It’s been a glorious book month already – 2016 is treating me well, story-wise. After a fast start, I picked up Hamilton to re-read (as I blazed through the cast recording) and got bogged down a bit. It is 832 pages, after all.
So what would I recommend?
1. Everything, Everything, by Nicola Yoon. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 2015, 320 pages.) I got Yoon’s debut novel for Christmas, in hardcover no less, and dove in New Year’s Day as we were all recovering. I figured a light YA drama complete with medical drama (our 17-year-old protag is a “bubble baby”) and romance (she becomes obsessed with the boy in black next door, and all his family’s -ahem- issues). Maddie (our protag) sees only her mom and her nurse and seems to have adjusted well to the fact that she has never, not once, been outside. She takes online homeschool courses and hangs out in the family solarium to feel more as if she’s outside. And then the boy complicates everything, as they do. I liked the premise, as long as I was able to suspend belief. I liked the characters enough that I crushed the book in two days. The writing was a bit cliche – but hey, it’s YA drama/romance. I was expecting it to be all Fault in our Stars. So it was fine right up until the ending. If it’s possible for a book to take a left-turn that is both unexpected and completely obvious, this was it. The ending ruined, a bit, the rest of the story for me. Yes, I’m still giving the book a good review because I did tear through it, needing to see what happened. But it could have been close to a 4-star review and the ending did disappoint. Like, I liked that Maddie was casually mentioned to be Asian-African instead of being all Hey! I’m a person-of-color! from the start. I liked the subtle ways that complicated her identity. I just wish that sort of ambiguity and shading had transferred itself onto the end of the story arc. 3 of 5 stars.
2. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. (Dial, 2010, 288 pages.) My cousin recommended Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun last year and I devoured it. I immediately placed her debut novel high on my most wanted list and patiently waited for Christmas. When that didn’t work, I used a gift card to buy it the day after. It arrived as I was reading Everything, Everything, and so I picked it up as soon as I was finished. I tore through the first half in a single morning. And then I meant to just read a page or two that night…and ended up staying up all hours to finish. I just had to see how it ended! Nelson’s portrayal of grief is transcendent as it makes you feel as if you aren’t the only one drowning, at the same it wrecks you with fresh grief-wounds because she keeps ripping open old wounds because yes, yes, yes, you remember exactly how that feels. Sky destroyed me and I loved it. Lennie is the younger half of the Walker sisters and was closer-than-anything with her sister Bailey, who has just died suddenly and unexpectedly, just as she was about to start an exciting and promising life. Bailey is left to unravel what it means to be sisterless, to puzzle anew why their mother abandoned them as toddlers, and to figure out whether she’s meant to be with Toby, Bailey’s old boyfriend who understands her grief, or Joe, the hott new guy who understand’s Lennie’s passion for music and makes her forget her grief. 5 of 5 stars.
3. Lumberjanes Vol. 1, by Noelle Stevenson. (Boom! Studios, 2014, 24 pages.) I couldn’t turn around last year without hearing someone talk about the hottest new graphic novel/comic series out there – Lumberjanes. Featuring a group of girls away at badass Girl Scout-esque summer camp who can’t seem to stay out of trouble and keep tripping over mysterious other-worldly beings and goings-on, I knew I had to give the series a try. Especially given that it would check off one of my Read Harder Challenges: “Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years.” So Santa maybe picked up the comic for Bee for Christmas. And then I maybe read it. I’m sad to say it just wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t get into it. I found the characters a bit hard to keep straight, but that’s something I could have worked with if I could get into the storyline a bit more. I can’t even pinpoint why. But! I am still superglad that books like Lumberjanes exist because just because it’s not my cuppa tea doesn’t mean it isn’t someone else’s. Like Bee’s – that girl is sucking it down! We need diverse stories. Period. 2 of 5 stars.
4. Find Me, by Laura Van Den Berg. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 280 pages.) I previewed the first chapter online and fell hard. A superbug ruins memories and kills patients? Nearly no one is left? And a few immune patients are holed up in a deserted hospital? Yes, please! The writing was catchy and structured well. So I splurged with a gift card during my post-Christmas mega-haul and dove right in. I kept ticking merrily along, digesting turns and twists, following our 20-something-year-old protag as she revealed her sad past – abandoned as an infant, raised in terrible foster homes, abused – wait, wait! horrible and lazy tropes! That was my first warning. And then the plot just kind of…fizzled. After building all of this momentum and setting up the world, Van Den Berg failed to give us a reason to root for anyone. Why were we supposed to care, exactly? What was the end goal? No one knew. For sure I didn’t. How disappointing. 2 of 5 stars.
So there you have it, folks. My first four reads of the year. What have you been reading? Anything you’d recommend? Or warn us against?