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Late to the Party ARC Review – The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

Title: The Other Half of Happy

Author: Rebecca Balcárcel

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Quijana is a girl in pieces. One-half Guatemalan, one-half American: When Quijana’s Guatemalan cousins move to town, her dad seems ashamed that she doesn’t know more about her family’s heritage. One-half crush, one-half buddy: When Quijana meets Zuri and Jayden, she knows she’s found true friends. But she can’t help the growing feelings she has for Jayden. One-half kid, one-half grown-up: Quijana spends her nights Skyping with her ailing grandma and trying to figure out what’s going on with her increasingly hard-to-reach brother. In the course of this immersive and beautifully written novel, Quijana must figure out which parts of herself are most important, and which pieces come together to make her whole. This lyrical debut from Rebecca Balcárcel is a heartfelt poetic portrayal of a girl growing up, fitting in, and learning what it means to belong.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I really enjoyed The Other Half of Happy! It was my first time reading a story with a Guatemalan protagonist. Quijiana is a wonderful heroine to follow — she cannot speak Spanish, she doesn’t know how to play guitar, and she spends a lot of the novel fighting her family’s traditions.

This book tells the story of someone who is clearly Americanized but learning how to preserve her family’s culture. When the novel is about Quijana’s family, her interactions with her grandmother or the fights with her father, this book is fabulous and raw. Some of my favourite moments in particular, were any cases where Quijana would text her grandmother for advice or when she was feeling down. It was so pure and sweet! I also love the scenes with Quijana’s father, mainly because I feel for him — he wants to share his family’s heritage and get Quijana to appreciate his roots but he struggles to communicate these feelings to her and so they clash. The way in which family is portrayed in The Other Half of Happyis what makes this story feel so special.

The other half of the novel regarding Quijana’s school life and her crush… I admit, I didn’t dig those parts as much. The parts of the story regarding her crush didn’t add anything special to the story for me, but perhaps for another reader I could see it working for them. I just found those parts of the story to meander and not add anything special to the overarching theme, which was family and cultural identity. I wish I loved that part as much of the rest of the book, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

Do I still recommend The Other Half of Happy? Absolutely! I feel like many younger readers will definitely find the story engaging, and I think Quijana is a character many readers will be able to relate to. This is a fantastic story about growing up, accepting parts of your roots, and coming to terms with cultural differences. This is a great book for readers who love a good family-centered narrative.

ARC Review – This Is the Story of You by Beth Kephart

25861945Title: This Is the Story of You

Author: Beth Kephart

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: On Haven, a six-mile long, half-mile-wide stretch of barrier island, Mira Banul and her Year-Rounder friends have proudly risen to every challenge. But when a superstorm defies all predictions and devastates the island, when it strands Mira’s mother and brother on the mainland and upends all logic, nothing will ever be as it was. A stranger appears in the wreck of Mira’s home. A friend obsessed with vanishing is gone. As the mysteries deepen, Mira must find the strength to carry on—to somehow hold her memories in place while learning to trust a radically reinvented future.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

The Story of You is one of those very quiet books. Everything is slow, methodically put together, wrapped in poetic writing. It’s a very simple story that looks at survival, devastation, self-reflection and family, and it does all this in a very small package.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this novel as I read it, but it’s one of those books where it asks the reader to be patient, and it’s subtle in a lot of ways. Our heroine, Mira, is someone who spends a lot of the novel reflecting on her life, friendships, and the people she has met in her small town on Haven. Interesting, this book doesn’t have a lot of a dialogue, which I thought was great given how the novel was written. It was as if when all the devastation hits that there were no conversations to be had or words needed to be said.

The other thing about The Story of You is that its builds in a very specific way. All the emotion that the read is made to feel is built up, up, up, and then much live the waves of the sea, come crashing down hard and furious. I felt very frightened, uncomfortable, and even nervous at times as I was reading this book, and it just comes from how beautiful and intense a lot of the writing and imagery is in the novel.

If you want a book that will provide an emotionally engaging experience right from the get go, then The Story of You is definitely worth checking out. It’s so beautiful and raw, and while the pacing is something that I think some readers might not enjoy, I think it’s worth sticking through to the end, just to see how Kephart sticks the landing. Emotional and beautiful, The Story of You is a novel made for readers who want gripping, yet quiet experience.

ARC Review – High and Dry by Sarah Skilton

18004139Title:  High and Dry

Author: Sarah Skilton

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: Framed for a stranger’s near-fatal overdose at a party, blackmailed into finding a mysterious flash drive everyone in school seems anxious to suppress, and pressured by his shady best friend to throw an upcoming game, high school soccer player Charlie Dixon spends a frantic week trying to clear his name, win back the girl of his dreams, and escape a past that may be responsible for all his current problems.

Huge thank you to Amulet Books and Netgalley for this ARC!

River’s Review:

I picked up this book because it’s from a male POV and it sounded kinda like a mean-girls-only-with-boys style contemporary, and I wanted to see how that worked. This was an okay book. Nothing mind blowing, but I didn’t have any real problems with it either. It was a pretty quick read, a simple mystery, and the writing was pretty solid. There were a lot of metaphors about water and the desert which worked well with the story. I didn’t really like how Dixon was always drinking and the reasons why he was doing it. I actually didn’t like a lot of his reasons for anything. But at the end he did seem to figure out why he was doing half the shit he was and that was satisfactory.

I guess the only real ‘thing’ I had with this book was the weird structure of the school and how everyone had their own group and had to like, get permission to speak to others in the group. The social hierarchy was just kinda weird to me.

Anyways, this is a pretty quick read and a nice change in voice, so pick it up if you like male POVs.