Tag Archives: tough issues

Late to the Party ARC Review – Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis: Grace wants out. Out of her house, where her stepfather wields fear like a weapon and her mother makes her scrub imaginary dirt off the floors. Out of her California town, too small to contain her big city dreams. Out of her life, and into the role of Parisian artist, New York director—anything but scared and alone.

Enter Gavin: charming, talented, adored. Controlling. Dangerous. When Grace and Gavin fall in love, Grace is sure it’s too good to be true. She has no idea their relationship will become a prison she’s unable to escape. 

Deeply affecting and unflinchingly honest, this is a story about spiraling into darkness—and emerging into the light again.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I had to put off reading Bad Romance for awhile. It’s one of those books that looks at abusive relationships, why someone might stay, and ultimately why they need to choose themselves. Grace is a very difficult heroine because she is torn with choosing herself or enduring abuse because Gavin, her boyfriend, threatens to kill himself if she ever breaks up with him.

This book is very much a history of their relationship, written in a way where there’s quite a bit of second-person use. The way in which Grace describes her relationship is so heartbreaking, hard, and reading the moments of the psychological torment that she faces is rough. Like, it hurts, and I found myself wincing in pain. Not every action Grace does makes sense, but what I love is Demetrios shows how she’s working through it. I also love that she has such supportive friends who are trying to help her break the cycle.

This is also just such an amazing and well-written book. I felt so overwhelmed emotionally as I was reading this book that at times I had to simply close it because of what was happening. Being emotionally invested, even though I’ve never expected what Grace is going through… I empathized, a lot.

Bad Romance is a raw, rough, addictive book that will probably hit a lot of people’s triggers. It’s not an easy read, but it is a compelling one. Regardless of whether you’ve experience abuse or not, this is a book that will leave you emotionally raw by the end of it.

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ARC Review – Top Ten by Katie Cotugno

Title: Top Ten

Author: Katie Cotugno

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Ryan McCullough and Gabby Hart are the unlikeliest of friends. Introverted, anxious Gabby would rather do literally anything than go to a party. Ryan is a star hockey player who can get any girl he wants—and does, frequently. But against all odds, they became not only friends, but each other’s favorite person. Now, as they face high school graduation, they can’t help but take a moment to reminisce and, in their signature tradition, make a top ten list—counting down the top ten moments of their friendship: 

10. Where to begin? Maybe the night we met.
9. Then there was our awkward phase.
8. When you were in love with me but never told me…
7. Those five months we stopped talking were the hardest of my life.
6. Through terrible fights…
5. And emotional makeups.
4. You were there for me when I got my heart broken.
3. …but at times, you were also the one breaking it.
2. Above all, you helped me make sense of the world.
1. Now, as we head off to college—how am I possibly going to live without you?

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I was super disappointed by Katie Cotugno’s 99 Days. It was one of those books I had high hopes for given how much I adored How to LoveTop Ten is closer to How to Love for me, as I found myself engrossed in it.

I can understand why other reviews DNF’ed this book — the style of going back and forth between Ryan and Gabby’s perspectives at different points of their lives can feel a bit jarring. Cotugno’s writing is beautiful, but the reader is just completely dropped into Gabby and Ryan’s friendship without build up. The timelines go back and forth, and it can feel a bit confusing. I, however, embraced what the author was trying to accomplish with the writing, and I loved the message she was going for.

Gabby and Ryan are awkward. They suffer from social anxiety. The are best friends, though Ryan is in love with Gabby, and Gabby has a crush on a girl. Gabby is learned to embrace her bisexuality, but she doesn’t want her relationship with Ryan to take a hit. All their messy feelings make so much sense and it’s easy to feel empathy for them. Cotugno provides us with two main characters who are messy, thoughtful, and you get the sense that there is so much that us unclear surrounding their friendship.

I even loved the sloppy, confused romance in this novel. You get the sense that there is so much emotion and inanity of teen angst and love. Top Ten is just such a unique experience for a contemporary novel, just in terms of how it is written. It’s not going to gel with every reader, but I found myself engaged from beginning to end, and I feel like regardless of my feelings on 99 Days, I’ll still read anything Katie Cotugno writes just for the experience alone.

ARC Review – Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert

Title: Little & Lion

Author: Brandy Colbert

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

Huge thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I started Little & Lion. The synopsis gave me some indication that this book was going to be about sexuality and mental illness, but I wasn’t anticipating the intensity that Colbert puts into this story. I haven’t read Pointe yet, but I had only heard amazing things about Brandy Colbert’s characters and her writing.

Little & Lion was slow going for me. Not because it was a bad story, but because it is an emotionally exhausting and rewarding story. Little’s narrative is very heartbreaking, sometimes tough to read. She cares a lot for Lionel, especially when it comes to how his mental illness has transformed him. You see bits and pieces of his character’s evolution and at times it feels hard to read.

I also loved the way Colbert explored Little’s sexuality and being bisexual. I think showing her conflicting romantic feelings was done in a very sensitive way, and it was easy to emphasize with Little’s emotions throughout the story. Between iris, Rafela, and Emil, you see three different kinds of romantic feelings throughout the story, and Little’s connection to each person hints at a bigger picture in regards to her understanding her bisexuality. I felt like I knew each of her love interests very well when I was reading this story.

I liked Saul as a character as well, and I think he gets some great development with Little in terms of helping her understanding her sexuality, her connection to Judaism, and her family life. He doesn’t make things easy, somewhat overreacts, but does it entirely out of love. Family as a theme in this story is just spectacularly done here, and you see the emotionally drain that Lionel does put on his family. This isn’t shyed away from, which I appreciated so much.

This book is emotional, it’s intense, it’s thoughtful, and it leaves you thinking long after the story is over. Little & Lionhas a lot to offer for those who lover tougher contemporary YA. It only has solidified that I need to get off my butt and check out Pointe.

ARC Review – These Things I’ve Done by Rebecca Phillips

Title: These Things I’ve Done

Author: Rebecca Phillips

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Before: Dara and Aubrey have been inseparable since they became best friends in sixth grade. However, as they begin their sophomore year of high school, cracks in their friendship begin to form, testing the bond they always thought was unbreakable.

After: It’s been fifteen months since the accident that killed Aubrey, and not a day goes by that Dara isn’t racked with guilt over her role in her best friend’s death. Dara thought nothing could be worse than confronting the memories of Aubrey that relentlessly haunt her, but she soon realizes it isn’t half as difficult as seeing Ethan, Aubrey’s brother, every day. Not just because he’s a walking reminder of what she did, but because the more her feelings for him change, the more she knows she’s betraying her best friend one final time.

Huge thank you to Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I’ve had a copy of These Things I’ve Done since February, and I had constant hesitation to pick this book up. Books that deal with both guilt and grief are sometimes a topic that I need to be emotionally in the right frame of mind for, and this book based on the blurb told me I was going to have all the feels.

I did have feels, they just seemed to happen in the last hundred pages of the book.

This is a slow burn and one where the writing style really took me a bit to get into. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the slightest, but I know writing style can always be a tricky thing, especially if you feel turned off at the beginning. Dara is a character that for the most part I struggled to connect with. I could empathize with her a lot, but I never felt a huge connection between her and I while I was reading the book, which is very important to me as a reader. I also weirdly could have done without the romance part of this book because I found myself unable to entirely buy into it. I think other readers will adore it, but I found it a little too obvious and frankly, really dull. It’s like Dara and Ethan couldn’t decide if they had or didn’t have chemistry, if that makes sense.

That being said, the subject matters this book tackles are utterly heartbreaking and that’s what I was there for, and I think Phillips delivers on that. Dara’s grief, her pain, and her guilt all translate so well in this story, and when she talked about life without Audrey, those were the parts of the book I lived for. When the book was in the sophomore year sections when Audrey was alive, I enjoyed it somewhat, but it was the living without sections that I found I was really glued to. I wanted to know what Dara did and why she felt the intense pain she did. I wanted to know the full extent of her damage, and I think the build to that is something the author did extremely well. I think she captured so much in Dara’s feelings that even though I had moments of disconnect with her, I somewhat understood why.

really loved many aspects of this book and it’s one I’ll be happy to recommend to the teens I work with at the library. I think Rebecca Phillips captures the spirit of teenage grief in a really well understood way, and I think it will definitely resonate with a lot of other readers. While I wasn’t in love with this book the way I thought I would be, I still am super glad I read it and didn’t DNF it like I originally was going to with that rocky start.

ARC Review – The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Title: The Names They Gave Us

Author: Emery Lord

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

I absolutely adored this book. I find Emery Lord’s works have this way of capturing my attention and making me fall in love with the teens that she writes. They are flawed, imperfect, but lovable people. The Names They Gave Us may be her most powerful novel to date, and easily her most difficult in terms of subject matter as well.

Lucy is a great heroine. She’s devoted to her religious beliefs, has the perfect boyfriend, and loves her family deeply to the point of resentment at times. Her mother’s cancer reappears and she struggles to grasp that this could be the end for her mother, and ends up at a camp for teens dealing with tougher issues. There she makes wonderful, thoughtful friendships and grows into a stronger person. Lord does a fantastic job of showing Lucy’s growth in the story, and I think it shows when she learns about Anna, a trans girl at the camp. Their friendship was easily one of my favourites, and I enjoyed the way in which Anna educates Lucy about trans rights and issues transpeople face.

I also think how Lord deals with Lucy and her faith is very intriguing. It reminded me of my all time favourite novels, Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu, although they are coming at the topic in very different ways. Lucy trying to reconcile her feelings about the people she meets and what the Bible has taught her is played up very well in this story, and I think this is just another area where Lord shows magnificent growth for Lucy as a character.

The Names They Gave Us is a beautiful, smart, sensitive read that offers amazing and thoughtful character development. Lord continues to show readers that she can work with tough issues, make them accessible, and still write a heartbreaking and touching story. WhileWhen We Collided still remains my favourite of hers, this one is a close second.

ARC Review – Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Ellie Terry

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: A girl with Tourette syndrome starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks in this debut middle-grade novel in verse.

Calliope June has Tourette syndrome. Sometimes she can’t control the noises that come out of her mouth, or even her body language. When she and her mother move yet again, she tries to hide her TS. But soon the kids in her class realize she’s different. Only her neighbor, who is also the class president, sees her as she truly is—a quirky kid, and a good friend. But is he brave enough to take their friendship public?

As Callie navigates school, she must also face her mother’s new relationship and the fact that she might be moving again—just as she’s starting to make friends and finally accept her differences. This story of being true to yourself will speak to a wide audience.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!
Sam’s Review:

Forget Me Not is a very unique read with an important message. I think Ellie Terry’s novel has so much value in teaching readers about Tourette syndrome. Her protagonist, Calliope suffers from Tourette syndrome, is forced to go to a new place every year, and she never feels like she gets to settle or be herself. A lot of kids look at her strangely because of her tics, and she struggles to make friends due to this condition. She meets a boy named Jinsong who takes a shine to her and they embark on a wonderful friendship.

Calli is an easy character to love and feel sympathy for. She wants to feel like everyone else, wants to feel as though her Tourette syndrome doesn’t define her, and simply, she wants to feel normal. These are all very reasonable things. However, I will admit that I struggled with this book half being written in verse. As much as the poems were beautiful, I found they made me feel distanced from Calli a lot of the time. I felt like could understand her feelings, but by the other side of it, I struggled to really connect with her. In a lot of ways, I did love this story and I do feel it is super important, I think I just wish I could have connected more with the writing. I also think books in verse can be a hard sell to middle grade audiences, regardless of how amazing the story or subject matter is.

Jinsong’s sections were written much more traditionally, and I actually found his sections worked much better for me as a reader, and I loved the way Terry merged the two narratives together. Jinsong and Calli’s relationship is insanely sweet and so genuine. Their moments were easily some of my favourites in the story.

What I adored about Forget Me Not is its sheer honesty. I have never read a book where a character had Tourette syndrome, and I found this read to be very eye opening as well. I think it’s also amazing of the author to share her personal experiences with Tourette syndrome with the reader, just to give them a sense of how truly close to the topic they are. This book was a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, and I appreciate so much of what the author was doing in using her characters to not only educate the reader, but offer a perspective that perhaps they weren’t thinking about. Forget Me Not is a beautiful story through-and-through, and I can only hope more readers pick it up as a means to educate themselves a bit more about life with Tourette syndrome.

 

ARC Review – The Other F-Word by Natasha Friend

29102849Title: The Other F-Word

Author:  Natasha Friend

Rating: ★★

Synopsis: A fresh, humorous, and timely YA novel about two teens conceived via in vitro fertilization who go in search for answers about their donor.

Milo has two great moms, but he’s never known what it’s like to have a dad. When Milo’s doctor suggests asking his biological father to undergo genetic testing to shed some light on Milo’s extreme allergies, he realizes this is a golden opportunity to find the man he’s always wondered about.

Hollis’s mom Leigh hasn’t been the same since her other mom, Pam, passed away seven years ago. But suddenly, Leigh seems happy—giddy, even—by the thought of reconnecting with Hollis’s half-brother Milo. Hollis and Milo were conceived using the same sperm donor. They met once, years ago, before Pam died.

Now Milo has reached out to Hollis to help him find their donor. Along the way, they locate three other donor siblings, and they discover the true meaning of the other F-word: family.

Huge thank you to Raincoast for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:
This book gets a resounding “ugh” out of me. I had high hopes for this book given it’s about a topic that interests me (vitro fertilization), and it was a snoozer. I found myself pushing through the book because I kept hoping I would enjoy it more, but I found myself never entirely connecting with this book at all. It’s not a bad book either, it just did a lot that didn’t work for me personally.

The main issue with this book falls on the main character Hollis, who is just awful. I generally don’t mind characters who can be a bit mean or cruel, but I really despised how Hollis’ treats her mother Leigh, especially given the recent loss of her wife (and Hollis’ other mother) Pam. Hollis is so malicious, so cruel, and very inconsiderate. Sadly, she stays that way for the majority of the book and never feels like she has a lot of feelings towards others. Even her treatment of the other protagonist, Milo, whom she shares a sperm donor with, at times she’s is downright dreadful to him, and again, without truly a good reason why. I feel like it takes her too long to grow in the book, so much so that I found her chapters to be so difficult and infuriating to read.

On the other side of it, I liked Milo. I thought he was kind of darling at times, though the fact that he is so persistent with someone as dreadful as Hollis baffled me. I think unlike Hollis, Milo is a much better developed character and I think his reasons for wanting to connect with his biologic father are very sound — he wants to know his medical history in case he may be allergic to different things. I think that is more than fair, no? I found his chapters so much more engaging, but I think the issue here is that Friend’s writing is a little flat on Milo’s side. In fact, at times it felt like I was reading two very different books given how the chapters read out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a bit jarring.

If I am being honest, the characters I felt for and enjoyed the most were Milo’s parents and Leigh (Hollis’ mother). I found that I was most engaged when they were on the pages, and again my heartbroke with how little attention they get. I think even the search for the bio-logic father wasn’t even that particularly well done, and when the connection was made, it just read so flatly. That’s the larger mystery in that story and it just felt like it was being strung along at times.

I really wanted to like The Other F Word, and I like the title and it’s many interpretations. I just wished I had connected more with the characters and the story, but I just found myself more angry and frustrated just by the lack of potential that this story had. I think there will be people who will love and gravitate to this story, I just wish I had been one of them.