I’ve got four reviews for you today: a MG contemporary, a YA contemporary, a YA fantasy and a non-fiction writing craft book. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Hurricane Season by Nicole Melleby
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on May 7, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
My content rating: MG (Mental Health, Nothing more than kissing)
This debut novel—about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about growing up and coming out—will make its way straight into your heart.
Fig, a sixth grader, wants more than anything to see the world as her father does. The once-renowned pianist, who hasn’t composed a song in years and has unpredictable good and bad days, is something of a mystery to Fig. Though she’s a science and math nerd, she tries taking an art class just to be closer to him, to experience life the way an artist does. But then Fig’s dad shows up at school, disoriented and desperately searching for Fig. Not only has the class not brought Fig closer to understanding him, it has brought social services to their door.
Diving into books about Van Gogh to understand the madness of artists, calling on her best friend for advice, and turning to a new neighbor for support, Fig continues to try everything she can think of to understand her father, to save him from himself, and to find space in her life to discover who she is even as the walls are falling down around her.
Nicole Melleby’s Hurricane Season is a stunning novel about a girl struggling to be a kid as pressing adult concerns weigh on her. It’s also about taking risks and facing danger, about love and art, and about coming of age and coming out. And more than anything else, it is a story of the healing power of love—and the limits of that power.
Hurricane Season is a poignant story of the complexities of loving a parent who struggles with mental health issues. Fig is used to having to take care of her dad. She’s used to him embarrassing him in front of her friends. She’s used to needing help (sometimes even from the police). She’s used to the questions and the worry that this time social services might actually take her dad away from her. She’s used to all of these things, but that doesn’t make any of it any easier to handle.
The story follows Fig as she struggles to understand her dad and battles her own fears. Her story is heartbreaking and incredibly realistic. For instance, it’s easy to understand why Fig doesn’t know what would be worse: for her father to be taken from her or for life to continue in the chaos she’s been used to. When a new neighbor moves in, Fig is relieved to finally have someone who’s willing to help, but she also feels threatened when she feels he’s starting to take her place in her father’s life. Fig’s struggle between wanting her father to change and fearing that things will spiral out of her control is palpable. The book handles mental illness realistically—even when Fig’s dad gets help and starts to get better, there is no miracle cure. And Fig’s feelings about her father’s illness and about his relationship with their neighbor View Spoiler »(a friendship that turns into more) « Hide Spoiler come off as true to life as well. The only reason I don’t give it my highest rating is because it took me longer to read than a MG typically does–I found myself putting the book down more often than normal (and the book felt longer to me than it really was). Still, I think many kids will relate to Fig’s emotional journey, even if they don’t know anyone with a mental illness themselves. And they will certainly grow in compassion through reading this story.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Release by Patrick Ness
Published by HarperTeen on September 19, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Narrator: Michael Crouch
Length: 6 hrs and 19 mins
Source: Edelweiss, Library
My content rating: YA (Somewhat explicit sex)
Inspired by Judy Blume’s Forever and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this novel that Andrew Smith calls “beautiful, enchanting, [and] exquisitely written” is a new classic about teenage relationships, self-acceptance—and what happens when the walls we build start coming down. A Kirkus Best Book of 2017!
Adam Thorn doesn’t know it yet, but today will change his life.
Between his religious family, a deeply unpleasant ultimatum from his boss, and his own unrequited love for his sort-of ex, Enzo, it seems as though Adam’s life is falling apart. At least he has two people to keep him sane: his new boyfriend (he does love Linus, doesn’t he?) and his best friend, Angela.
But all day long, old memories and new heartaches come crashing together, throwing Adam’s life into chaos. The bindings of his world are coming untied one by one; yet in spite of everything he has to let go, he may also find freedom in the release.
From the New York Times bestselling author of A Monster Calls comes a raw, darkly funny, and deeply affecting story about the courage it takes to live your truth.
There were elements of this book that I absolutely adored and elements I wasn’t so sure about. I actually had to wait a week or so to reflect on it before I could give it a rating, and I’m glad I did.
First of all, Patrick Ness is a brilliant writer. His prose is gorgeous and I often found myself caught up in its surreal beauty. Adam’s journey to understanding that he is worthy of love despite his family’s religious misgivings about his sexuality is utterly wonderful and heartbreaking. This aspect of the book alone makes me want to give it ALL the stars. The secondary plotline–of a young woman who has been murdered and some sort of spiritual nature goddess who inhabits her body–was beautifully written, but … strange. I was caught between loving listening to those portions and wondering how the heck it connected to the main plotline. It did get tied together (tenuously) in the end, but the trek was accomplished via a winding path of confusion. Also, the story contains more explicit sex than I prefer in my YA, but this is a personal preference that I know many others don’t share.
Still, despite these misgivings, a week later, it’s Adam’s story that resonates in my mind: his struggles to connect, his pain when he’s rejected (or blamed) for his sexuality, his journey toward self-acceptance, his discovery that friendship can be its own sort of family. These are the aspects of the story that have lingered in my mind.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on October 2, 2018
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Length: 12 hours and 16 minutes
Source: The Publisher, Library
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing, Some violence)
Seventeen-year-old Anouk envies the human world, where people known as Pretties lavish themselves in fast cars, high fashion, and have the freedom to fall in love. But Anouk can never have those things, because she is not really human. Enchanted from animal to human girl and forbidden to venture beyond her familiar Parisian prison, Anouk is a Beastie: destined for a life surrounded by dust bunnies and cinders serving Mada Vittora, the evil witch who spelled her into existence. That is, until one day she finds her mistress murdered in a pool of blood—and Anouk is accused of the crime.
Now, the world she always dreamed of is rife with danger. Pursued through Paris by the underground magical society known as the Haute, Anouk and her fellow Beasties only have three days to find the real killer before the spell keeping them human fades away. If they fail, they will lose the only lives they’ve ever known…but if they succeed, they could be more powerful than anyone ever bargained for.
From New York Times bestselling author Megan Shepherd, Grim Lovelies is an epic and glittering YA fantasy. Prepare to be spellbound by the world of Grim Lovelies, where secrets have been long buried, friends can become enemies, and everything—especially humanity—comes at a price.
Grim Lovelies is a unique fantasy with a highly developed magical system and an atmospheric setting. I was immediately drawn to Anouk. Even though she inhabits the body of a seventeen-year-old, she’s a Beastie, and was an animal a mere year ago. She’s a bit naive. In fact, she’s never even been outside of her house–until the witch who made her is murdered. But her naivete makes her easy to root for. She spends the rest of the book on the run from those who think she’s a murderer and trying to find someone who re-establish the spell that keeps her human before she turns back into a Beastie. That little ticking time bomb adds tension. I loved the complex magical system with real consequences (blood magic has a definite cost). I’ll confess that I did feel the pacing slowed down a bit in the middle of the book (especially after something happens that temporarily defuses the ticking time bomb I mentioned), but overall I was invested in the story, and I’m intrigued to find out what will happen next.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review (but I ended up listening to the audiobook version from the library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere) by Lisa Cron
Published by Ten Speed Press on August 9, 2016
Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story, this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story.
Story Genius is a foolproof program that saves writers from penning hundreds of pages only to realize that something's not working and they have to start again. Informed by story consultant Lisa Cron's science-based insights into how story structure is built into the architecture of the brain, this guide shows writers how to plumb the nitty-gritty details of their raw idea to organically generate a story scene by scene. Once writers reach the end of Cron's program, they will have both a blueprint that works and plenty of compelling writing suitable for their finished novel--allowing them to write forward with confidence.
Story Genius is all about how character drives your story. This book isn’t just theoretical; it gives you step-by-step instructions for how to create backstory and understand your characters’ motivations. Following this blueprint will give you a story that resonates with readers because they will be invested in your characters. I feel like going through the exercises has helped me get to know my main characters better, even if every scene I wrote doesn’t make it into my book. I do think that the structure that Cron suggests might not 100% work for every book out there (she sort of suggests that it’s the only way, but I don’t completely agree with that—there have certainly been wonderful and successful books that don’t completely follow her formula). Like all books on the craft of writing, this will probably resonate with some people and not with others, but for me, it was very helpful and gave me something solid to work off of.