Always & Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: 4th May 2017
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
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Lara Jean is having the best senior year a girl could ever hope for. She is head over heels in love with her boyfriend, Peter; her dad’s finally getting remarried to their next door neighbor, Ms. Rothschild; and Margot’s coming home for the summer just in time for the wedding.

But change is looming on the horizon. And while Lara Jean is having fun and keeping busy helping plan her father’s wedding, she can’t ignore the big life decisions she has to make. Most pressingly, where she wants to go to college and what that means for her relationship with Peter. She watched her sister Margot go through these growing pains. Now Lara Jean’s the one who’ll be graduating high school and leaving for college and leaving her family—and possibly the boy she loves—behind.

When your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

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Unfortunately, I do not think Always and Forever, Lara Jean lives up to it’s predecessors.

While all three books in the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy definitely exude this feeling of living on a pink, fluffy cloud that smells like bubblegum and cake mixture, this last book feels a little different to the others…it doesn’t really have a plot.

Unlike the first two books where there’s the whole fake boyfriend scenario in book one, and then relationship drama and a love triangle in book two, book three just sort of happens. I love Lara Jean and enjoy getting this insight into her life but AAFLJ just came across as diary entries that she was forced to write for a Creative Writing class that she’s not really into.

There’s no conflict, and if there is even a little, it’s no big deal and it’s easily resolved. The word I would call this book is: mild. It’s a chicken korma. I like chicken korma, but it’s not exactly my most adventurous choice of a dish.

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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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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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Friends Without Benefits: Male/Female Friendships in YA

And when I say I love follow up posts, I mean it.

A while a go, I posted Girl Squad, a post about female friendships in YA and why they’re so important. It’s a given that young girls need this kind of portrayal, a representation of what female friendships are really like, and especially learning that other girls are not the enemy, not automatically ‘bitches’.

Today, I want to write about something a little different but along the same vein, friendships between boys and girls.

While I believe that gender is a spectrum of varying identities, I feel it’s very important to talk about friendships between these two genders that are either often considered at war or constantly romantically entangled.

Let’s talk about romance first.

Men and women, in fiction, are almost consistently portrayed as romantically involved. That’s great! And hey, it has a huge market for it. The romance genre is so big it’s got it’s own section of the bookstore, specific publishers, and writers who ONLY publish lovey-dovey stories. It’s marketable and sells super well.

School, like I mentioned in Girl Squad, is where your social interactions and relationships and friendships are put to the test. It’s where they form, grow, and where you learn about communication, comfort amongst others, and trust. School is also where you first become romantic. Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone, not everyone has romantic feelings at school or ever, but it’s difficult to ignore the crazy hormones that are rife throughout teenage life.

For most of my high school life, I had a boyfriend. From being close friends to falling in love, having a boyfriend was great. However, what came before and even after that, was a tad ridiculous. I had a lot of friends who were male, and I loved that, however friendliness was often mistaken for flirtiness, and said friends would eventually ask me out.

“But I don’t understand?” I’d say, feeling that connection we had slowly disintegrating, “We’re friends!”

“I thought you were only being like that because you fancied me?”

If I acted that way because I fancied someone, then I’d fancy every single one of my friends.

It’s almost scarce in YA to see a boy and a girl be friends and have it not ultimately become romantic. The amount of times I’ve read a book (some of my favourite books) and been disappointed when the two male and female leads have gotten together is too many. It often feels forced and unnecessary. And that’s because friendship, once again, is not seen as important as romance. Romantic love wins again. Platonic love is considered not strong enough.

But that’s just not how the world works.

I want to see more YA challenging this. I want boys and girls to understand that just because your boyfriend is hanging out with another girl, does not mean they are secretly dating. That girl keeps smiling at you as she’s listening to you but come on, it’s not a ‘signal’. It’s called being FRIENDLY.

I have strong, platonic bonds with boys and girls, and I want it to be normal. Remember, some people go throughout life without ever having a romantic partner, but it doesn’t mean they don’t experience love. It doesn’t mean they don’t have strong bonds with men and women, and it doesn’t mean it’s not valid. It’s not a lesser love. Let’s not forget that assuming male and female friends will eventually date is actually a very heteronormative idea that completely erases other sexual identities and other kinds of love.

To quote a famous Youtuber who’s apparently had some trouble with fans thinking he’s cheating on his girlfriend because he hangs out with other girls:

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And now, let’s talk about the ‘gender war’.

While I don’t feel there is a large portrayal of men and women fighting in YA, there is too much of it in the real world. Growing up, we are told that the opposite sex is different, alien, and the lesser sex. As a girl, I was taught, just by living in society, that boys are loud, smelly, dumb, rude, and dominating. Boys, at the same time, are taught that girls are stupid, fragile, emotional, submissive, and unimportant. Now, while many men and women in later life do not believe this, gender is still consistently used to separate us, from public toilets to policies to rights. It’s hard to think these genders can be friends, that they can have enough respect for each other to have long lasting friendships that can rival bromances.

But it can happen, and it does.

While men and women are brought up and treated differently, it doesn’t mean that we are different from each other. It doesn’t mean that platonic relationships aren’t possible. I think when genders stop fighting against each other, and start realizing that we’re all experiencing this thing called life at the same time, together, then it would at least be a start.

Unfortunately, I haven’t read many YA with portrayals of platonic male/female friendships, but here’s a few I have. Definitely recommend some in the comments, too!

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The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: May 2016
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ .5
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Plot: Andie has her future all planned out. But, when an internship falls through because of her congressman father’s political scandal, her summer is suddenly entirely free. What’s a girl to do? When Andie finds a job dog walking, she doesn’t expect the romance, the friendship, and the fun that’s just around the corner. And for the first time, she and her father are living in the same house, what could possibly go wrong?

unexpected everythingIt’s summer in Britain. It’s hot, actual hot not England hot, ice cream vans and paddling pools are out, the summery contemporaries are flying off the shelves and into my hands.

I’ve heard a lot about Morgan Matson; her feel good romance books set in summer can make your heart feel squishy as you lie in your deck chair with your sunglasses on. But, the more I read through The Unexpected Everything, the more I realised that actually, everything was really expected.

Everything was really predictable.

I’m not saying that’s a bad factor; I am reading a light contemporary after all. Of course it’s predictable, but it just meant I was skipping over a sentence every few paragraphs because I couldn’t be bothered to read about things I already knew about. That, and this book is unnecessarily long. While I enjoyed reading about pool parties and dog walking sessions and crazy scavenger hunts, the bits in between were so samey and long that I actually wondered if Andie (the MC) was going to give us a play by play of her summer. Some days were the same, as they are in summer, and she kept telling us. We KNOW you walked dogs today, Andie! You don’t have to remind us!

The book could have easily been 300 pages, instead it was over 500. FIVE HUNDRED. The ending was cute and sweet, but could have easily been sorted around the 300 page mark, I don’t know why the story was dragged out for so long. It got to the point where a paragraph would be a whole day, and then it would jump to the next day for another paragraph, as if the author herself was just trying to get through the days to get to the good ones.

Aside from the silly length and the unnecessary filler; I did actually enjoy this book. I loved the romance, it wasn’t instant and it grew as time passed. Andie went through some serious character development which, though a characteristic that can’t be changed in just one summer, showed just how much of a break can be needed for a stressed out teenager. Andie’s friends were great too, though I was slightly disappointed by the fighting over a boy. I get it, it happens, but the outcome could have been dealt with a lot easier, with maybe a better message.

I gave it a 3.5 overall because yes, it was what I was looking for; light, fluffy, and summery. But I didn’t think I would finish it, because it just kept going.

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