[Aftercare Instructions] Bonnie Pipkin

Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.

The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*

What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.

While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.

I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.

Genesis does not become the Girl that had an Abortion–partially because few people know, but mostly because she doesn’t allow herself to use that as one of her personal definitions. She’s so much more. However, I think the book lost a little bit of its potential because of that. 

When I first heard about Aftercare Instructions, I thought that it was going to really focus on the abortion and the after. It gets pushed to the background instead. The fact that Genesis had an abortion is constantly there, but  it becomes more about Genesis worrying about her mother. Or a budding friendship/relationship. Or being called out on neglecting friends. It’s about abortion and teen pregnancy, but it’s also not about abortion and teen pregnancy. I feel odd describing it that way, but there’s no other way to explain it. While it’s good to have a book that shows a character learning how to balance her before and after, I did expect that Genesis’ abortion would be in the forefront of her thoughts more than it actually was. The novel was instead about the relationships–friendly, romantic, and familial–and the ins-and-outs of them. As much as I enjoyed the book, it’s tempered by my disappointment that Aftercare Instructions didn’t do something entirely new. I hope that it’s the first of many books that deal with real issues that teens may be going through but aren’t often addressed in literature (that I’ve read). I hope that there’s a trend that starts and gets on my radar. 

I agree with another reviewer who said that even though it isn’t entirely focused on this, it still gives young readers–who may be experiencing the same thing–a protagonist who isn’t judged for having an abortion and who has a variety of emotions about what happens after. Aftercare Instructions was written really thoughtfully. In that sense it succeeded in opening up a discussion about abortion. It has the potential to be uncomfortable for some readers, and there was a moment where I got queasy because I’m not good with doctor visits, but I think overall it will be something that is talked about in the book community. A lot of times contemporary novels seem to deal with cotton-candy issues–Will I get into college? Will this friendship last through the struggles of senior year?–instead of things that are labeled as tough. It was refreshing to read something different.

My absolute favorite part of Aftercare Instructions is the unique way that it was given to the reader. It’s prose with sections of a play–Genesis’ before–interspersed throughout. There’s the before and the after, which I thought was a great way to show Genesis and her relationships. When they eventually collide, as all things must, Genesis is forced to reevaluate herself through the lens of the after. I thought it was a very realistic way of dealing with how we can willfully be blind to certain things in our lives. Genesis’ coming of age comes from her tracing her past.

As for the characters themselves, I wish that they had been fleshed out further. I expected more from Genesis because of what she’s going through. Even though the novel is written in first person, I didn’t feel that delved very deep into Gen’s psyche. There were times when I didn’t quite connect with her during emotional moments because I wasn’t given enough meaning. I felt like I was occasionally told how I was meant to be feeling rather than shown. However, I think that Pipkin does do a good job of examining all of the different ways that her choice ripples through her life. Pipkin examines them all in turn.

Another thing I liked about this this novel was how female relationships were portrayed. Although there is a small part that deals with girl-on-girl hate, it isn’t stuck in that position. While there are many female characters in this novel, I didn’t feel that all of them were on equal footing. Some of them existed for Gen to grow in some way, then they disappeared. It does makes sense as this novel is in first person and understandably focused on Gen, but I think there could have been strength in allowing these secondary characters to shine through the page. Instead they’re kind of there in the background, only coming to the foreground when necessary. For example, Rose is Genesis’ best friend, yet she doesn’t appear as much as I would expect, especially with the circumstances in Gen’s life. I understand that there’s some element of healing that Gen needs to go through alone, but it was odd to me that Rose wasn’t in Gen’s life more. I wish that the friendships had been explored more in Aftercare Instructions.

For all of my minor complaints, I felt that Aftercare Instructions was a really engaging novel. I liked the writing style a lot. I thought the choice to have different styles–prose and script–in the novel really showed how people interact with one another, especially when you strip it down to dialogue. Aftercare Instructions took a subject that is oftentimes considered taboo and talked about it in a way that doesn’t judge either way. It’s good to see a book like this in the young adult contemporary genre.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Aftercare Instructions from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Aftercare Instructions will be published on June 27th.

*Quotes are taken from an ARC and subject to change before publication. 

[Patchwork] Karsten Knight

Patchwork is said to be like several popular young adult novels, which is something that often bothers me. I feel that it can set up the book to be a failure if it doesn’t meet my expectations–made higher by people touting it as the next Game of Thrones or Gone Girl. It may perhaps be lucky that I haven’t read any of the books that this one is said to be similar to, because for once I don’t have that complaint. In Patchwork, Karsten Knight takes the myth of the Phoenix and puts it in a modern setting, blending past and present in a time-traveling book that sends Renata Lake into her memories for a chance to change a moment. Her power comes to the surface after an attack at prom kills all of her friends and classmates. Suddenly she has a new power that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t have is time–Renata must try to figure out how to use her powers to discover who is after her and her friends before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed the world of Patchwork. Knight created a world based on Renata’s memories of the past, knitting together her reality and the mythos of Patchwork. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to have heavy spoilers in my review. Patchwork functioned as a way for Renata to time-travel, allowing her to walk through memories to find a point in her past that she could try to change, but she can never go back to the original point where her powers manifested: the attack at prom. She can continue going backward to try to save her friends and discover the assassin, but it erases her future. She has to make new memories from whatever point she stops at. Fortunately, she remembers everything. Unfortunately, no one else does. I think that everyone wishes at some point in their life that they could go back and change something, but they maybe don’t consider what would happen if they could change a moment but then they’re stuck and have to start over from there. I thought that Knight did a great job of portraying this by using Patchwork and Renata’s reaction to it. I’ve read a few time-traveling books before, but I thought that this was a unique way to portray it.

The one very slight problem I had with Patchwork was the blending of Greek and what I see as Egyptian mythology, namely the choice of Osiris. There’s an Amaranthine Society, the Minotaurs, and Daedalus, which are decidedly Greek. I love that Greek mythology was woven throughout the story because it’s always been something I’m interested in. The inclusion of Osiris, an Egyptian god of the afterlife, really confused me. I did some research (i.e. read the Osiris myth on wikipedia), and apparently the myth of Osiris traveled to Greece with the worship of another goddess, Isis. The Osiris myth was also written about, where Greek writers viewed the Osiris myth with a Greek philosophy lens. So it does technically fit with the Greek mythology aspect of Patchwork. Even still, I would argue that Osiris is well-known as an Egyptian god with most people being unaware of the connection to Greece. Ultimately, my only quibble is that I wish Knight had chosen another name.

I really enjoyed the writing style of Knight and the voice of Renata. It was engaging and kept me interested in the story. I wanted to know what would happen, and the writing style gave an element of speed to the story. I felt that Knight had a good grasp of writing characters–even though the novel is in first person, I felt like enough time was given to the secondary characters to make them interesting characters. It helped make the book feel more complete, instead of making it a book that was only centered on the protagonist at the expense of the setting and secondary characters. The writing was entertaining, the dialogue real and sounding like it was actually coming out of a teenager’s mouth, not an adult writing a teenager.

Renata was the main character and she was the primary focus of the novel. I loved reading how she adapted to a world that she originally had no idea existed. She quickly figures out how to survive, despite what her sudden reality has thrown at her. She refused to make it easy for the killer and almost immediately began to fight back, but this stubbornness is tempered by the seemingly insurmountable odds that are stacked up against her. I liked that there was a balance between them–she wasn’t always strong. I thought that kept her grounded with a realism that isn’t often in novels where the protagonists learn they have secret powers.

The plot was fast paced and brought Renata’s present, past, and far past together in a puzzle that she had to solve to survive. While some elements were predictable enough that I had guessed about them early on in the story, it was still fun to follow along with Renata as she tried to unmask the killer and their motives. I found that just because it was predictable  the novel wasn’t any less enjoyable, at least on my part. The only negative aspect about the plot was that it became a little repetitive after a few times. Renata keeps traveling back and continues to make the same mistakes at first. When she finally starts being more active in her role instead of passive, the book picks up more.

I was pleasantly surprised by Patchwork. When I picked it up I expected it to be a lackluster time-traveling story, but instead I was treated to a novel that blended mythology with the present day and questions the meaning of your experiences if you can repeat them. At what point does your life become a half-life because you know everything that is coming in the future? If you like time-traveling stories, elements of Greek mythology in the modern day, or a fast-paced read, check this one out!

4 stars.

I received a copy of Patchwork from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Patchwork was published on February 28th, 2017.

 

[I Hunt Killers: Jasper Dent I] Barry Lyga

I Hunt Killers is a book that really focuses on the nature vs nurture debate when it comes serial killers. Are killers born? Or are they made? Jasper Dent, Jazz to those in the know, has both boxes ticked: his father is the country’s most notorious serial killer and he made Jazz help–perhaps more–but some of Jazz’s memories are fuzzy. When a killer seems to be following in the footsteps of Jazz’s father, suspicion naturally falls on Jazz. He knows that he didn’t do it, so he decides to use his unique knowledge to try and bring the true killer into the light. It brings him closer to his past than he likes.

I Hunt Killers is narrated by Jazz, who is a likable-unlikable character. He’s really calculating, and I spent most of the book being unsettled with how he sees things, particularly people. His dad was a definite psychopath who manipulated Jasper throughout his life–to the point that Jazz isn’t one hundred percent sure that he hasn’t done anything–and he’s the one that Jasper spent his childhood with. So it’s perhaps natural, then, that Jasper also knows how to be charming and how to use that charm to get what he wants from people. Being well aware of this doesn’t help him. There are times when he uses this ability to his advantage, but the whole time he’s wondering if that’s the first step on the path to making him Killer Dent 2.0. Some would say that it’s inevitable that Jasper becomes the next serial killer out of Lobo’s Nod.

I really liked that he was really struggling throughout the whole book with this concept. I don’t think that Jazz is a bad person, but I think that if the other characters knew how he thought about certain things, they’d be a little concerned. This goes beyond jokingly asking if someone needs help to hide the body. Jazz knows. Jazz could. He is constantly battling the fear that he could become his dad.  However, it does put him in a unique position to help the cops catch the killer. There’s only one problem: he’s a teenager.

In a lot of novels, the adults don’t exist. It focuses on the protagonist teenager who solves the crime. I really appreciated that the adults existed in this book. Granted, Jazz is still extremely involved because he is the main character, but it doesn’t put everything on him. Barry Lyga takes some of it away from him because teenagers can’t always go sneaking around crime scenes or morgues. I thought that there was a nice balance between Jazz doing things and the adults doing their jobs. It was realistic but not in a boring way.

I really liked all of the supporting characters in this as well. I wish that Connie had been fleshed out more because I have less of an understanding of her character, but I really liked Howie. He’s kind of Jazz’s partner in crime, but he also has to be really careful because he’s a hemophiliac. The humor in having the son of a serial killer and a boy whose blood doesn’t clot well was brilliant.

Lyga did a nice job with balancing this often disturbing book (I had a bit of trouble with some of the slight gore / descriptions) with humor. It was part of what made this book impossible to put down. This novel sets up the second in the series so there are a few loose ends that I wish had been tied up in this novel, but I’m definitely interested in reading the next one as soon as I can. This is a successful YA novel that will keep readers engaged, and it’s because of the incredible way that Lyga writes Jazz and his way of thinking.

4 stars.

[My Lady Jane] Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

My Lady Jane is a retelling of England’s Nine-Day Queen. This novel is what happens when something historical is retold in a contemporary style while still remaining fairly true to history. It is a longer read that delves into the points of view of three characters based on Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI, and Guildford (stylized as Gifford) Dudley, giving the characters a happier ending than their reality. The three authors weave together humor, romance, and a bit of real history–along with a lot of changed history.

I usually love retellings, especially when there’s history involved that I’ve studied and enjoyed.  And if I look at it purely from a standpoint where I only address it as a historical retelling, My Lady Jane was successful one. I really enjoyed that the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants was twisted into a conflict between the E∂ians (people who have the ability to shape shift into an animal, often at moments of high emotion or stress) and the Verities (people who do not have that power and often view it as a perversion of nature.) Changing history to the point of smudging or completely changing the outcome–which is basically the point of alternative history–didn’t bother me, because I liked how the authors took real events and added a bit of fantasy to make it fit their new narrative.

The alternative history, the E∂ians…that is why I read and enjoyed My Lady Jane, even to the point where I was able to mostly overlook the things that I didn’t particularly like. Ultimately, while I did enjoy reading the book, I also feel like it doesn’t have memorability for me. I won’t really be thinking about it now that I’ve finished it. It didn’t blow my mind, though I understand why it’s popular. It’s a catchy, quick read with entertaining moments. The characters are likable and it’s easy to cheer them on. But I found that even though this was a fun read, there were things that I didn’t work for me and distracted from the fantasy setting.

One of the things I couldn’t ignore was the childishness of the three main characters. In our time they’re children. But in their age, the average life expectancy is roughly 40 years old and they are of marriageable age / recognized as adults. Some of them would legally be adults in our age. They really didn’t act it at all. I expected a little more maturity. The way they talk is annoying and felt odd for the time period. They have to work together, but instead of learning from each other and changing their opinions, they remained pretty consistent in how they felt about one another. Yet at the end of the book I’m supposed to believe that they changed.  Although the characters were likable, I also felt that they were vain and unrelatable.

Because I felt that they had little depth, it was difficult to be interested in the romance in the book. This book switches between three points of view, so I got to read a lot of how they all loved each other. It really wasn’t my thing. I didn’t really care who ended up with whom because I was more interested in the fantasy part of the novel. I was so so interested in that. I know that My Lady Jane is part of an overall Jane series (they’re planning a Jane Eyre one next–which I probably won’t read because I actually love Jane Eyre and don’t want it to be messed with), so I’m hoping that maybe the E∂ian / Verity conflict continues. I may change my mind if that is the case. That would be pretty cool.

Part of my interest in My Lady Jane was that it has three authors. I was really curious how three people can write a book because logistics must be slightly annoying, but it looks like they all wrote one character. Considering that’s how it was done, the book flowed together really well and there weren’t any moments where the plot seemed to skip.

I did find the author asides verged more on the annoying side than the amusing side for me, mostly because a lot of them focused on spoon feeding me parts of English history or architecture that they decided to keep in the novel. I found them unnecessary and a  bit condescending. Of course, it’s not entirely fair for me to say that–I’m sure there are plenty of readers who know little about England’s history, particularly this time, so the asides were helpful and welcome. But for me, I know enough about this time that I found them very grating, especially when they were long. It took me out of the story. Most of the time when they happened I just wanted to get back to the story. I also didn’t like that Gifford was quoting Shakespeare and saying they were his own. If I wasn’t familiar with them I think they would have worked better. But that’s just my take on it.

My Lady Jane is an interesting twist on history. I find the stories of England’s Queens in the Henry VIII era and after  to be really sad and often tragic, so the idea of making a world where one of them survives was really cool. I personally like to keep my historical and my high school-esque / contemporary novels separate, which is something that this book taught me. It was a fun read, albeit a bit long, and I can see why it became so popular when it came out.

3 stars.

 

[The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women] Kate Moore

Radium: the wonder element. It was used to battle tumors, which meant that it had health-giving elements. It was a cure-all, treating cancer, gout, constipation…it even was said to restore vitality. This “liquid sunshine” couldn’t possibly be bad…

I went into The Radium Girls with absolutely no knowledge of what I was in for other than the vague sense of dread that the synopsis gave me. I have never studied this particular part of history, though I have studied other parts of the same time period. During World War I, women were toiling away at factories where they painted the luminous dials of watches that were used by troops abroad. The substance glowed in an otherworldly, magical way, lingering on the girls’ skin, their hair, their clothes, a light that marked them as special as they shone faintly in the dark. They were on top of the world doing a job that paid better than most jobs they could get at the time and the substance made them beautiful.

Some of the products you could order that had radium in them.

Kate Moore tracks them from 1917 up to 1938 with mentions of World War II; the three parts of the novel follow them as they begin work, as they begin to develop strange illnesses, through their attempts to get justice, and finally the end result. The girls–for some of them began work when they were fourteen–and women take on form through research–letters, newspaper accounts of the time, and legal documents–as well as interviews with descendants. This is extremely well researched. I could feel the depth of the research, even the pieces that likely didn’t make it into the end product. Moore took a vast amount of information about these cases and the history surrounding them and made it readable for the layperson. As someone who hadn’t know about the Radium Girls, it was very informative without losing the heart of this real story. There were so many women that it would be impossible to focus on them all, but by focusing on a small group of them, Moore was able to craft a narrative that was engaging and emotional.

I read an ARC of The Radium Girls, so things will naturally change before its publication date, but I really hope that the final copy of The Radium Girls includes more photographs, scans of newspapers, and the like that relate to the girls and their trials. I think it would have benefited the narrative immensely and made them even more real to me. I think it would be beneficial to have these visuals because the true story contained in The Radium Girls is very difficult to stomach. I was filled with so much horror that I had to back off from reading it for periods of time. If it contained photographs, it would give a short pause to the reader but still keep them very much in the story. It would be a short time to catch your breath before delving back into a story where a woman kept the pieces of her jawbone in a box to present as evidence at a hearing. (In the back of my copy there’s a list of photographs used, so perhaps this is the case.*)

I think that Moore did a good job of presenting all of the information. This novel is about these women and the legacy they’ve left so it was biased in their favor, but it also wasn’t explicitly judgmental toward the companies. Moore let the facts do the talking. That is where the judgement comes from. She told a story and allowed the reader to reach the point of anger and disgust toward the companies on their own. For how could a reader not be disgusted when a company did an autopsy on a recently deceased girl and secret away the bones that would tell of the disease caused by the radium? How could a reader not be disgusted when a company member proclaimed that “nothing was wrong”* to a woman who had lost an arm due to the radium in her former work and another who could hardly walk because her bones were riddled with holes?

Charlotte Purcell, one of the women that Kate Moore focuses on in her novel. Charlotte opted to have her arm amputated in order to stop the cancer from spreading throughout her body.

Not only does The Radium Girls explore who these women were and the legacy they’ve left, but it also explores how power and money make people into horrible human beings without a shred of decency. I cannot say that I felt that any who worked in the company deserved any pity. They walked on the backs of their workers and attempted to deny all. Something that was particularly tragic was that the women were dying and being blamed for their deaths. One woman was said to have syphilis because they didn’t yet know what it was. For the company, that became a sort of justification–it wasn’t their fault. Although they knew that the radium was dangerous or at least could potentially be dangerous, they still denied it, instead disparaging the dead in order to protect their interests. It was disgusting. I was angry for a lot of The Radium Girls because of this. It was horrible to read about the things that the companies and the people protecting them did in order to avoid recognizing that they were in the wrong. There was proof that showed radium was to blame, yet they still ignored it and swept it under the rug, instead blaming the dead: “They were ‘unfit'” or “not in full health when they began to work.”* It was horrible and tragic to read, especially when women were still lip-painting at the factories as other women were fighting for justice.

And these women kept fighting. I think that Moore did them a great justice. By giving readers an account of their stories that did not pull any punches–between the descriptions of their bodies falling apart and betraying them and how poorly they were treated by the companies and their communities–Moore shows readers truly how bad it was for them. And still they fought on. As much as it was tragic and difficult to read at times, it was also really inspiring to read about women who did not stop in their fight for justice and recognition. They changed how companies treat people who are working with dangerous substances.

In terms of writing style, there was a very clear narrative. By taking us through the decades that the girls suffered and fought, Moore created a story that was easy to follow. However, there was a part of the book that I felt lagged because it was a lot of information and names that were sometimes difficult to follow. It was necessary, but it was a lot of information about how they were fighting and being thwarted at every turn. It was hard to read and disheartening. It picked up again when the court hearings began and once I hit that point I couldn’t stop reading. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book despite it having this slow part.

As someone who knew nothing about these events in history, I recommend going into The Radium Girls prepared. There are moments that are disturbing to read because it isn’t fiction. It is an intense read.

The Radium Girls is a book that explores how women who had few rights as workers took on companies that want to deny them compensation for their illnesses caused by their work. The decades that these women fought and died changed how people worked with dangerous substances. The Radium Girls explores the bravery of these women in the face of the inevitable. Even though they knew they couldn’t do much for themselves, they still fought to change things for the future and to keep others from the same fate. I thought their stories were incredible and recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn more about this part of history and how women fought to be recognized.

4 stars.

I received a copy of The Radium Girls from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Radium Girls will be published on May 2nd.

*Comments about photographs and quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC copy of The Radium Girls and may change in the final edition.

[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

Which brings me back to my main point: using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a gigantic problem. It’s huge. And honestly, I have a hard time thinking about how this made it past editors and first readers, particularly when it’s in the young adult market. There’s a difference between blood being specifically used for spells which sometimes happens in books with witches / magic and when a character harms herself with the intent to harm and something magical just happens as a result.  I cannot believe that this decision was made and reinforced as it went through first readers.

This is threaded throughout the entirety of the novel but is never truly addressed. Tori acts weird and blows people off, yet no one calls her on it. No one asks–truly asks–if she’s okay. There are other ways of showing that a protagonist has anxiety and depression. Frankly I feel like it trivializes these things by making it the catalyst to magical things.

Which leads me into my second problem: the characters are not developed at all. Secondary characters are just names on the pages. The novel centers completely around Tori and Nathaniel. She has friends but doesn’t engage with them. Nor do they really try to engage with her. Along with her mother and brother, Tori’s two friends exist as plot devices to occasionally further the story. It’s sad when I read a story and none of the characters are memorable. I hardly even know what Tori and Nathaniel look like and the other characters may as well be the creepy mannequins at department stores. There’s basically a one sentence description about them. I felt that a lot of it was just ticking boxes.

When the romance develops the lack of character development really killed it for me. Even when a novel goes the instant-love route, there’s things that I can find cute about the romance even if it’s unrealistic and / or developed too quickly. With The Suffering Tree I felt nothing. Honestly I think the romance wasn’t necessary; I was far more invested in the mystery and anytime something remotely romantic happened it didn’t seem to fit in with the novel. I think it would have worked better had Tori and Nathaniel worked together as friends who both had an interest in solving the mystery.

The points of view were also very odd in this book. There were three, which is at least one too many. The choice to write in two perspectives–first and third–also kept removing me from the story. It was weird and jarring to switch from one to another. I don’t mind multiple perspectives, but it seems unnecessary to switch from third to first and then back. I didn’t feel that the book benefited from this choice at all, so I’m rather confused about why it was included in the first place.

A lot of this review focuses on the negative things, but there was enough positives that I didn’t hate the book. I use the two star rating for “okay” and that’s really how I felt about it. I enjoyed reading the mystery and of both Nathaniel and Tori’s involvement in it, although I feel that the lack of a villain made it weaker. I wanted to feel more uneasy about the mystery and the events surrounding it, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency to them. They felt very surface level which is frustrating when I want to read a mystery. I kept reading because I wanted to see how things would turn out in the end. I was curious but ultimately I feel that the author led too much into what was going to be revealed because it was easy to guess where it was going to go.

I have no doubt that The Suffering Tree will be popular when it’s published despite the issues I had with it. The premise was amazing and it made me have high hopes for the novel. I have a hard time reviewing when I’m one of the first reviewers of an upcoming release that doesn’t have many reviews, but I also know the importance of reading reviews before purchasing a book. I’ve tried to address all of the positives and negatives so people wondering about this book will have another perspective to look at.

I sincerely hope that the publisher addresses the issue that happens when cutting is glorified (particularly when this book is in the young adult market) before publication.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Suffering Tree from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Suffering Tree will be published on June 13th.

[Geekerella] Ashley Poston

Geekerella is the most adorable book I’ve read this year. It is full of geeky references to BatmanStar TrekStar WarsFireflyThe Lord of the Rings… and so many more. It embraced fandom and all of the different facets of it: how you feel when your favorite thing is remade or made into a movie for the first time, fanfiction, reaction posts, cosplaying, and connecting with fans across the world with something you’re passionate about. Ashley Poston takes all of that and writes a retelling of Cinderella that fits in with this geeky culture that is often written off by people who don’t understand it.

The novel is divided between two points of view, Elle and Darien. Elle is our heroine who lives and breathes Starfield, the show she shared with her late father. Starfield is getting a reboot and Elle is equal parts thrilled and worried. She wants it to be for her generation–it’s bound to be better than the cardboard cutouts they had to use for props in the original–but worried about who will be cast as the main characters. When teen actor Darien Freeman is cast as her favorite character, her hero Federation Prince Carmindor, she thinks that everything Starfield will be ruined by this teen actor who only knows the basic answers to questions about the fandom. Elle wants a fan to play Carmindor–or at least someone who took the time to learn about what he’s stepping into–is that too much to ask?

As for Darien, playing Carmindor is his dream role. Like Elle, he grew up with Starfield. Only no one knows that. No one believes that this teen heart-throb with his screaming legion of fangirls has any depth. He used to love the geeky culture of Starfield, back when he wasn’t famous. Now that he’s famous, he can’t be Darien Freeman, geek who  likes Batman and Starfield. He has to be Darien Freeman, teen actor who lives for being in the spotlight, who took on this role because it would catapult him into fame. More and more, Darien feels that he is losing himself.

I was worried that Geekerella was going to be an instant-love story. With how it was described in the summary, it seemed like Elle and Darien wouldn’t meet until the convention. Thankfully it was not the case. In a world where sometimes we only interact with people through a screen, I thought that Poston’s use of a mistaken number worked really well for this novel. The reader knows the whole time of the identity of those texting, so it was nice to see how their relationship grew without having prior knowlege of who they each were or what they looked like.

While Geekerella did follow the expected points of Cinderella, they were changed to fit into Elle’s world. Instead of a pumpkin being turned into a carriage, there’s a food truck that’s painted like a pumpkin. It’s an eyesore. And loud. It made me hungry for vegan tacos. I loved it. There’s the expected mean stepmother and horrible stepsisters who share a slightly dilapidated house. But there’s no magic. The only magic that comes into this story is the magic you feel when you fall in love and when you have the hope that dreams can come true. It was modern and wholly passionate.

Geekerella’s thing is Starfield. Although entirely fictional, it drew parallels to other space themed shows and movies. By the time I finished the novel I’d almost forgotten that Starfield wasn’t real. I wish it was because it is essential to the success of this story. Anyone who has ever had something that they’ve obsessed over–be it TV shows, books, or games–will find themselves in this book, even if they’re not interested in the romance.

While this book did have its sappy moments it didn’t detract from the narrative and become only about the romance. Geekerella is a heartfelt novel that took me by surprise because it was about accepting yourself and making a place for yourself in the world, even when your passions aren’t understood by everyone around you. I really recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary novels and want to read a book that embraces the culture of fandom. I’ll definitely be checking out other books by Ashley Poston.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Geekerella from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Geekerella will be published April 4th, 2017.