors of Indian origin (one Hindu, one Muslim), cannot but be compared due to the way they are written and the themes they touch upon. However, if you didn’t like Dimple or simply crave more serious topics in contemporary, then you’ll probably like Love, Hate & Other Filters more.

I’m scared. I’m not just scared that somehow I’ll be next; it’s a quieter fear and more insidious. I’m scared of the next Muslim ban. I’m scared of dad getting pulled into Secondary Security Screening at the airport for “random” questioning. I’m scared for the hijabi girls I know getting their scarves pulled off while they’re walking down the sidewalk––or worse. I’m scared of being the object of fear and loathing and suspicion again. Always.

As with most YA contemporaries, Love, Hate & Other Filters didn’t dig as deep as I would have liked and entailed a strong focus on romance. Nonetheless, Sara Ahmed has achieved a compelling depiction of an Indian Muslim girl’s battle with parental expectations, prejudice in a country she was born and calls home, and the joy and pain of a first crush.

I am not a Muslim and thus cannot judge this book from a point of authenticity. I review diverse books to my best knowledge and as a human being who cares. However, I suggest you also check for reviews by minority readers.

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The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie OakesThe Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Published by Dial Books on June 9th, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself.

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.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

4.5 Stars

Everyone always assumes it’s with hands that people disobey. The Prophet thought so, too. If only he knew, if only everyone knew, my hands were never the source of my disobedience.

Now that I’ve read it, I wonder why this book isn’t talked about more, but then again, I probably wouldn’t have read it if my friend and co-blogger Chantal hadn’t pushed it on me. She was right to do so, because after reading it, I wanted to kick myself for not picking this up sooner. This book is so, so good.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a masterpiece of packing a punch without overdoing it. The book is based on the tale The Girl Without Hands by the Brothers Grimm and cleverly wraps the tale up in a story of abuse, friendship, love, and beliefs with a sprinkle of mystery.

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They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End by Adam SilveraThey Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Published by HarperTeen on September 5th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Goodreads

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They're going to die today. Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they're both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There's an app for that. It's called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure and to live a lifetime in a single day.

3 Stars

“Entire lives aren’t lessons, but there are lessons in lives.”

They Both Die at the End is my first book by Adam Silvera and although I can see he is a great writer who has a deep understanding of people and their relationships, I found this novel somewhat underwhelming. Not bad by any means but just a bit…meh. In part that is certainly due to the genre of the book: despite the sci-fi element – in an alternate 2017 a company called Death-Cast calls people to tell them their last day has come – this novel is a contemporary. As we all know by now, YA contemporaries are difficult for me to love.

Nevertheless, the book should have had more of an emotional impact on me than it did. Though I sympathised with both Mateo and Rufus and felt they were well-developed, likeable characters I did not find myself attached to them and thus the ending, which as the title suggests should have been devastating, left me a bit cold. I am very appreciative of how little angst this book contained, especially in regards to the love story, however, I didn’t feel the chemistry between the two boys and wasn’t invested in their romance. They were cute but nothing more.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 444
Goodreads

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

5 Stars

The Hate U Give instantly made the list of my favourite reads of 2017. You won’t find a lot of 5 stars among my ratings but this one was a no-brainer. I’d been expecting great things of Angie Thomas when this release was first announced, as it tackles an emotionally-charged topic in the US, and it did not disappoint.

When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me. One was the usual birds and the bees. The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.

This refreshing, daunting new voice deserves all the hype it’s getting. A lot of authors address and confront hard and controversial topics in their works, but Angie Thomas had her finger on the pulse of time with her debut. With its raw, realistic, and authentic narration, The Hate U Give tackles racism and the police violence related to it, but it digs far deeper than that – it uncovers a flaw rooted in our society. It takes a great deal of courage to make us and the world we live in look into a mirror, and Angie Thomas accomplished just that. No wonder so many readers said this book changed their lives.

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A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba Badoe

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars by Yaba BadoeA Jigsaw of Fire and Stars Published by Zephyr on September 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Pages: 278
Goodreads

A powerful, haunting, contemporary debut that steps seamlessly from the horrors of people-trafficking to the magic of African folklore, by an award-winning Ghanaian-British filmmaker.

Sante was a baby when she was washed ashore in a sea-chest laden with treasure. It seems she is the sole survivor of the tragic sinking of a ship carrying migrants and refugees. Her people.

Fourteen years on she's a member of Mama Rose's unique and dazzling circus. But, from their watery grave, the unquiet dead are calling Sante to avenge them:

A bamboo flute. A golden bangle. A ripening mango which must not fall... if Sante is to tell their story and her own.

Rich in the rhythms and colours of Africa and glittering circus days. Unflinching in its dark revelations about life. Yaba Badoe's novel is beautiful and cruel and will linger long in the memory.

3.5 Stars

I had heard little to nothing about A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars prior to requesting it on NetGalley. I’ve been trying to expand my reading of literature by authors of cultures foreign to my own and the book’s premise spoke to me, so I was more than delighted than we’d been accepted for this novel.

A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars is pitched as a contemporary but I believe magical or animist realism describes it best. The story combines contemporary themes such as people-trafficking, the flow of refugees from Africa to Europe, and the search for identity and belonging with magical elements of African folklore.

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When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya MenonWhen Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
on May 30th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads

The arranged marriage YA romcom you didn't know you wanted or needed...

Meet Dimple.

Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi.

He's rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she's got other plans...

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works even harder to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

As joyfully refreshing as Rainbow Rowell, Jenny Han and Nicola Yoon, When Dimple Met Rishi is a frothy, funny contemporary romance told from the dual perspectives of two Indian American protagonists. While Dimple is fighting her family traditions, Rishi couldn't be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents - could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

4 Stars

That moment you realize you’ve been reading a lot of fantasy because you tried to create a section “world-building” for a contemporary (I realized that, unless I was going to judge how well the university campus was described, I wasn’t going to get very far). In the premise on GR, it says, The arranged marriage YA romcom you didn’t know you wanted or needed… Well, I sure knew I wanted it but I didn’t know I needed it. Apparently, I did. This was the perfect read for my exam phase at uni – light but hooking.

When Dimple Met Rishi was one of my most anticipated releases in the contemporary genre, partly because it sounded cute, but mostly because I expected get a great #OwnVoices view on Indian culture. This debut did not disappoint. It may have had some rough edges, since this is Menon’s first novel, but it was every bit the cute and diverse read I expected it to be. 

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 11th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love. No matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly's totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie's new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. If Molly can win him over, she'll get her first kiss and she'll get her twin back.

There's only one problem: Molly's coworker, Reid. He's a chubby Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there's absolutely no way Molly could fall for him.

Right?

3 Stars

I know, this is a disaster. The Upside of Unrequited – a novel I’ve been looking forward to for months – only received 3 stars from me. I’ll need some Oreos to get over this. Overall, I liked it fine but I’m so disappointed I didn’t like it more. This is Becky Albertalli, after all. I feel like she wanted too many things with this book. The Upside of Unrequited and I just didn’t click. That spark I had with Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda? Inexistent. There was no chemistry between me and this book. That’s a real case of unrequited love right there.

But there’s this awfulness that comes when a guy thinks you like him. It’s as if he’s fully clothed and you’re naked in front of him. It’s like your heart suddenly lives outside your body, and whenever he wants, he can reach out an squeeze it.
Unless he happens to like you back.

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Mafiosa by Catherine Doyle

Mafiosa by Catherine DoyleMafiosa by Catherine Doyle
Series: Blood for Blood #3
Published by Chicken House Ltd. on January 5th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 416
Goodreads

A blood war rages on the streets of Chicago.

Protected by an infamous mafia family, Sophie is living a dangerous lie, pretending to lead a normal life. But the deceit can’t last for ever. Her heart belongs to a killer and Sophie’s the prime target of a rival clan. She’s determined to seek revenge on her mother’s murderers, but can she pay the price – can she be a mafiosa?

The third and final instalment in the explosive YA Blood for Blood series which started with Vendetta and Inferno.

4 Stars

Mafiosa was by far my most anticipated instalment for 2017. So imagine how ecstatic I was to find it on my doorstep on January 30th, a couple of days before the official release date. I swear, I didn’t make the Godfather an offer he couldn’t refuse. Or, make a pact with the devil (though I would have). Or, bribe the publisher. It was a miracle.

The fact that the sequel Inferno remains my favourite book in the series means that not everything about Mafiosa went according to plan. For the most part, Mafiosa was the addictive, gripping and action-packed rollercoaster I hoped it would be. I sat down, forgot about the world and blew through this in one sitting. Sadly, there were a couple of things that got in the way of my complete and utter bliss with this book.

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The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati

The Weight of Zero by Karen FortunatiThe Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati
Published by Delacorte Press on October 11th, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Mental health
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Cath knows Zero is coming for her. Zero, the devastating depression born of Catherine’s bipolar disease, has almost triumphed once, propelling Catherine to her first suicide attempt. With Zero only temporarily restrained by the latest med du jour, time is running out. In an old ballet shoebox, Catherine stockpiles meds, preparing to take her own life when Zero next arrives.

But Zero’s return is delayed. Unexpected relationships along with the care of a new psychiatrist start to alter Catherine's perception of her diagnosis. But will this be enough? This is a story of loss and grief and hope and how the many shapes of love – maternal, romantic and platonic – impact a young woman’s struggle with mental illness.

3.5 Stars

The Weight of Zero by Karen Fortunati offers a sensitive take on the daily struggles of a teen living with the prospect of a chronic mental illness. Besides highlighting the impact Catherine’s bipolar disorder has on her life, such as attending intensive group therapy, and the grim expectations she has for her future, the book tackles subjects such as the burden that rests on parents of mentally ill children, the image of mental health in society, bullying, and first love.

This debut on a girl suffering from bipolar disorder had been on my radar for months. I am aware that YA fiction has a habit of misportraying mental illnesses, sacrificing psychiatric accuracy for drama effects, romantic subplots, and happy endings. Nonetheless, I was really excited to get my hands on a YA contemporary featuring such a severe mental disorder, for I feel like bipolar does not get the literary attention it deserves with, according to the World Health Organisation, roughly 60 million people being affected worldwide. The reason I wish more YA books, not just contemporaries but also fantasy and dystopian novels, would focus and/or include mental illnesses is because many of these have their onset during adolescence, therefore making it a topic of utmost relevance.

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