The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwal & Friends
Release Date: 16th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Apparently this year’s running theme is ‘being disappointed by my anticipated reads’. Because boy, am I getting disappointed by my anticipated reads.

I came across The Love Interest and begged every single gatekeeper to give me an early copy. Not only was it LGBT, it also seemed to be a funny self-deprecation at the genre and how many YA novels have the same romance tropes which are tired and clichéd.

When I was ignored, I waited for the Kindle edition and impatiently downloaded it on the release day (for £6.50, for God’s sake). I prepared myself for a full day of reading the whole thing; just me and this book, which I already knew I loved.

Oh. My. God.

This book is bad, which I hate to say about a book that I had such good expectations for. It does not read like a polished, traditionally published novel by a top publisher where editors have fine tooth combed it to perfection. This is a book that was clearly not looked at enough. Not read out loud to understand truly how badly structured and paced this whole thing is.

We’ll start with the writing, which I can only describe as written as bad stage directions. Every single thing is described, things that do not matter to the plot whatsoever. It’s not even purple prose, it’s just listing everything a person does or what a place looks like to the point where we are forced to shut down our imagination because everything is covered. But there’s no creativity; it’s just straight up describing and explaining. Here’s one mind numbing paragraph:

“”If it’s not too much trouble, can you chop up this celery for me?” A gigantic piece of celery is sitting on a wooden chopping board. I walk toward it and pick up the silver knife. I cut off the head, the slice the body into thin slivers.”

Apparently a reader cannot possibly know what chopping celery is, and so is taken through every step the main character goes through in order to fully understand this scene. Now, imagine this throughout the entire book. I felt like I was being talked to like an idiot. The protagonist walks into a room, the character smiles and breathes in and then breathes out. He then walks 30cm to the North West of the room and reaches for a pen, he picks up the pen……and it goes on. There is even a scene where two characters are out for a meal and nothing happens. We just get told that they lift up their forks and put food in their mouth and chew. AM I GOING CRAZY? I KNOW WHAT EATING FOOD IS.

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The dialogue is also just…not dialogue. It doesn’t sound authentic or real. I’m not expecting a book to write speech so accurately that it becomes a transcript, but to have characters talk as if they’re reading from a teleprompter is so bizarre. They don’t pause for breath, they just keep saying ‘oh also,’ and ‘anyway enough about that’ and just keep going. They have answers without thinking about things, like they’ve rehearsed what they’re going to say. And even though the love interests in the novel do sometimes have rehearsed lines, not everyone does! They all sound like robots! The only way I can explain it is if you and a mate got the book and acted a scene out. Hear the dialogue out in the open, and then you’d realise it sounds like a bad amateur play.

The characters? I don’t know. Caden, from the beginning, we are told does not feel like he is a Nice because he doesn’t fit the mould. He says he’s selfish and is out for himself, and I understand it’s supposed to be a commentary on unrealistic characterization and that real people aren’t ‘nice’ or ‘bad’ but more of a mixture of the two with some leaning more one way than the other. I got that. But Caden isn’t much of anything? He says that he thinks a certain way but we don’t actually see it? He’s just a bit of a wet mop. They all are; even Dylan, the ‘bad’ who at first came across as a manic pixie dream boy, but then becomes like that character Summer from 500 Days of Summer. He’s wishy-washy and both of them just stand around and say stock sentences.

The premise, the plot that there’s this place where they create perfect people to be spies and make target’s fall in love with them is…I get it. It’s a sci-fi aspect to the common tropes in YA. You’re supposed to suspend your disbelief, but I physically couldn’t. There’s not enough exposition for this concept to land properly. We’re not given enough. After reading this, and someone asked me to explain exactly what the Love Interest Compound (LIC) is, I wouldn’t know what to tell you. Is it a prison? Is it a nice place? Is it awful? How do they find love interests? How do they raise them? Why do they kill them? Where has all this money come from to spend on giant robots and cool holograms that people can conjure up with a flick of a finger? If they deal in secrets and information from their targets, how has that information not caused world war three? Or the collapse of society? I DON’T KNOW. I felt like it could have been something a lot smoother and polished and clever, but instead there just wasn’t enough. You were in there, and then suddenly you were made to forget about it and plopped into a YA contemporary, where the threat of death is still there but no one is that bothered. It doesn’t feel like a big deal.

I’m so disappointed. If this was a gripping story with humour mixed in with a thoughtful message, it would have been so much easier to look past some of the hammy stuff. But a badly written book is a badly written book, and I hope that the author continues to write and gets better editors.

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The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Publisher: Penguin
Release Date: 11th April 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love-she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because 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. 

30653853Then 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. Will is funny, flirtatious, and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And 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 an awkward Tolkien superfan, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

I received an eARC from Penguin in an exchange for an honest review.

So this is a very cute book, like super cute.

Imagine a rom-com, with very little conflict and lots of teen drama, but so much better because not everyone is white and not everyone is straight.

The Upside of Unrequited was a very realistic and lovely insight into an alternative family lifestyle that’s loving and just as normal as any other. It’s also a very complicated look at the self-esteem of teenage girls and how new romance can be affected by that. I very much related to main character Molly now, more so than I would have when I was as a teenager (skinny and in a long term relationship), but I still find that appealing and it’s what makes Molly so loveable.

It’s great to read a book where LGBT people are happy and living a happy life. It’s possible, but many LGBT books concern themselves with so much drama and death and suffering. While I understand there has to be some drama within a book to actually have a plot, I found it refreshing that it didn’t ruin everything in it’s wake.

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Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Barnard

Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: June 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realises, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

25437747I love reading books set in Britain, and it’s kind of a sad sentence. Because despite living in the UK, and having a passion for books, I still find it difficult to find them set in Britain and written by British authors. So, when I do, I snap them up pretty quickly.

Beautiful Broken Things was no exception. And, since it was in the Zoella Book Club last year, I thought it’d be nice to pick up a book that supported a campaign to get young people reading, as well as hearing that it touches on serious subjects well.

And it did, however, it was one of those stories when the main character was over shadowed by another character who clearly had too much sway in how the story was going to be told. Caddy is an alright main character, but she’s so privileged that she’s jealous of her new friend Suzanne. She ends up saying and doing silly things and then gets upset when people react badly, and there isn’t necessarily any development for her.

Despite this, I really enjoyed the themes discussed in this book. There is no romance (unless you found the scenes between Suzanne and Caddy to be borderline romantic), and the story solely focuses on the dynamic between teenage girls, and what they’ll do to be liked and fit in. It’s hard to find a story that focuses on female friendships in a healthy and realistic way, as well as promoting the idea that girls can actually be friends (who’d a thought it). It’s tiring seeing so many YA novels where girls automatically dislike each other because of a boy or just for the sake of it. So, with that in mind, I gave it a 4 stars. It was gripping, with a great message, but with a bland MC with very little action until the end.

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P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: May 2015
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.

When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

So after putting this review off for a while, I can safely say that I’m not as pissed off about it as I originally thought.


Lara Jean and her life is still a warm hug. She takes pride in making herself and her surroundings cute, as well as caring for her younger sister and generally just being an all-around Goddess when it comes to general housekeeping.

But it pains me to say that her love interest, Peter, is just a sack of shit.

Granted, he is nowhere near as bad as some love interests I’ve had the pleasure to read. In fact, Peter is a very realistic (but also stereotypical) representation of a teenage boy; he’s horny, selfish, boisterous, and has a very little understanding of how his actions can negatively affect others. While Lara Jean is quite the innocent, fragile little snowflake, it’s still frustrating for me to see her forgive Peter and be so understanding of him when he is not very understanding of her.

Especially when another boy walks into her life who is actually a ray of sunshine. John is respectful, funny and caring. I didn’t want to be the type of person who got angry when their ships didn’t sail. Been there, done that, but in this case there isn’t really a gray area to who Lara Jean should ‘choose’. I’d also recently watched Bridget Jones’ Baby and had the same problem; just because the audience/reader is familiar with a certain love interest, does not mean that should be the one the MC goes for.

The things I did enjoy were the relationships between Lara Jean and Kitty as well as with their father. I also just enjoy the whole aesthetic of the novel, how cute and pretty and particular the setting and the story line is. The detail, the baking, the arts and crafts. It’s sad to think that all of these things can boost it up to a 4 stars, but if Peter was flung off the page and didn’t exist anymore, this story would probably have made it to a 5.

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The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Corgi (Penguin)
Release Date: 1st November 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
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Plot: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

 

I received this book as an ARC from Penguin in exchange for an honest review.

There’s something about straight, summer romances that has people coming back for more. While I’m not one to judge if you love reading them over and over again (everyone has a genre/theme/plot device they can’t get enough of), I still like to question why, after the market being saturated with them, these plots are still popular.

I’m talking about the two white, middle class heterosexuals falling in love, and then maybe one gets cancer but then it’s alright in the end nobody dies everything is fine everyone gets to go to prom. There’s a black best friend, bonus points if there’s a camp gay guy in the background somewhere and the male love interest is a bit of a dick.

I’ve read a lot of contemporary romance this year and it’s YA that seems to be the one to actually break out of these stereotypes and introduce something new and different and, dare I say it, diverse. The Sun Is Also A Star is a new example of why YA is important, and should be read not just by young adults but old adults too. There’s a real stigma when it comes to a certain type of contemporary, and it’s because of the stories I just described, where having a black person as your main character is considered a ‘curveball idea’.

While I’m not about praising authors for doing something so basic (yet important) as being diverse with their characters, I will absolutely praise Nicola Yoon for highlighting the rampant casual racism and struggles that POC youth have to deal with just because they’re not white e.g. the fact that black women have this idea reinforced constantly that their hair is not “good hair”. This is stuff you probably wouldn’t consider if you’re in your own little bubble like many of us are. It’s not just that, it’s also that characters such as Natasha and Daniel are relatable to so many who don’t see themselves in not one character in YA because so many books are about the people who don’t consider representation because they open up a book or turn on the TV and see themselves every single day.

I will say this; don’t read this book because the main characters are black and Asian and you want to feel like you did something good by picking it up. Read this book because it’s insightful, because it treats each character (even the ones you only meet briefly) to a rich backstory with traits that may deem them unlikable, and yet you can’t help bit find them interesting. Read this book because you are sick and tired of the same old dumb story, and you like the idea of reading about people you maybe can’t relate to, or you’re tired BECAUSE no characters in YA are relatable to you, and these definitely will be.

Oh, and not everyone goes to prom. But the people at prom are not necessarily the interesting ones, are they?

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: August 2014
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Plot: Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. One for every boy she’s ever loved. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control...

I have one word for this book; cute. Like, unbelievably cute.alltheboys2

I imagined Lara Jean living in a world of pastel and flowers and white marble. A squeaky clean, slightly blurred world with no sharp edges. The girl on the cover (who I’m guessing is Lara Jean) has got on a pale blue cardigan, wearing a headband and is lying on her bed writing letters to all the boys she’s loved in her life (5).

It was great to see a female protagonist who is unapologetically girly. I loved that she liked pink things and pretty things and she came across as so dainty and sweet. She learnt to bake, and folded clothes neatly, and liked collecting antiques. Lara Jean came across as a mix between an old woman and a young girl, if possible.

I can see why people my dislike this story, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is like a song that’s slowly building, and then it ends without a drop. It’s a slow burner, with people and plot moving slowly. It’s a very easy read, a cute read, like I said. But if you’re looking for a contemporary with passion and ferocity and a love so amazing you just want to shout it to the heavens, then it’s not here.

But it’s good, it’s addictive, and I’m buying the sequel right now.

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You Know Me Well by David Levithan & Nina LeCour

Publisher: Macmillan
Release Date: June 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Goodreads

Plot: Mark and Kate have sat next to each other for an entire year, but have never spoken. For whatever reason, their paths outside of class have never crossed.

That is, until Kate spots Mark miles away from home, out in the city for a wild, unexpected night. Kate is lost, having just run away from a chance to finally meet the girl she has been in love with from afar. Mark, meanwhile, is in love with his best friend Ryan, who may or may not feel the same way.youknowmewell

When Kate and Mark meet up, little do they know how important they will become to each other—and how, in a very short time, they will know each other better than any of the people who are supposed to know them more.

All I knew about this book before going in was that both main protagonists are gay and it’s set in San Francisco. I like that, I really do.

But this book had me asking more questions than just outright enjoying it.

It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s fairly dramatic at times when it needn’t be (putting that down to teenagers being teenagers) but overall, it’s an LGBTQ+ contemporary that is treated in the same way as a summer contemporary that’s about straight people and their romances and going off to college fear and the ‘future’ talks.

But I began tight rope walking around two ideas about the portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters in, specifically, contemporary teen fiction. Because let’s be honest, it doesn’t happen often.

So, you have stereotypical plot lines, ones of coming out, of being the ‘gay best friend’ to the protagonist, of being pressured to be someone you’re not, of being in constant fear because it is what a lot of LGBTQ+ youth live through; fear, uncertainty, and distrust. Friends and family can turn against you, you can be hurt. But of course, it’s important to show hope and goodness in these novels too; characters who live happy and fulfilled lives, who become successful, where their sexuality is only a part of them and not the only thing that has to be written about them.

And this is where You Know Me Well fits in. I think every single character in this story is LGBTQ+, which is fantastic. But after reading a few tweets and other experiences with this and other novels, it got me wondering about the realism of a novel like this. A novel that portrays San Francisco as this LGBTQ+ bubble that has no conflict or struggle.

Ignorance and hate do not exist here, and while I would love, and I mean LOVE, for that society to exist, it does come into question whether or not erasing the struggle of LGBTQ+ youth is either an insult, or just a hopeful portrayal of the future. Although, this novel is set in today’s society (contemporary, after all.

I’m going to take this with a pinch of salt, because I genuinely did enjoy the fact that the characters were ultimately happy and fulfilled, as well as dealing with ‘normal’ teenage things that you might find in your bog-standard teen contemporary, rather than struggling with their sexuality; they know they’re queer, now let’s move on to the ACTUAL teen dramas like “WHY DIDN’T HE TEXT ME BACK??”

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