Next installation in my Summer Reading List: Young Adult! I usually enjoy YA, but this batch of books left me feeling underwhelmed. Hopefully I’ll find a new book to love soon; I need my faith in Really Good Books to be renewed.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. Delacorte. 227 pp.
This was heavily promoted at BookCon, with chapter samples handed out and a huge board which guests were encouraged to graffiti with their own lies. There was a blurb from John Green, which also caught my eye, and, well…it seemed promising.
But…no. When will I learn that the Next Big Thing isn’t usually my thing? When will I remember that I like John Green infinitely more as a YouTube personality than as a writer? (Note: I still find him very readable, but he’s not in my list of favorites.) Maybe I set myself up for failure with this one. The characters weren’t all that likable or interesting, the romance fell flat, and the “huge plot twist,” although a little surprising, wasn’t mind-blowing. I think this might be one of those YAs that lacks cross-generational appeal.
Feuds by Avery Hastings. St. Martin’s Griffin. 272 pp.
Confession time: I didn’t read Romeo and Juliet until a year or two ago. I have both undergrad and graduate degrees in English literature, but I guess everyone assumed we’d read it in high school (I hadn’t) and didn’t assign it. I was in no hurry to read it myself because I figured I’d just be annoyed by the main characters…and I was right, although there’s also some great writing, of course.
So if a tale by the Bard couldn’t do it for me, you can imagine how I felt about a dull, sloppily-told remake. Love at first sight needs to be done ridiculously well in order to be believable; this wasn’t. The scenes of dramatic tension were ineffective, and by the end of the book, I really didn’t care what happened to any of the characters. I feel that the concept of this one has promise, but it needs to be stronger to work.
Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper. Little, Brown. 398 pp.
Another freebie from BookCon, this one is based on an interesting premise: a family of witches protects the interests of a small whaling island until one woman decides not to step into her role, refusing also to allow her daughter, Avery, to become the witch. Obviously, the islanders are none too thrilled about this — and neither is Avery, for that matter, who has been eagerly awaiting the day that she could take her grandmother’s place. The writing is clean enough and easy to read, and I enjoyed the story.
But (yes, there’s a but) it reminded me of a sort of B-level Gemma Doyle story. (How much did I enjoy the Gemma Doyle trilogy? Find out here.) There’s a family history of magic, a mother who’s determined to keep her magical-powers-budding daughter safe, an exotic and magical romantic interest, a protagonist who’s just not ladylike enough for the time into which she was born…too similar for my tastes. It’s not a bad book by any means, but I think Libba Bray did better with the subject matter — and she did it first.
Are We There Yet? by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf. 215 pp.
A pair of brothers, one in high school and one in his early twenties, are tricked by their parents into taking an Italian vacation together. Elijah and Danny couldn’t be any more different, and it’s not just because there are seven years between them. Elijah, a dreamer who lives solely in the moment, is baffled by Danny, a straitlaced ad executive. As their travels progress, though, they are able to find a bit of common ground and end their trip accepting of their differences.
If you’re new here — or if you forgot — I love David Levithan. Love. Him. It’s not about the plot, or even about the characters…it’s about the language. I can’t seem to get enough of his poetic prose and find myself re-reading most of his books at least once. (The only exception so far is Love Is the Higher Law, which I found to be just average.) This wasn’t one of my favorites by him, but it’s still a beautiful, above-average YA novel. I’d say it’s worth checking out.
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Simon Pulse. 608 pp.
I think the best word to describe Afterworlds is “ambitious.” It’s the story of Darcy Patel, a debut author who scored a ridiculously-high advance just out of high school. As she spends her first year on her own, writing in New York, Darcy learns and grows and all that jazz. In alternating chapters, though, the reader also gets to read Darcy’s novel. So basically you spend a chapter following Darcy around New York, then you spend a chapter following Lizzie, Darcy’s protagonist, as she learns to navigate the Underworld. You get used to the story changes after a while, and it’s a really interesting concept, though at 600 pages the two-books-in-one thing gets a bit lengthy.
I was more impressed by the concept of this book than I was by the execution. Bouncing back and forth between two stories makes it difficult to get to know any of the characters…or maybe they were just sort of flat. Nisha, Darcy’s younger sister, was by far my favorite. She’s spunky and has her own voice and I would totally read a book featuring her. Everyone else, though, started to sound the same after a while, and there was a time or two when I couldn’t tell whether I was reading a Darcy chapter or a Lizzie chapter because the writing was so similar. (To be fair, the narrative point of view is different for each girl, but they still manage to sound the same.) If you don’t mind the page count and are hooked by the concept of the book, check it out. If you want a moving storyline or engaging characters, you may feel like you wasted your time. I’m finding myself somewhere between the two.