Penguin Teen Social 2019 - Recap (May 23, 2019)

Right before going to NYC for BEA/BookCon, I got to be at Penguin Teen Social event at Penguin Random House Canada HQ - effectively, kicking off my bookish 2 weeks. I was trying to write and upload this post before I left, but there was just too much happening!

I love going to book events in Canada as I get to see lots of bookish friends and bloggers! Not to mention get my hands on the newest releases. And this event was not an exception.

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Book review: "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo (audiobook)

The Poet X  

I heard of "The Poet X" on social media but didn’t think I would be interested in reading it. After devouring “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds, I felt that no other young adult contemporary poetry book would beat that. Unfamiliar with slam poetry, I assumed that it would be too out of my comfort zone, but when I accidentally came across the audiobook on my OverDrive, I decided to give it ago.

Synopsis

 

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

 

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighbourhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

 

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

 

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

 

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

 

Review

 

To understand the impact this book had on me, you have to know two things: one - Elizabeth Acevedo is a slam poet and narrates the book herself; two - she is a daughter of Dominican immigrants, and the "The Poet X" reads in many ways as a memoir. If I were presented with this book as a completely fictitious narrative, it wouldn’t have swept me off my feet the way "The Poet X" did. Elizabeth narrates it in the way her protagonist is - blunt, emotional, unapologetic, fierce.

 

Brought up in a conservative family, with the mother who speaks to God more than she talks to her own daughter, and the father, who is more absent than present, Xiomara is left to tend to herself as she struggles with her blooming emotions. She is not allowed to even talk to boys. She is not allowed to speak up. She is not allowed to doubt things that she was taught. But Xiomara does all of those things, and her journey is an emotional rollercoaster.

 

There are so many reasons to love this book: it is written by a female poet of colour; its plot would appeal to any teen reader; there is first love, and heartbreak, and parents being cruel when trying to be kind. But my favourite thing was Elizabeth’s voice. Low and husky, it felt so tangible that it felt as if "The Poet X" was being told only to me and nobody else. It was a secret that I was made privy to.

 

Listening to the audiobook, I could see Xiomara in front of my eyes, scribbling fearlessly, relentlessly, in her notebook - a line after a line, a poem after a poem. I flew through this audiobook, my heart in my throat, as I desperately hoped for a happy ending for Xiomara. Few YA contemporary books make me anxious about character’s future. With "The Poet X", I wanted - no, needed - a happy ending. Too many things could go wrong, and I wished for this book to prove me wrong.

 

And it did.

 

Even though I immensely enjoyed "The Poet X", I struggled with the rating. The book is positioned as both a novel and a poetry collection, which you would not know unless you pick up a physical book. Each chapter is indeed formatted as a poem and even has a title. But listening to an audiobook felt as if it was a prose narrative through and through, except for in certain moments the author changed the tone and rhythm of her narration. I am not too familiar with slam poetry, but I have been to spoken poetry readings, and I love prose poetry, so I am a bit on the fence with this book. For me, it was mostly the prose with just a hint of poetry at times, and I wish we had gotten more rhythm, intonation and voice inflexion. All of those were present in "The Poet X" but not as much as I would have preferred given the format of the book. I wanted more of it all.

 

The plot and the characters are excellent, as well as the audiobook narration, but the formatting of the book seemed not to fit the idea behind it. I still loved everything about the book, but if I were a bookseller, I would be confused with whether to categorise it as a poetry collection or contemporary young adult.

 

If you have an option of choosing between a physical copy and an audiobook - go with the audio. Elizabeth is a professional slam poet and knows how to read her book.

 

My heart got squeezed so many times while I was listening to "The Poet X". It is a fabulous read, and I wish more people would be talking about it.

 

Highly recommend.

 

Rating: 4 stars

 

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Book review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

The Wicker King  

I came across The Wicker King on Indigo website. I think it was among the new teen releases or something similar. I knew it was tagged as LGBTQ+ on GoodReads, and that is more than enough for me.

 

I got this book from the library, and I kept it on my shelf for awhile before I picked it up.

 

And oh my god.

Summary

 

The Wicker King is a psychological young adult thriller that follows two friends struggling as one spirals into madness.

 

When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.

 

August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.

 

Review

 

I read The Wicker King in less than two days. I would have finished it in one go, if I had time. I picked it up because I was not feeling like reading anything and The Wicker King had such an appealing cover. Besides, I knew nobody else who read this book, and I was very intrigued.

 

Ten pages in, I was so hooked that I couldn’t put the book down.

 

The Wicker King is a hard book to describe as it should be approached more like an experience than the story. It is about two best friends, friendships and loves, relationships, and other worlds. It is a lot about trust, and faith, and abandonment.

 

The chapters in The Wicker King are short. Sometimes just a couple of pages. Sometimes - a paragraph. As the story progresses, the edges of the book get darker and darker - a visual representation of the darkness that is slowly swallowing August and Jack.

 

The synopsis calls The Wicker King a thriller, which is true in the sense that it does create the atmosphere of suspense and tension. However, I would call the novel a mix of contemporary and magical realism. The things that Jack sees and the things that both characters experience at times feel more real than the real world itself. I loved the writing and the characters in the book. You need to pay attention to chapter titles and the small bits here and there, that make the story so compelling, and a bit weird (but in a good way).

 

At times poetic and symbolic, at times outright scary - The Wicker King is a vortex that pulls readers into its depths, spinning heads and breaking hearts. I cried halfway into the book. I cried at the end. I cried because it was over and I was not ready to let August and Jack go.

 

I read the library book and then went and purchased my own copy. The Wicker King is undoubtedly going to be my favourite read of 2018.

 

The Wicker King novella

 

There is a novella set in the same world. It is titled The Legend of the Golden Raven, and it is free on Kindle. You have to read it after reading The Wicker King though, as it won’t make much sense otherwise, and you will get so much more emotions if you read the novella afterwards. I gave the novella the same rating as The Wicker King.

 

I refuse to believe that this is the only book and there is no sequel.

 

Kayla Ancrum has instantly become my auto-buy author. Her next novel, The Weight of the Stars, is coming out in March 2019 (although initially it was listed as October 2018).

 

I can not wait to see what this author comes up with next.

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

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Book review: "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" by Jesse Andrews (audiobook)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl  

I purchased "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" as a paperback some time ago and never read it. Then, as I was waiting for another audiobook to become available, I picked this one up.

And, oh boy.

Description

 

Greg Gaines is the last master of high school espionage, able to disappear at will into any social environment. He has only one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time making movies, their own incomprehensible versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics.

 

Until Greg’s mother forces him to rekindle his childhood friendship with Rachel.

 

Rachel has been diagnosed with leukemia—-cue extreme adolescent awkwardness—-but a parental mandate has been issued and must be obeyed. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.

 

And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.

 

Review

 

Short version - I did not like it. At all.

 

I think I managed to pull through "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" only because it was an audiobook (narrated by Thomas Mann and R.J. Cyler) and it was not a rather short one. It served as a more pleasurable - most of the time - background to the noise at my work, but I must admit that if I had picked it up in a physical form, I would have DNF’ed it almost immediately.

 

Rarely, I ever get so angry at the book. I have read my fair share of poorly constructed prose and characters lacking development, but seldom I get to read a book which was completely pointless. (Oh, wait. I know one other. But I won’t be pointing fingers.)

 

As I listened to "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" and got more and more frustrated with it, I went to GoodReads to read reviews of other people and was surprised to see some of the bloggers that I follow praise this book for its humour! Excuse me, but what humour?

 

"Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" has the most ridiculous dialogues full of swear words and ranting that most of the time has nothing to do with the plot. The jokes are supposed to self-deprecating, as the book is told from Greg’s perspective, and he states at the very beginning that he is very socially awkward. However, those jokes fall short by much and make Greg seem like a shallow person, incapable of even empathy towards a dying girl.

 

Greg is not funny or likeable at all. I found him quite pathetic. Can’t say I liked Earl more, but at least Earl did exhibit real emotions towards Rachel, while Greg was faking his way through it. Rachel, although she is part of the plot and even is mentioned in the title, barely gets any dialogue at all. If you think this book is anything like “The Fault in Our Stars” (which I did not like for the plot but could appreciate for the writing style and execution) - think the exact opposite. There is no real emotion in "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", and I hated all of the characters.

 

I don’t understand the point of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" story. The narrative was either Greg ranting in a stream of consciousness or repeating word to word the dialogues in the form similar to a script. Everything that was happening felt pointless. I can’t believe this book was published - no, even written! - as it gives readers nothing.

 

The narration of "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" was okay. It was the only thing that pulled me through the book. So, if I had to be precise - 1 star goes to the plot, and 1 star to the narrators, which makes it 2 stars overall.

 

If you want to read a contemporary YA novel, there are plenty of better (and even mediocre) novels that you can read. Do not waste your time on "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl", unless you want to see for yourself how bad it is. I can’t wait to unhaul this book from my shelves.

 

Rating: 2 stars

 

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Book review: "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" by Louise Gornall (audiobook)

Under Rose-Tainted Skies There has to be more than just a high rating on GoodReads to make me pick up a YA contemporary novel by the author I have never read books by previously. But after watching Emma’s video on mental health representation in YA books and "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" being highly recommended, I decided to pick it up from the library on a whim. I wanted a short-ish audiobook to listen to in-between my other books.

 

Synopsis

 

At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

 

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

 

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

 

Review

 

Allow me to preface my review by stating that immediately after starting "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I realized that it was in a certain way reminiscent of “Everything, Everything” by Nicola Yoon, which in its turn put pressure on me in regards of the final rating. I struggled and went between 4 and 5 stars a couple of times before I finally settled on 4.25 stars, as I am writing this. Giving less stars to "Under Rose-Tainted Skies" felt extremely unfair as I liked it more for its very true and direct depiction of mental illness than “Everything, Everything” (which I read and reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed, but at the time of reading it, I did not consider the fact that some part of the plot can be damaging to some people - I was just swept by the cuteness of the story, which, honestly, does not happen often). Therefore, I am going to lower my rating of “Everything, Everything” both in my review and on GoodReads.

 

I loved “Everything, Everything” when I read it. There are some aspects of it which I can relate to, and I mentioned it in my review. But now, especially after having read "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", I don’t think “Everything, Everything” deserves full 5 stars. It is a great debut novel by an author of colour with the main character of colour, and I met Nicola and told her that I absolutely loved it. And I stand by my opinion. However, the way the plot is constructed - without giving anything away - it can not and will not compare in the impact and importance of “Under Rose-Tainted Skies” in portraying a long-term illness. It is my personal opinion, however, and it in no way diminishes anybody else’s opinion or the hard work that both authors put into their books.

 

What I am trying to say here is that I shouldn’t have given “Everything, Everything” more than 4 stars on GoodReads, but I felt pressured to as this book was very overhyped.

 

If you haven’t gathered from my confusing intro, I loved "Under Rose-Tainted Skies", and in some ways, it worked for me much better than “Everything, Everything”.

 

"Under Rose-Tainted Skies" is a story about a girl who has agoraphobia, general anxiety, depression, and OCD. It is the most honest and true depiction of anxiety that I have ever seen in young adult fiction. The book is “own voices” too as the author herself suffers from agoraphobia and anxiety.

 

The story is a typical young adult contemporary romance otherwise with a mysterious but alluring boy moving next door and how much of a difference he makes in the main protagonist’s life. I am not a huge fan of contemporary YA, but I think the romance was done well and had some believable problems which were not just magically resolved by the end of the book, for which I am very grateful. It made the story more realistic and relatable.

 

All supporting characters in the book are lovely, and I liked the fact that we get to see Norah’s visits and conversations with the psychiatrist.

 

I enjoyed it. Even the twist at the end came as a very plausible scenario. I can not recommend this book highly enough if you want to read more books about mental health and “own voices”.

 

Rating: 4.25 stars

 

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Movie/book review: Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

"Everything, Everything" Movie  

"Everything, Everything" Movie review

 

I am one of those bookish people who have to read a book before the movie. It doesn’t always happen, but I strive for it. The only movie franchise that I have ever watched without reading books (not for the lack of trying) was The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. And I loved them a lot!

 

I admit it, I am a book snob. I always think that books are better than movies. Sometimes it is even hard to compare the two as movie scripts inevitably bring changes to the plot, and not always to the best effect.

 

It was one of the reasons why watching “Everything, Everything” the movie was very low on my priorities list. I am not very fond of romance stories, and even though I loved the book, I didn’t feel compelled to watch it on screen.

Thank goodness for transatlantic flights: I am ready to watch “Madagascar” movies for the upteenth time just to distract myself!

 

So, after watching The Boss Baby (which was cute), Smurfs: The Lost Village (which was fairly stupid) and rewatching “Penguins of Madagascar” (because they rock), I settled to watch “Everything, Everything”.

 

The movies has only one, rather unimaginative, tagline on IMDB: “A teenager who's spent her whole life confined to her home falls for the boy next door.”; and an average rating of 6.4. I didn’t have much hopes for the movie, as I knew the plot, but I hoped to be entertained by the characters, and sure I was!

 

I think that Amandla Stenberg is a perfect Maddy. I loved her acting and her sweet nature. She was, honestly, the best thing about this movie. I was not as impressed by Nick Robinson (Olly) as I felt that he was not gritty enough, if you will. I liked how their text conversations were translated into face to face conversations on screen. The presence of an astronaut was a nice touch. But otherwise the movie was not very visually imaginative. The books has some cool illustrations, that were missing from the movie.

 

I think my biggest disappointment with the "Everything, Everything" movie was that it failed to deliver a punch at the end. Everything showed on screen was sort of mellowed out, in my opinion. Maddy was less sick, her mother less obsessive, Olly less intriguing. I loved Olly in the book, but in the movie he was a bit mediocre, unfortunately. The imperfections and inconsistencies in treating serious illness are more visible on screen than in a book format too. (E.g., Maddy's mother or her nurse enters the house and goes through decontamination, washes her hands but then grabs the bag and brings it in? That looked very improbable.)

 

When I read the "Everything, Everything" book, I gave it a rather high rating of 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed it, it was sweet and resonated with my personal experience of being subjected to an obsessive care by a relative. However, since then I did read some reviews by people who pointed out that even though Maddy’s disability was not correctly portrayed and this representation is actually harmful. I admit that I did not think about the representation of serious chronic illness or disability when I read the book as it always held a bit of an unrealistic touch for me. As in, this is a mysterious disease and nobody knows what it is (which is actually not true, but it was my interpretation of it). Obviously, I can not speak on behalf of people who struggle with serious chronic illness or disability, but as my mother is severely allergic to animals (we are talking about not being able to share a space with an animal for any period of time), I do understand how this representation seems unhealthy and deems the character's situation as not serious enough. Especially, since the message is that it is okay to risk everything (family, health, life) for the sake of love.

 

Nope, don’t do that, kids.

 

I am not going to change my rating on Goodreads for this book, although I do now think that 4.5 stars was a bit too generous. However, I did enjoy "Everything, Everything" and the writing style, and still think that it was a great debut novel. Nicola Yoon is also a total sweetheart - I met her at BookCon in 2016. Too sad that the movie flopped for me.

 

Overall movie rating: 2.75 stars

 

"Everything, Everything" Book review

 

"Everything, Everything" Book

 

Written: November 2015

 

personal rating: 4.5 stars

 

This book deserves all the love and hype surrounding it! It is a very cute story about a girl who is allergic to everything. One day, a new family moves into a nearby house and she befriends their son.

 

I liked everything about this book. The way it is written. The fact that it is interrupted by illustrations and notes written by Madeline. The fact that this book has some similarities to "The Fault In Our Stars" but only it is way better and lighter and happier. (And also, HAWAII!)

 

The characters are unique and have very distinctive voices. I loved both Madeline and Olly. I loved the setting of the book. I loved all the descriptions.

 

I also loved the twist and the way the story resolved itself, even though I did suspect something like this would happen. (It also quite unexpectedly resonated with my own experience, which was a bit surprising.)

 

Can't say more but this book gave me rather happy, warm and fuzzy feeling. Even though it mostly about illness. Nicola Yoon has achieved something that John Green failed to do for me.

 

Read it. You will love it.

 

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Book review: "You Know Me Well" by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

Let me start with saying that I really enjoyed this book (in some ways more than I expected), even though it is your typical "in love with your best friend/high school/coming of age/figuring things out" type of story. I have read too many of those and only because it was by both authors that I read and enjoyed previously, I picked it up. (And also because it was my pick for BookTube-A-Thon readathon.)

I read very few books which were co-writing and recently the one that I read (by indie authors) made me cringe so hard as I could totally tell who wrote which part and the switching point of view was not working at all.

This book is written extremely well. I read books by David Levithan (for whatever reason I only vaguely recall his writing style) and I read "Everything Leads to You" by Nina LaCour (which I liked but found too slow placed for me), so I expected to be able to tell exactly who wrote which part - and it is quite obvious, even before you pick the book. BUT even though POVs of Mark and Kate are different, they have their own voices, they do compliment each other and you don't get the feeling as if you are reading two separate books. Writing was great. It was more paced than I expected it to be and equally heartwarming (and heartbreaking) and funny.

The parents are barely present in the story, which is typical for these books. Both Kate and Mark at times seemed a bit older than they were.

Even though both of main characters in the book are gay, it is not the focus of the story. The focus is on the relationships: Mark is in love with his friend and Kate is in love with a girl, she has not met yet. There is no "coming out" aspect in the story at all, which is really refreshing. Nobody is agonizing over being gay or coming out to parents. The focus is on relationships and feelings. I was worried this might turn into another "coming out" story but thank goodness it wasn't. Thank you, David and Nina!

There were some parts that I did not particularly like. For example, how hard Kate was trying to impress that girl or how Mark and Kate were ready to lie to seem cool, essentially. Even though they said that they would tell the truth if asked directly.

Both Mark and Kate are very easy to relate too. Their characters would have been rather cliched (Mark is into sports and Kate is very artsy) if they were less two dimensional. Both Mark and Kate have certain fears and feel the pressure of expectations. Kate is suffering from anxiety and the fact that it is never really addressed directly as a mental health issue made me a bit disappointed.

In many ways this book reminded me of less known "Anything Could Happen" by Will Walton. It has a similar story line (without added perspective by Kate) and a similar ending. If you like your heartstrings to be played with and you are feeling nostalgic about your first love at high school - read this book. (And also read "Anything Could Happen" and "Simon vs Homo Sapiens Agenda" because those are very similar in tone and feeling, and after reading this you will probably need Simon to make you feel better.)

This book has several quote worthy lines and I had fun reading it.

Personal rating: 4.5 stars