Little Do We Know

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Thank you to Disney Hyperion for providing me with a copy of this arc!

Little Do We Know is a touching and compulsive read. It’s told from the dual POV of best friends Hannah and Emory, who have drifted apart due to a fight. The description states that there is a boy caught in the middle, which originally lead me to believe that Hannah was interested in her BFF’s boyfriend (or they would soon become involved), so I was glad when it turned out to be that Hannah and Luke were simply friends in their own right. It was refreshing that Emory and Luke’s romance was more of a subplot and that the main story focused on Hannah and Emory’s friendship.

Both Hannah and Emory grew as characters throughout the novel. Hannah questioned her Christian beliefs, specifically whether or not they were hers or her parents’, and Emory confronted a traumatic event that happened with her mother’s fiancé and struggled with the decision of whether or not to tell her mother. The novel ultimately revolves around this event and the miscommunication between Emory and Hanna that occurred immediately after, but Luke’s subplot tied the story together and gave the two friends a reason to make up (which is why he referred to himself as “the glue”). I enjoyed the element of mysticism/religion in Luke’s story, how he died but came back to life and it shook his entire belief system.

The subplot I found problematic and felt didn’t add to the story was the budding romance between Hannah and her teacher (or teacher assistant? Doesn’t matter). He was 23 or 24 and had already graduated from college, and she was in senior year, so either 17 or 18. Even if she was 18, he was still her teacher she was still in high school, so I found it creepy he would be interested in her. I think the book could have done without that romantic subplot, since the friendship between Hannah and Luke provided enough substance to carry her story.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a YA book about friendship and the ways we can fall apart but find our way back to each other.

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Luckiest Girl Alive

I read this book in two days (which is saying a lot when you’re at home with a preschooler and a toddler and the toddler is on a nap strike!)

TifAni FaNello has reinvented herself as “Ani” following a terrible high school experience that put her in the news. She is engaged to a good looking man with a solid career, and she has her own solid career as an editor at a well known magazine in NYC. When a director approaches her to be in a documentary that will shed light on the events fourteen years ago, Ani jumps at the chance to tell her side of the story and clear her name. However, participating in the documentary forces her to relive terrible events and face a part of herself of which is she ashamed.

The narrative structure of this novel is unique in that it felt like reading an adult novel and a young adult novel at the same time. The first chapter takes place during present day when Ani is 28, engaged and successful. The second chapter takes place fourteen years earlier, when Ani begins to attend the prestigious Bradley school where her life as she knows it will begin to unravel. As the story progresses in the present, more of the past is revealed, with Jessica Knoll deftly revealing just enough new information to keep up the suspense.

What impressed me was how authentically Jessica Knoll handles the aftermath of sexual assault. Not just in terms of the victim’s and perpetrator’s feelings of guilt, but Ani’s uncertainty as to whether or not a crime had actually been committed against her when both parties had been drinking. To the reader it’s obvious a crime was committed, but to fourteen year-old Ani, it isn’t quite so clear. The characters and their actions were so realistic that it often felt like reading a work of non-fiction rather than fiction. I struggled to like Ani sometimes due to her downright b!tchy personality, but overall I understood her edge (and at times, her cruelty) because of everything she went through and the lack of support she received. She was raw.

I suppose the only aspect of the book I didn’t enjoy was Ani’s preoccupation with the world of privilege. I got a bit tired of the name and brand dropping, as well as hearing about the “rules” required to fit into New York’s “elite”. It felt like a page out of Gossip Girl.

I recommend this book and will definitely be checking out other books by this author!

Hello Me, It’s You

 

My toddler is napping (for the first time in days!) and my 6 month old is demanding cuddles (nothing new here), so it’s the perfect time to dig into this review copy of Hello Me, It’s You.

A university project that took off on social media, HMIY is a book of letters written by people aged 17-24 to their 16 year old selves about their experiences with mental health issues. The aim is to reassure those who are experiencing these issues as well as to reduce stigma around them.

What a brilliant concept for a novel! Young adulthood is such a turbulent time (which is part of the reason I love writing about it), and I think it’s hard for a lot of teens to recognize whether what they’re experiencing is similar to other people their age or a sign of something more serious. This book could be invaluable to so many people.

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Thank you for the opportunity to read this!

Review – the hundred lies of Lizzie lovett

I’m somewhat conflicted about this novel. I found the title/subtitle a bit misleading because Lizzie isn’t really a liar, she simple changes her style as she ages like most women do. To me the title suggests Lizzie is a pathological liar who believes in her own version of the truth, and I expected a novel about her house of lies crashing down. Instead it was about an immature and self-absorbed teenager named Hawthorn and her relationship with the boyfriend of a missing girl named Lizzie, who wasn’t the happy-go-lucky girl Hawthorn thought her to be.

Hawthorn was a somewhat fresh take on a teenaged heroine. Though I found her to be annoying and selfish–especially when she betrayed her brother Rush’s secret during a minor argument–I still appreciate the uniqueness of her character, including her obsession with the life of the popular girl she felt she could never become (Lizzie). Chelsea Sedoti is a talented YA author who very accurately portrays the thought processes of a teenaged girl. I enjoyed Hawthorn’s witty lists of all the terrible things she wished would happen to someone who wronged her; “I wish someone would replace Mychelle’s fancy shampoo with the drugstore brand. I wish she would suddenly forget the name of her five favourite songs. I wish every time she microwaved a frozen burrito, the center would stay cold.”

I disliked Hawthorn’s (first Lizzie’s) romantic interest, Enzo, who was way too old for her at 25. And even though I knew she would end up with Connor, I wish more time had been spent on that positive relationship so the book would have felt like less of a downer. Sure it was an accurate portrayal of a lot of first loves, and even brought me back to my cringe-worthy boyfriends, but he was just such a loser and I found it painful to read sometimes. I think the moment I really didn’t like him was after he found out Hawthorn was a virgin and instead of panicking at the news in addition to committing a crime, he just lazily rolled a cigarette and said he felt like a bad guy. Ugh. I wanted her to kick him to the curb! Then he went ahead and got with Hawthorn’s nemesis Mychelle and told her the embarrassing news about Hawthorn staining his sheets. What a bag of dicks!!! AmIright?

I think my issue was that while I appreciated that the characters were realistically portrayed, I simply didn’t like them. This made the book a bit hard to read (for me), in addition to the book being a bit slow. An exception to this, and when I could not put the book down, was when Hawthorn and Enzo entered the abandoned house in the woods. I thought Chelsea Sedoti did a wonderful job unravelling the mystery of Lizzie’s disappearance and portraying Hawthorn’s feelings once the mystery was solved. I’m giving it 3.5 stars.

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Personally, I wish Ms. Sedoti would write a sequel and the first scene would begin with Hawthorn kicking Enzo in the nuts.

Review – Be Frank with Me

I picked this book up in Costco and bought it because the description on the back spoke to me. Not because it sounded interesting, which it did, but because I recently lost an investment, I’m a writer, and I have a son. Sure I’m not a hugely successful writer depending on my next book to fix a devastating financial mistake, but Be Frank with Me still felt like one of those reads you need at a certain time in your life.

The premise is that Mimi Banning, a reclusive writer who wrote a famous book twenty years prior, has lost all her money due to a Ponzi scheme. She must now write a second bestseller to support herself and her son Frank. To aid her in this task, her publisher sends his assistant Alice to type the manuscript onto computer (Mimi will only use a typewriter). However, Alice turns into more of a maid and babysitter to Mimi and her son Frank, who is an eccentric nine year old boy obsessed with 1930s film stars and has nothing in common with the kids at school.

Be Frank with Me is definitely a character-driven novel. The majority of the novel centers around Frank and his shenanigans and Alice’s quest to discover the true identity of Frank’s father. There were a lot of laugh-out-loud moments and I felt like I knew the characters on a personal level. Johnson did an excellent job of describing the house, which became a character in itself. When the house burns and all of Mimi’s work is lost—and after she locks herself away from Frank in order to meet her deadline, too—I felt for her in a way that only a writer who has experienced a computer crash can. Writers put so much of their lives on hold to create and without any certainty that the work will pay off. To waste all that time would be heartbreaking.

The good news is that in the end, Frank’s eccentricities are what end up saving Mimi’s book. The real question is whether or not the book becomes an instant success like her first and saves them from financial ruin. The outcome of Mimi’s book after publication is left unexplored, which I felt was a flaw considering it forms the premise of the novel. I know that the ending is one of the hardest parts of a novel to write, and it’s impossible to write an ending that every reader will enjoy, but I felt that too many questions were left unanswered. Is Mr. Vargas Frank’s father? Will Frank be okay? What happens to Xander?

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I felt the novel ended abruptly but everything else was done right, so I’m giving it 4 stars.

Review – The Art of Being Normal

The Art of Being Normal is told from the dual point of view of David, who was born a boy but knows in his heart that he’s really a girl, and Leo, a new student who arrives at David’s school with a troubled history. David is immediately drawn to Leo for reasons he can’t explain and tries to befriend him, but Leo tries to keep him at a distance.

This is a very good read for people who are not trans but are looking to understand the struggles a transgendered teen might experience today, when media is beginning to talk more openly about being transgendered but it’s still not entirely socially accepted.

SPOILER ALERT – Even though it’s not really a spoiler for anyone who reads the description closely (unlike me).

Somehow I missed the part in the book’s description that read ‘they find in each other the friendship and support they need to navigate life as transgender teens’. While reading The Art of Being Normal, I wasn’t aware at first that Leo was also transgendered, and the reveal worked. Suddenly I understood Leo and everything he had to lose. I ached for him when his secret was revealed at school and all the kids began to taunt him. I understood his desire to run away. David’s story was a bit slower and really shone near the end when he finally came out to his parents, who I think react exactly like parents who want to be supportive but are caught off guard would, and when he went to the dance dressed as his true self. It was a brave move and I’m not sure I would have been able to do it at sixteen.

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I found this novel to be uplifting and inspiring and give it 5 stars!

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