Thursday, April 27, 2017

Seven Reasons to Read Seven Ways We Lie

Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate | Goodreads

Publisher: Abrams
Release: March 8, 2016
Source: Library
Seven students. Seven (deadly) sins. One secret.

Paloma High School is ordinary by anyone’s standards. It’s got the same cliques, the same prejudices, the same suspect cafeteria food. And like every high school, every student has something to hide—from Kat, the thespian who conceals her trust issues onstage, to Valentine, the neurotic genius who’s planted the seed of a school scandal.

When that scandal bubbles over, and rumors of a teacher-student affair surface, everyone starts hunting for someone to blame. For the seven unlikely allies at the heart of it all, the collision of their seven ordinary-seeming lives results in extraordinary change.
I read Seven Ways We Lie earlier this month, and it quickly became a new favorite—I can guarantee it will end up on my best-of-2017 list. If you’re still on the fence, here are seven reasons why you should read it too.

1. The characterization. Riley Redgate took a unique, clever idea (seven characters, each of whom embodies one of the seven deadly sins) and pulled it off with biting precision. Each character’s central sin subtly weaves into his or her personality, creating an engaging matching game as well as a thought-provoking look into the many vices that can drive us to lie—to ourselves and to others. I can’t pick a favorite character because each is endlessly complex, redeemably flawed, and hauntingly memorable.

2. The multiple POVs. Each individual character will captivate you, but their intertwining perspectives create an interconnected masterpiece. The combining voices in this story are some of the most distinct I’ve ever read (you won’t ever find yourself wondering whose chapter you’re reading), and the order in which their stories unfold creates perfect pacing.

3. The portrayal of sexuality. Seven Ways We Lie features an explicitly pansexual character who grapples with his orientation in ways both heart-rending and true-to-life—from worrying about coming out in a conservative town to explaining that no, he’s not bi. There’s also a girl who has a comeback for every slut-shaming comment thrown her way and a boy who’s clearly aromantic and asexual. (Even though the labels aren’t specifically used, can we talk about how much I appreciated a character saying he doesn't have crushes?)

4. The dialogue. Riley Redgate can write. Every element of her debut novel gleams with innate craftsmanship, but the conversations between her characters impressed me most of all. Whether pulled from a heart-to-heart or ripped from a vicious argument, every line of dialogue rolls of the page as if it jumped straight from a real-life conversation. The result is an immersive experience that will make you feel as if you’re living—not just reading about—the characters’ experiences.

5. The realism. Seven Ways We Lie provides a satisfying ending, but not a fairy-tale one; throughout the story, characters face challenges that don’t always get resolved in the way you hope or expect. This book is gritty and authentic, and it portrays high school scandals perfectly.

6. The varying issues. Redgate’s debut takes on several heavy topics—student/teacher relationships, divorce, sexuality, friendship, and more—and handles them all deftly. Each issue receives less attention than it could have with a more focused plot, but this only ties into the aforementioned realism. In life, we don’t always know all the details; we can only make the best of what we do share with each other, and reading a book that embodies this reality feels refreshing.

7. The expert storytelling. All these elements and more combine to form a tale that is brilliantly woven and utterly addictive. I read it over the span of a few days, completely obsessed. Reading Seven Ways We Lie is a captivating experience I cannot quite verbalize, complete with the kind of gripping writing that cannot quite be taught. I highly recommend that you, too, delve into this novel’s world of small-town high school scandal and lies that run deep; I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ten (Non-Dystopian) YA Novels With Characters who Resist

It’s 2017, and never before have I related more to dystopian YA heroines. A resistance movement is in full swing here in the United States, compelling us all to channel our inner Katniss Everdeens and Tris Priors.

But oppressive futuristic societies aren’t the only places you can find characters fighting for their rights—historical, contemporary, and fantasy novels contain just as many triumphant stories of activism and persistence. So, because we all need a bit of inspiration in this time of resistance, here are ten (non-dystopian) books with characters who stand up to structures of power both big and small. Some of the characters aim to overthrow their government, others seek to deliver justice where due, and others ache to influence their culture’s norms—but all are astonishingly smart and strong.

Set during the Inquisition, this masterpiece of a novel tells the tale of three sisters and a heretic named Dolssa who dare to question the Catholic church. It vividly weaves together friendship, history, religion, and suspense—and it’s hands-down one of my all-time favorite books.

This heartbreaking, hopeful, unexpectedly thrilling story follows a girl forced into an unwanted arranged marriage by her conservative immigrant parents. She stands up to her family while maintaining her love for her Pakistani culture, taking readers on an emotionally gripping journey along the way.

The women’s suffrage movement in early-1900s London creates a marvelous backdrop for this coming-of-age story about a girl who protests for what she believes in.

Set in an eerie, atmospheric slaughterhouse, this Phantom of the Opera retelling explores the dynamics of power and oppression between two fictional ethnic groups—and what happens when a revolution causes the carefully-constructed hierarchy to crumble.

This book is set in an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II and follows a shape-shifting bike racer on a quest to kill Hitler. If that’s not an epic example of resistance, I don’t know what is.

How could I not include this insightful, relevant novel that takes on the topic of police brutality? If you haven’t read this one yet, I highly encourage you to change that.

Set against an alternate historical New England backdrop, this book tells the story of Cate Cahill and her sisters, three witches who aim to dismantle their oppressive, patriarchal, magic-hating government.

At Themis Academy, the administration trusts and expects its student body to behave honorably—it almost never hands out punishments, as admitting student wrongdoing would mar the school’s pristine reputation. Instead, an underground student society called The Mockingbirds dedicates itself to righting wrongs committed on campus, resisting the indifference of the administration.

As the first girl to attend a previously all-male military academy, Sam McKenna faces a group of cadets who want her gone—and will stop at nothing to force her out. But despite danger and fear, she never stops persisting and fighting to maintain her right to attend her school.

Complete with vivid imagery and details, this book follows a cast of endearing characters who refuse to lose themselves in the repressive, horrifying rituals of a gay conversion camp. The Summer I Wasn’t Me is alarming but engrossing; I couldn’t put it down.


What are your favorite books with characters who resist? Send your recommendations my way!

Also, friendly reminder that reading about characters who resist is an amazing pastime, but it’s important that you're resisting as well! I know the state of the planet can feel hopeless and overwhelming, but your small contributions do help. Volunteer, donate, and protest if you can, and for my American friends, make sure you're calling your elected officials! A few resources that help me are Five Calls and Daily Action (which give you issues and scripts to use for your calls) and Celeste Pewter’s Twitter feed—she does an incredible job of breaking down the news and giving us action steps we can take.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Twelve 2017 Sophomore Novels On My TBR

I love debut novels as much as the next blogger. I love finding new talent, supporting authors who have recently ventured into the world of publishing, and becoming an OG fan of a soon-to-be-famous writer. But I also know that many authors say creating a second book (under pressure from publishers, book deals, and readers) is the hardest writing experience of their career. For that reason, I also love supporting sophomore authors—authors who made it through their first book release and decided to come back for more.

With that in mind, here are twelve YA sophomore novels releasing this year that should be on your TBR list.

The story of the Virgin Mary meets modern-day politics in this novel about a girl who finds herself (inconceivably) pregnant in the middle of her father’s congressional campaign. This book sounds riveting and unique—perhaps with a dash of the supernatural.

I loved Brandy Colbert’s rich and riveting debut novel, and I’ve heard great things about her sophomore novel’s intersectional black, Jewish, bisexual representation.

A book about a girl who writes a wildly-popular webcomic and loves her digital community? Sign me up.

Speaking of books about fan culture, this sophomore novel features a girl who never quite got over the boy band everyone loved in middle school—and one day, she gets to meet (and perhaps fall in love with) her favorite star.

This meta-fiction story about a teenager who turns out to be a character in a YA novel sounds quirky, unusual, and inventive.

This musical novel set at a performing arts school features an alto II who dresses up in drag to become a tenor I in her school all-male a cappella octet. In other words, I can’t wait to read it.

Set on a ranch in the arid Southwest, Samantha Mabry’s novel about forbidden romance, supernatural curses, and delicate survival sounds magical and atmospheric.

Amanda Maciel proved in her debut novel, Tease, that she has a talent for writing about gritty issues facing real teens. As a result, her sophomore novel about friendship, sexual assault, and mental health is sure to be fantastic.

When Taliah Abdallat finally gets the chance to reconnect with her long-estranged rock star father, she drops everything to travel with him to small-town Indiana to see her ailing grandfather. If this book is even a fraction as emotional and beautifully written as the author’s debut, My Heart and Other Black Holes, it will end up becoming a new favorite.

The bisexuality representation in this novel is supposed to be brilliant—plus the two central characters both sound complex and fascinating.

I’m always, always down for Victorian-era mysteries. If you are too, this book should be on your radar.

This book has been out in the UK since 2016, but since it didn’t hit shelves in my home country of the United States until this year, I’m counting it. The premise promises the story of a boy and a girl who you think are going to fall in love—but instead, they make a podcast. I’m more than here for this.

What sophomore novels are you looking forward to reading this year?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

March 2017 in Review

Good morning, everyone! We haven’t chatted in a while. I’ve been in such a blogging slump for the past couple of months, so I’ve barely posted—and I haven’t written a monthly wrap-up post since November. But now I'm back, and I couldn't be more excited. Without further ado, here's a recap of my reading and my life in March:

highlight from my reading list

We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson | Goodreads
From the first chapter, this magical realism-meets sci-fi story had me more enthralled and obsessed than I've been with a book in quite a while. It follows a boy named Henry who's spent the last several years being periodically abducted by aliens—aliens who tell him the world will end on January 29, 2016, aliens who tell him that he (and only he) has the power to halt this doomsday simply by pushing a button. As Henry tries to decide whether or not the world is worth saving, Shaun David Hutchinson makes readers ponder the significance (or lack thereof) of the human species as well as feel every emotion his complex characters encounter. Interspersed with vividly written possible-doomsday-scenario vignettes, Henry's story is thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, and fascinating. 

highlight from my tbr

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway | Goodreads
I'm not sure why it took me so long to realize Robin Benway had a new book coming out, but I added it to my to-read list as soon as I did. I've loved the author's fun-yet-emotional writing style for years (her debut novel was one of the first YA books I ever read), and this story about three long-separated siblings meeting for the first time sounds amazing. Far from the Tree comes out in October, and I'll pass the time until then admiring its stunning cover. 

highlights from my life

  • I survived midterms, then went on a short spring break road trip with a group of friends. We wanted a trip that would be fun but inexpensive, so we decided to drive down to southern Indiana and spend a day hiking in Clifty Falls State Park. After a few quick and leisurely trails, we embarked on a three-hour long rugged trek along the riverbed to the park's namesake waterfall. Despite getting our shoes a bit wet (well, "soaked" would be more accurate), we had a wonderful time unwinding in the wild after a week of exams. 
  • Stay Bookish, the digital YA magazine I contribute to, launched its very first issue! The entire team worked tirelessly on the final product, and we've already started creating on our June 21 issue. I'm the managing editor—and I write articles and help with the marketing efforts—and I'm so thankful I get to work with such a talented, diverse team. We also hosted a Twitter chat (which I moderated) to celebrate our first release, and we gave away copies of The Hate U Give and The Upside of Unrequited. (If you missed the chat, don't worry; stay tuned for another giveaway coming soon on our editor-in-chief's blog.) You can read our first issue here, and you can follow us on Twitter here

  • I attempted to finalize my summer plans. I've been applying and interviewing for jobs and internships all semester, and I'm so close to knowing what I'll be doing this summer in terms of employment (and in terms of Book Expo, which I'm really, really hoping to attend). Stay tuned, and I hope to potentially see some of you in May!

How did your March go? Did you read anything particularly amazing or (for my fellow students) go anywhere for spring break? Let me know in the comments. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Cinderella-Meets-Nerd Culture Retelling: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

Geekerella by Ashley Poston | Goodreads

Publisher: Quirk Books
Release: April 4, 2017
Source: Publisher
Geek girl Elle Wittimer lives and breathes Starfield, the classic sci-fi series she grew up watching with her late father. So when she sees a cosplay contest for a new Starfield movie, she has to enter. The prize? An invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball, and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. With savings from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck (and her dad’s old costume), Elle’s determined to win… unless her stepsisters get there first.

Teen actor Darien Freeman used to live for cons—before he was famous. Now they’re nothing but autographs and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but Starfield fandom has written him off as just another dumb heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise. But when she disappears at midnight, will he ever be able to find her again?

Part romance, part love letter to nerd culture, and all totally adorbs, Geekerella is a fairy tale for anyone who believes in the magic of fandom.
Are you a fan of fairy tale retellings? Do you swoon over adorable romances? Are you a passionate fandom member who loves to meet people just as nerdy as you are?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, Geekerella is the Cinderella-meets-Comic Con-meets-Star Wars story you didn’t know you needed in your life.

I love YA retellings of classic tales, whether they revisit ancient myths, Shakespearean tragedies, or 19th-century novels. I love them, but I’m picky; I need wit and creativity, and I can’t stand books that simply scribble modern settings and technology over well-worn plots. At first, I worried Geekerella would end up rehashing the classic rags-to-riches tale that inspired it, but instead, this novel ended up becoming one of my all-time favorite retellings. Although Ashley Poston’s version of the tale does closely follow the plot of Disney’s Cinderella, it modernizes the details so smoothly and cleverly that I could not help feeling charmed. From vlog-famous stepsisters (one of whom earns a dash of redemption) to a funky fashion designer fairy godmother, from a sci-fi ball to a vegan pumpkin food truck, every character and plot point deviates from the source material just enough to keep readers questioning how the new elements will intertwine.

The premier modernization in Geekerella is, unsurprisingly, the overall aura of nerdiness. If you’ve read every fanfic about your OTP, if you love to cosplay as your favorite character, or if you regularly host Star Trek marathons, I promise you’ll relate to the main character and her love interest—and fight down anger every time Elle’s stepmother berates her for her “trivial” interests. Best of all, Elle and Darien’s shared obsession with Starfield makes them both dynamic characters bursting with passion and personality, a welcome respite from the animated movie (because, let’s face it, neither Cinderella nor her prince received as much character development as they deserved in the 1950 film).

Speaking of Elle and Darien, this review would not be complete without a mention of their romance in all its adorable, messy glory. Sparked by a wrong-number text, their relationship develops through anonymous messages about Starfield, loneliness, and life in general, culminating in a mad-dash, maybe-missed-connection at ExcelsiCon. The dramatic-irony twist? Elle is the blogger behind a viral post critiquing Darien’s being cast in the Starfield reboot—but Darien, of course, has no idea. Their story is perfect for fans of You’ve Got Mail, Jennifer E. Smith’s This Is What Happy Looks Like, or enemies-to-romance ships.

I only have one minor complaint about Geekerella: I wanted a bit more satisfaction and resolution regarding the end of Elle’s relationship with her evil stepmother. The story contains a short-but-emotional confrontation, but nothing as gratifying or meteoric as I found myself craving. I know the ending is truer to Disney’s Cinderella than a true showdown would have been—and it’s still ultimately empowering and rewarding—but I couldn’t help aching to see Elle stand up for herself just a bit more.

But still, I love, love, loved Geekerella. It magically encapsulates the joy and community of fandoms—a feeling that all fangirls (and fanboys!) know, but that’s almost impossible to capture in words. This novel unironically, wholeheartedly celebrates nerd culture, reminding me all over again why I love the YA community, the Harry Potter fandom, Nerdfighteria, and more. Above all else, Ashley Poston’s latest release is a manifesto for being an unapologetic fan of whatever you enjoy.

For me, Geekerella is without a doubt a story I enjoyed enough to fangirl about. And if you’re anything like me, I’m sure the same will be true for you.