Review: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson

Review: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy NelsonI'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Genres: Contemporary, LGBT, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on September 16th 2014
Format: Hardcover
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A brilliant, luminous story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal for fans of John Green, David Levithan, and Rainbow Rowell 

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.

[Warning: review partially written under the influence of this heady, intoxicating book. Language may or may not have been hijacked by Noah Sweetwine’s incredible voice.]

Oh, man. I would review this just by stringing together quote after beautiful quote if I could! Seriously, I could do it. I liked about 23 quotes on Goodreads. (My secret mission may or may not be to convince you to read it from the quotes alone. 😉 )

“Who knows if [maybe] destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life?”

As mentioned in the synopsis, I’ll Give You the Sun has a really unique structure — and it creates a one-of-a-kind story that you can’t forget. The book has 2 POVs: the first being Noah as he narrates their life at about 13 years old, and the second being Jude as she narrates their life at 16. During the time between the two perspectives, it’s clear that some major things have happened that have caused the twins to painfully grow apart until they hardly recognize each other. Both POVs feature pivotal moments in their lives as the reader tries to piece together what happened.

“This is what I want: I want to grab my brother’s hand and run back through time, losing years like coats falling from our shoulders.”

Though I hesitate to use the term (because I’m not sure that it accurately describes it, though it’s the only word I really have), the book is full of magical realism and I absolutely LOVED it! It took a little time to adjust, wondering if some of the outrageous things described we really happening, but once I learned to roll with it, there was no going back. For me, it magnified the emotions of everything that was happening and made it that much stronger and dizzyingly brilliant. It made the ordinary extraordinary.

“There’s something going on in his face right now, something very bright trying to get out — a dam keeping back a wall of light. His soul might be a sun. I’ve never met anyone that had the sun for a soul.”

And this book just has so many “-isms,” I’ll-give-you-the-sun-isms. Things that make the book so special and types of “inside jokes” that people who haven’t read the book would be utterly confused by. Like that you should probably cry if I call you a “broken umbrella,” or that you should be pretty angry if I call you a “toilet-licking, garbage-headed scum-sucker.” (Then again, maybe that one’s not so hard to figure out, haha.) And Clark Gable knows that you shouldn’t just go around handing out oranges to people because that is DANGEROUS.

Each different perspective is also broken up by snippets unique to each POV that are so like that character, and provide insight. Noah’s snippets are the portraits he paints in “the invisible museum” of his mind (he’s an artist). Jude’s are prices of bizarre advice and remedies found in the “bible” she inherits from her grandmother (she’s a bit superstitious). I enjoyed them so much!

(SELF-PORTRAIT: Boy Rowing Madly Back Through Time)
If a boy gives a girl an orange, her love for him will multiply

But undeniably, it was really Noah Sweetwine who stole the show. This boy. I LOVE THIS BOY. I don’t think I couldn’t like him even if I tried. (And trying would be a terrible crime.) His voice is so purely honest and emotional. At 13 Noah is shy but passionate, his whole world awash in colors and images, and his whole life is his art. He feels like no one understands him but Jude.

“It occurs to me that Jude does this too, changes who she is depending on who she’s with. They’re like toads changing their skin color. How come I’m always just me?”

That is, until he meets Brian. The way Noah describes Brian is like a heaven-sent being. (PORTRAIT, SELF-PORTRAIT: The Boy Who Watched the Boy Hypnotize the World) Brian is nerdy just like Noah, and he has this incredible inner energy. Noah’s world shifts as soon as he meets him, because he finally finds someone else who understands him. Their feelings for each other are exhilarating and warm, tentative and infectious. I’ll confess, I had I only read two other LGBTQ romance books before this, and neither were great. But Brian and Noah? Their romance blows EVERYTHING out of the water.

“I’m thinking the reason I’ve been so quiet all those years is only because Brian wasn’t around yet for me to tell everything to.”

Onto Jude, “the patron saint of lost causes.” Yes, while it took me a little while to warm up to Jude — she isn’t exactly warm and huggable — she eventually won me over. At 16 Jude is a girl lost, hiding from the world with her life “on pause.” She’s struggling to deal with so many unresolved issues in her life that she’s kind of buried herself and resorted to her superstitious “bible-thumping,” and above all, her boycott. But you see the she does have a strong will and plenty of determination, and that she has so much guilt that is just tearing her up inside. She does care, she just needs to remember that it’s ok to show it.

“I think you can sort of slip out of your life and it can be hard to f ind a way back in.”
“What if I’m in charge of my own damn light switch?”

I first decided to pick up this book because of Noah and Jude’s sibling-hood, and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a big part of the story, but also not the central focus — I guess I’d say it’s like a very crucial frame to the story that is all-important, but not always the center of attention. I’m sure that anyone who is close with their siblings can relate pretty well, but as a triplet myself, everything about them hit me so hard and reminded me of my sisters and I. Their famous shoulder-to-shoulder “smush” pose that makes them feel complete together, the way they play at splitting up the world for world domination — even the way they both marry a madrone tree when they were five (with Jude also being the minister). Their incredible closeness and shared imagination felt so familiar. And the way Jude worries about how much Noah has changed and how their relationship is nonexistent — it KILLED me inside.

When twins are separated, their spirits seal away to f ind the other

And there’s so much more to discover that I didn’t touch on if you read the book. Two other amazing characters, another fated romance, tangibly heartbreaking family issues, more awesome art stuff, ghosts, jealousy, donuts, penis panic attacks… wait, what? I guess you’ll just have to read it to find out. * mwah ha ha ha *


If you’ve ever thought about starting this book, START IT. If you’ve never heard of this book, well, you have now, so READ IT ALREADY!

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Review: “The Start of Me and You” by Emery Lord

Review: “The Start of Me and You” by Emery LordThe Start of Me and You by Emery Lord
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing USA on March 31st 2015
Format: Hardcover
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Following her pitch-perfect debut Open Road Summer, Emery Lord pens another gorgeous story of best friends, new love, & second chances.

Brimming with heartfelt relationships and authentic high-school dynamics The Start of Me and You proves that it’s never too late for second chances.

It’s been a year since it happened—when Paige Hancock’s first boyfriend died in an accident. After shutting out the world for two years, Paige is finally ready for a second chance at high school . . . and she has a plan. First: Get her old crush, Ryan Chase, to date her—the perfect way to convince everyone she’s back to normal. Next: Join a club—simple, it’s high school after all. But when Ryan’s sweet, nerdy cousin, Max, moves to town and recruits Paige for the Quiz Bowl team (of all things!) her perfect plan is thrown for a serious loop. Will Paige be able to face her fears and finally open herself up to the life she was meant to live?

For months now I’ve been hearing people rave about the amazingness of Emery Lord’s books, and it’s slowly been wearing me down. The synopses of her books are adorable, and let’s face it — the covers are gorgeous! So I finally caved and reserved The Start of Me and You from the library, and drooled over seeing the cover in person when I finally got it.

What can I say? It’s a sweet book, and I enjoyed reading it, but I was far from being blown away by it. I know so many bloggers out there that absolutely loved it, and I just never got there with this book. To love a book — or even just to really, really like it — it needs to stand out to me or get me excited about it in several ways, and that wasn’t the case for me with The Start of Me and You. Too much of the story just felt so familiar and predictable to me. Maybe I’ve just read a lot of books like it before, but… that shouldn’t have to matter.

Who is our MC, Paige? She’s an “every girl” kind of character — nice enough, organized and put-together, annoyed by her little sister, a little innocent/oblivious, not super popular but liked by everyone, and supported by her own little group of friends. In all honesty though, I forgot her name a couple of times throughout the book: she’s just not that memorable. She actually gets a nickname in the book inspired by Jane Bennet of Pride and Prejudice:

“‘You seem much more like a Jane Bennet.’ My jaw dropped in offense. ‘That’s kind of mean!’ ‘No, it’s not! Jane is deeply underappreciated.’ ‘Because she’s boring…'”

My feelings about the MC, Paige.

My feelings about the MC, Paige.

I liked her well enough — except when she foolishly kept pursuing an unattainable crush — but she felt pretty flat to me. And boy, does it take her forever to finally wake up and see the blinding light that is one of the major plot points.

Yet somehow, I was still rooting for her. She has a pretty good character arc as she goes through a sort of self-discovery journey on her way out of her own grief, which featured prominently in the last part of the book and made me more invested in reading and finishing The Start of Me and You. But I still wasn’t able to feel for her personally — more just for the situation she was in. She felt more like a collection of goals (from her plan) and facts (like her interest in screenwriting).  Her saving grace, in my opinion? Her love for the TV show I Love Lucy. It’s a classic and one of my favorites!

And ah, Paige’s friends. You know, I really wanted to like them. And I did — but they never felt real to me. There were three of them (I was about to say four) and I barely could keep them apart. Even now I hope that I have the right name to the right character, but I can’t be sure. Even more than Paige, they really felt like walking lists of traits to me. One is the chill and cool type, another a Type-A personality, another the edgy and impulsive type… yeah. Though they had some cute and touching moments together, and their actions towards one another were admirable, I wasn’t feeling it.

Why did I keep reading? Not ashamed to admit that it was MAX all the way. I LOVED that he was a nerd! I think I had trouble connecting to Paige and her friends — their high school life just really wasn’t much like mine. But Max and his nerdiness, on the other hand — YES. I felt him as a character much more — with his passions, caring gestures,  and smart advice. The slow build-up of the romance was really cute, though later the ending felt a bit like a rom-com to me (yet that didn’t stop me from squealing in delight).


A cute read, but I was mostly underwhelmed.

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Review: ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ by Stephanie Perkins

Review: ‘Lola and the Boy Next Door’ by Stephanie PerkinsLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins
Series: (Anna and the French Kiss #2)
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on 2011-09-29
Format: Hardcover
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Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion...she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit—more sparkly, more fun, more wild—the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket—a gifted inventor—steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

This. Book. *Sigh*

Guys, this book was ADORABLE. It was everything I expected in a Stephanie Perkins book, and even more. I wasn’t sure how I was going to like it going in because of all the differences from Anna and the French Kiss (not set in SOAP or even abroad or at a boarding school? The tears!), but I came to love Lola all the more for these differences! 

Though San Fran is no Paris, I really did like the setting of Lola. I love hearing about the crazy neighbors in Lola’s neighborhood full of candy-colored victorian houses, getting to know the places she frequents in the area (like the neighborhood playground where you can sled down the grass on pizza boxes), and just the general sense of home. SOAP is a pretty awesome place, but it was great to get to know a place where a character has lived for a while, and hearing all the memories associated with it. 

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Anna’s dad rocks.

And unlike in Anna, we really get the chance to know Lola’s parents — and they’re absolutely awesome! They chat with her, encourage her to be herself, and even defend her against snooty customers (you’ll love it). It’s always great to read a YA book with a supportive family, and her parents become even more important to her whenever she is dealing with her often-difficult birth mother. And because I picked up this book wanting a light contemporary, I was glad that Lola’s adoption didn’t overwhelm the plot, and it instead added a bit of depth.

But what have I been rambling on about for so long? THIS IS A PERKINS BOOK, LET’S GET TO THE BOYS! (*ahem* Sorry.) Ya know, I think I found something on the book’s Goodreads page that sums it up perfectly. It’s from Rainbow Rowell’s review of the book:

Stephanie Perkins writes excellent boys. Girls, too — but ESPECIALLY boys. They feel specific. Like real people, not shapeless dream things.

I REALLY wish I had the book now, but I checked out a library copy. But if I did have it, I would take out an excerpt where Lola is describing Cricket’s hands. Yes, his hands. His beautiful, caring, meticulous, and ingenious hands. Hands that create Rube Goldbergs just to do simple tasks, or that build a transport system between their two houses to carry notes and things. Hands that always have reminders written on them, from buy eggs to seize the day. Yes, I’ll admit it: I fell in love with the boy’s hands.

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Well said.

So, needless to say, Cricket Bell is intoxicatingly amazing. Perkins writes him so well, giving him such a caring personality, but also making him capable of mistakes. Lola and his love story is not a simple one — in fact, it’s kinda messy — but it’s a lovely one that you’ll just have to read.

But what bugged me about the book towards the end was one little bone I had to pick with Lola. Just like Anna, Lola seems to have a hamartia — a fatal flaw (hehe, a TFIOS reference!). Though she comes to realize her feelings for someone else, she just can’t seem to bring herself to break off her current relationship, and of course is essentially emotionally cheating on her boyfriend. It seems all to obvious to me that this is just a plot ploy on Perkins’ part to keep the story going in a certain direction, but it drives me crazy that Lola can’t just wake up and do what’s right, when it’s all too evident. (*Throws hands up in air in disgust*)

All that’s left to discuss is one of my FAVORITE parts of the book — its companionship! Being the second in a loosely-constructed ‘series’, two characters from Anna appear in Lola — St. Clair, and of course, Anna. Lola happens to work at the movie theater that Anna works in, and Cricket knows St. Clair from Berkeley, where they go to school together. Let me just say that any part with Anna or more likely St. Clair had me fangirling TO THE MAX. Anna lovers, take note: if anything else, read this book just for these parts (though the rest is spectacular as well). Not only are Anna/St.Clair parts often swoon-worthy, but they usually served a useful purpose in the book. Now, please leave me be to mentally prepare Anna and Étienne’s wedding…

Absolutely gobbled this book up. Perkins fans will approve.

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Review: ‘Every Little Thing in the World” by Nina de Gramont

Review: ‘Every Little Thing in the World” by Nina de GramontEvery Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2010-03-23
Format: Hardcover
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Sixteen-year-old Sydney Biggs is a “good kid.” Smart, pretty, self-aware. No one doubts that she’ll go far in life. But, lately her mother worries that Sydney is wandering down the wrong path and getting all caught up in petty teenage rebellion and shenanigans. When Sydney and her best friend Natalia “borrow” a car to go to a party and then get escorted home by the police, their parents pack them up and ship them off to a hard-love wilderness camp—to stop this behavior before it gets out of hand, before things go too far. The problem is, they already have.

Sydney—the “good kid”—is pregnant.

In the wilds of Canada, where the girls are to spend the next four weeks canoeing, camping and foraging for food, time is ticking, because Sydney isn't sure what she wants to do about her pregnancy. And she certainly isn't expecting the other heady issues that will confront her as she forges friendships with her adventure-mates, including a guy who makes it no secret that he is a major thug and a teen television heartthrob with a secret of his own, not to mention her own best friend -- who is very adamant about what Sydney should do.

All right, I’ll admit it. I’ve been eyeing this book for years, but I’ve bypassed it every time. Why? I figured that it would be your average teenage pregnancy story, and I thought I knew how it would end. I didn’t care to read a book that I feel as if I’ve read many times before.

I was wrong, as usual.

I started reading this book on a whim, and I just couldn’t put it down. As soon as the story opens, Sydney has already discovered she is pregnant, and the rest of the book details her journey to making her final decision about the pregnancy. Sydney’s honest and introspective voice as a narrator drew me in, and I just had to read on to discover how she was going to deal all of her problems.

One of the best parts about this book is how many layers there are too it — this is not just a story about teenage pregnancy. As in real life, Sydney has so many other problems, and the people around her do, too. She struggles to connect with her mom, who doesn’t seem to care about her like she used to; punishment for the way Sydney is ‘messing up her life’ seems to be all her mom cares about. Money is tight, and Sydney’s continued attendance at her private school is up in the air. Her relationship with her dad and his new family is as strained as ever. And her best friend Natalie is having her own identity crisis, worried about who really loves her and who she really loves.

This is the situation Sydney is in while she must navigate her way to a decision.

So when her dad decides to send her and Natalie to wilderness camp to ‘reconnect with nature’ and correct her behavior, Sydney is of two minds. On the one hand, she really wants to leave all her problems behind for a few weeks; on the other, time is running out for her to make a decision.

At camp, Sydney can escape a lot of her problems — but not all of them. She meets and begins to befriend fellow campers who have their own issues, all while hiding her own biggest problem.

Though she tries to forget about her pregnancy, Natalie won’t let her. Sydney’s evolving friendship with Natalie and their dialogue together over what to do about Sydney’s pregnancy forms part of the core of Every Little Thing in the WorldThough supportive at first about Sydney’s thoughts on abortion, something in Natalie’s own life changes that convinces her to change her mind. So while she must decide about her pregnancy, Sydney must also find a way to keep Natalie as a friend, no matter what she chooses to do.

I highly respect that Nina de Gramont has Sydney explore every option open to her in regards to her pregnancy. No option is painted as completely black and white, completely right or wrong. Instead Sydney explores the many shades of gray that exist, finding that no option is perfect and that every situation is unique. What Sydney needs to do is find out which option is right for her, and figure out what future she is to have for herself.

And I would be remiss in reviewing this book and talking about Sydney’s decision without mentioning Mick, one of the secondary characters she meets at camp. Mick arrives at camp through a program for disadvantaged kids, and he adds a whole different perspective to the story. While Sydney is trying to figure out her own shades of gray, Mick presents a different kind of life, where choices are not always available. He defends the decisions he’s had to make as necessary, and has lived with the consequences. Mick introduces even more moral ambiguity not the book.

All these heavy topics play out against the beautiful and unforgiving wilderness of Canada, which provides for the perfect backdrop to the book.  If I had to boil this story down to it’s essence, I would say it’s just about a girl trying to navigate her life, looking up at the stars and wondering what’s right, what’s wrong, and what she’s going to do. It’s a story that broadened my horizons, made my head spin thinking, and touched something deep within me, something emotional and deeply human.

And no cop-out ending here, folks. No one comes to save Sydney — she must decide things for herself. There is no one that makes Sydney’s choice for her or makes it easier, only the realities of life.

A beautiful novel that tackles a controversial subject, without presenting things as only right or wrong. Compelling and deeply thoughtful.

I’m Going Off to College! + GIVEAWAY

So after a summer of waiting…. and waiting…. and WAITING… it’s finally here. In a matter of days, I will be leaving to go off to college.

Woah.

Craziness, really. I’ve wanted it to come for so long, and now it’s finally here. While I’m SUPER excited to be going off, there are a lot of things I’m going to miss and a few doubts I still have.

Like, how is my puppy going to get on without me? What’s my family going to do with me (and my two triplet sisters) away? What if I forget to bring something or bring too much? What if I melt in the SoCal heat? And what are my roommate(s) going to be like? Will I like her/them? Will she/they like me? What if we don’t get along, what then?? WHAT WILL HAPPEN???

I’m not so sure about the answers to all these questions, but luckily I know a thing or two about the last few. Not because I’m able to read the future, but because I read a certain lovely little novel called…

ROOMIES by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

17573559 The countdown to college has begun.

 

When Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment at the beginning of summer, she shoots off an email to coordinate the basics: TV, microwave, mini-fridge. She can’t wait to escape her New Jersey beach town, and her mom, and start life over in California.

 

The first note to Lauren in San Francisco comes as a surprise; she had requested a single. But if Lauren’s learned anything from being the oldest of six, it’s that you can’t always get what you want, especially when what you want is privacy.

 

Soon the girls are emailing back and forth, sharing secrets even though they’ve never met. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives…and each other.

 

With humor and heart, Sara Zarr, National Book Award finalist for Story of a Girl, and Tara Altebrando, acclaimed author of The Pursuit of Happiness, join forces for a novel about that time after high school, when everything feels like it’s ending just as it’s beginning.

While I don’t know who my roommates are, and therefore don’t have the opportunity to write to them, this book was like a balm soothing my burning questions.

Though Lauren and Elizabeth start out as strangers assigned a room together, they slowly get to know each other and even become each other’s confidantes in the crazy summer before college. As their home lives become more difficult, they vent to each other about their problems.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for the two future roomies — things take a turn for the worse only a few weeks before they’re set to move in together. There’s bound to be a disagreement when two very different strangers are set to live in such close quarters, and Lauren and Elizabeth have a major falling out when trying to help each other with their problems turns judgmental; it’s all too easy to judge a person who you’ve never met. They also step over some boundaries and become a little too entangled in trying to solve each other’s problems.

Without spoiling the ending, I’d like to say that I learned some important lessons from this book:  

  • It’s important to communicate all of your feelings to a roommate about an issue you are having — how else will they know what’s wrong? (That kind of sounds like solid relationship advice in general, actually. You’re welcome.)
  • It’s also necessary to be able to understand each other and what your roommates’ limits are; overstepping these limits is the surest way to upset your roommate.
  • Solutions can be reached, if only you are willing to try. Freezing out your roommate and declaring the problem ‘unsolvable’ will not help anything. Only through dialogue will things be fixed.

After what Lauren and Elizabeth went through even before they moved in together, I feel certain that I will be able to fare better — if only by learning from their mistakes.

Roomies also eased my anxiety about going off to college in general. Seeing how both Lauren and Elizabeth coped with leaving assured me that all my emotions were normal. It’s okay to feel both excited and scared at the same time — you’re leaving everything you know for new and wonderful opportunities.

This book is heartfelt, messy, and real, and I highly recommend it to anyone going off to college someday, or moving in with a roommate, or even just for the curious. Which is why…

…I’ll be doing a giveaway for a Hardcover copy of RoomiesThat’s right, MY FIRST GIVEAWAY! Spread the word, I hope to get a lot of entries! I’ll try to mail the book to the winner before I leave for college.

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** UPDATE: I have finally been assigned two lovely roomies, and I’m so excited to meet them in person! (Shoutout to Rachel and Alexis is they are reading this!)