Loveless by Alice Oseman | Drumsofautumn Review

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Before I go into any of this review, let me say that I am very aware that this book has made so many people feel incredibly seen, for many for the first time, and I am so very happy about that. But I want to share my personal experience and perspective as honestly as possible and I do not like to hold back when I think something is genuinely doing more harm than good. I not only found many things portrayed in it not well represented whatsoever but this book was really hurtful to me personally in the way that it portrayed one experience as THE aromantic asexual experience. And I hope that this community can respect my opinion without me disclosing my own orientation.
Also this will have mild spoilers, so I can actually go into detail.

Loveless tried to do a lot of good but ended up just being harmful, hurtful and offensive, invalidating literally everyone that doesn’t have the exact same experience as the main character.

This is one of those books that shows that ownvoices does not necessarily mean a book can do no harm or has perfect representation. This book would’ve immensely benefited from having sensitivity readers for the other identities portrayed AND for the aroace representation too, especially as aromantic and asexual is such a huge spectrum.

I think that a lot of the questionable things in this book could’ve been avoided by having gone through a sensitivity read by someone who, for example, is asexual but not sex-repulsed.

And by that I do not mean that this book needed to be relatable to everybody on the aroace spectrum but the least it could’ve done is make more of an effort to explain the differences and not invalidate everybody who is anywhere else on the spectrum. This identity gets explained literally once and when the main character, Georgia, actually does some research herself, she quickly logs off because she finds it too overwhelming. And while that is valid, is it just not enough for a book like this.

Georgia is clearly sex-repulsed but the word does not get used on-page ONCE and I just think that this is a problem. A sex-repulsed experience exists but it is not THE aroace experience, even tough this book sadly ends up portraying it like that.

And I get that this is a story focused on figuring your sexuality out but it really took 45% for us to get to that ONE explanation of what asexual and aromantic means. Basically no one had ever heard of this term before, except Georgia, who didn’t know what it was, even though she clearly spends a lot of time on the internet (and NOT the straight corners of it). It quite frankly seemed very convenient but made all of this unbelievable.
And what would’ve been so wrong with the character understanding these words earlier in the story but still coming to terms with the fact that that is how she feels and identifies? Instead we have to go through this character bulldozing her way through literally everybody else’s feelings, experiences and identities in order to figure this out.

But this book does not only have an aroace coming out story. It also has the storyline of Rooney, Georgia’s roommate, who she becomes friends with very quickly, figuring out she is pansexual. And we get so little pansexual representation in books, that it’s especially harmful when the little rep we do have perpetuates a harmful stereotype like it does in this case.

This character is portrayed as someone who seems very sex positive but throughout this book we find out that she basically only slept with people as a coping mechanism for her feelings and emotions that she doesn’t want to deal with. And I am not saying that this experience can’t be valid but, first of all, this book really needed this perspective of sex being something that many people do enjoy and can do without any commitment, and, again, all of this just perpetuated an already harmful stereotype without ever talking about it.

And with an identity that is so little represented, when you want to feature a full coming out story of a character (even if it is a side-character), you need to do a better job at explaining what pansexuality actually means, ESPECIALLY if you also constantly put pan and bi in the same bracket. We never once got an explanation of what pansexuality actually means or what the difference between bi and pan is. Quote: “She said she just doesn’t think she really has a gender preference and that felt like the right word for her!!!!” That is not enough if you feature a pansexual coming-out story so prominently.

And do not even get me started on when Georgia said “stop erasing my identity” in a conversation with Rooney about falling in love, when she could’ve brought up a very legit discussion on aromanticism or the difference between romantic and sexual attraction to her. Instead, she treats Rooney in the dismissive way she was so tired of being treated by everyone else.

I even would’ve found it completely valid to have this portrayed as an experience that is realizing “oh wait, this is not how everybody else feels?” instead of a “finding people you relate to”-experience, but the main character’s thoughts towards everybody else were constantly shaming them. It is okay to be sex-repulsed but you can’t place that on everyone else when sex is such a natural part of many people’s lives and something that they enjoy.

You cannot yell at and shame your friend, who you know has a lot of sex and just shared personal things with you, like what gender she fantasizes having sex with while she masturbates. Quote: “‘This has to be a fucking joke,’ I blurted. Rooney paused. ‘What?’ I sat up, pushing the covers off my body. ‘Everyone has to be fucking JOKING.’ ‘What d’you–’ ‘People are really out there just … thinking about having sex all the time and they can’t even help it?’ I spluttered. ‘People have dreams about it because they want it that much? How the–I’m losing it. I thought all the movies were exaggerating, but you’re all really out there just craving genitals and embarrassment. This has to be some kind of huge joke.’”

Also I wonder how a book that focuses so heavily on sexuality, has a super prominent non-binary side character AND a character that comes out as pansexual, could still READ SO BINARY! No one ever ACTUALLY acknowledged the existence of there being more than two genders.

And the fact that Sunil, the one non-binary character, wears a pin that says “he/they” but never once gets addressed with they/them pronouns, not even by their BEST FRIEND, is on another level too. Why introduce them using they/them pronouns when you are not going to use it? Genuinely makes me wonder who edited this book too.

There is a lot to say on how the people of colour get treated in this book as well. Like for example the way that Sunil, who is Indian, is only there to do all kinds of (emotional) labour for the main character. Or how Goergia’s best friend, Pip, who is Latinx, is portrayed like a stereotype. Or how terribly Georgia treats her throughout this entire book. Or how she says “I would choose to be gay” to her face after they just had a talk about how it hasn’t been easy for Pip to be a Latina and lesbian.. seriously, I could go on and on and on. I would encourage you all to check out Maëlys’s review, if you haven’t already, because she talks about this (and many other things too) in great detail.

And while the book definitely tried to put out the message that platonic love can be just as or even more valuable than romantic love, it just missed the mark. This is a message that I always find so important and absolutely love seeing portrayed in books but here it was almost like Georgia felt superior and like she was the only who could truly and fully love someone platonically because she would never develop romantic feelings or sexual attraction.

This book could’ve used this opportunity to talk about the existence of platonic relationships and how there are people who live as non-romantic couples.. instead it just ended in this weird triangle situation with Georgia, Rooney and Pip, introducing no boundaries whatsoever, and I cannot even get into the mess that all of that was.
And the fact that Rooney having been in a toxic relationship is getting used as an opportunity to say that platonic relationships are better than romantic relationships, is something I can’t even begin to unpack either.

I could write many more paragraphs for many more hours on this book, for example about the time when Georgia just picks up her roommate’s phone without her consent and the roommate is just like “okay no prob”. Or when the lesbian character is the one who says “how do you know you won’t find someone one day?”, so Georgia gets to be the one to say “how would you feel if I said this towards you” and on and on and on.

I’m not saying characters can’t be flawed or unlikeable or fuck up. But this book is one big fuck-up. From the way Georgia behaves and treats other people to the things that this book portrays and talks about in general. Considering all the things that this main character says and does and thinks throughout this book, there is just not enough repercussions for it. There is not enough people calling Georgia and her bulldozing behaviour out and it is not okay.

At the end of the day, despite knowing how many people saw themselves in this book and the main character’s experience, I simply cannot recommend this book whatsoever. A book that shames and invalidates everybody else’s experiences to further a main character’s journey is just not a good book.

If you’re looking for something else to read instead, I highly recommend Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman for a book with amazing aroace questioning rep without invalidating anybody else!

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman | Drumsofautumn Backlist Review

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“Because to Lea and me, music wasn’t only about sounds. Music was scenery and smells and tastes and magic, too. But it doesn’t feel like magic anymore – it feels like I’m being haunted.”

Summer Bird Blue is an intense Contemporary novel that deals with grief in a way that I have never come across before.

At the center of this novel Rumi, who, after losing her sister Lea in a car accident, gets sent away to live with her aunt in Hawaii, while her mum deals with her own grief.
We follow Rumi as she tries to process this loss, feeling abandoned by her mother and trying to find her way back into writing music, which was a hobby that she shared with and deeply connects to her sister.

Before I get into my thoughts and feelings on this book, I wanna talk about the representation. The main character, Rumi, is multiracial (Hawaiian, Japanese and white). There’s a lot of biracial side- and minor characters and many of them speak Hawaii Pidgin English.

This book also features some amazing questioning rep. The way Rumi describes being unsure about her romantic and sexual orientation, about not feeling comfortable with even the idea of labels, about being so sure how she feels but becoming insecure about it when everyone tells you that’s not how it’s supposed to be, about being scared that you settle on a label and then you realize it doesn’t quite fit or things have changed.. it all truly blew my mind. Eventually Rumi plays with both the asexual and aromantic label and she is definitely a-spec but it feels like she never quite wants to settle on any labels.

It was so very easy to relate to Rumi and I think that many people who have struggled with their identity will. As someone who has been questioning and struggling with orientation well into my twenties, this is some of the best questioning rep I have EVER read. Akemi Dawn Bowman absolutely nailed it.

“I’m not comfortable with the labels, because labels feel so final. Like I have to make up my mind right this second. Like I have to be sure of myself as everyone else seems to be.”

The writing is beautiful and fascinating in every aspect. I have never in my life seen grief described this way. The imagery, the metaphors, the similes.. it made the pain and the anger so vivid and relatable. Whether you’ve ever lost someone so close to you or not, Rumi’s pain grabs every little bit of you and does not let go. I would almost say be careful going into this if you experienced a loss just recently. It is already a tough read as it is!

The music aspect spoke to my heart and soul and is something that I just felt a very personal connection to. I don’t really have a person that connects me to music as Rumi is connected to Lea through it, but I still could really relate to so many thoughts about music, about the songwriting process and about how much music can heal but also hurt and trigger negative emotions. The intense way Rumi feels about music and what it means to her, before and after the accident, is pouring out of these pages.

“Because music is a carnival at night, lit up by a thousand stars and bursting with luminescent colors and magical illusions. Music is magic and lightning and fireworks.”

I loved that as an adult I could read this novel and understand Rumi’s mum while still also very much understanding where Rumi’s anger towards her is coming from and how justified it is. I appreciated that this was a novel, where, eventually, the two found their way back together, but I never felt like this novel was trying super hard to excuse her mum’s behaviour.

Everything, every emotion Rumi had about her mother and the way she behaved during the grieving process, was valid, even after they talked and Rumi’s mum gave a good explanation and it was portrayed like that too. This book does not invalidate Rumi’s feelings or even the way Rumi behaved towards her mother and I feel like this is just generally something that YA, as it’s mostly written by adults, often gets so wrong. It is a genre about the lives and feelings of teens and an adult’s “redemption” does not necessarily need to be part of that.

And honestly, if you’re an adult and you cannot handle Rumi’s behaviour, I seriously think it is time for you to reflect on how you read Young Adult novels because it is NOT written for you.

“My shoulders shake like there’s an earthquake in my core. Every inch of me tenses up like I’m bracing for the room to split apart – for the earthquake inside me to be real. I imagine the room exploding to bits, with pieces of drywall and tile flying in every direction and the tremor of the earthquake breaking the building in half.”

There’s also so many amazing friendships featured in this novel. I always love when a book displays different kinds of friendships and how some friends are the ones you laugh with and others are ones you cry with and some are ones you have adventures with. Sometimes friends are all of those things but I just like when it is recognized in YA that a friendship with a certain person can be especially benefiting for one aspect.

Especially the way that the friendship between Kai and Rumi, a surfer boy she gets to know in Hawaii, is written, is super special. Not only does it portray a “friendship crush” incredibly well, this friendship is also taken seriously as an important relationship in their lives, while being non-romantic and confined to a time and place. It is so special to read about a friendship like this.

On top of that Kai has romantic feelings for Rumi and this book shows that when two people really mean something to each other, you can still work on that friendship and stay good friends, even with one person having romantic feelings. This certainly doesn’t work for everyone and you have to figure things out on the long run but I loved seeing this portrayed as something that is absolutely possible!

There’s also the amazing friendship Rumi has with an elderly man, Mr. Watanabe. This might have been my favourite relationship in this whole novel. I was so emotionally involved in this development and the way these people were there for each other and meant so much to each other’s lives, while barely even acknowledging that. You could feel the impact these two had on each other and I thought that this was an incredibly special relationship.

“I don’t know how something as beautiful and important as music could suddenly feel so empty and cruel. Music used to be life and hope and everything happy. Now it’s full of ghosts.”

Overall Summer Bird Blue is an amazing novel, that deals with loss and grief, friendship and family, hurting and healing and figuring your identity out on top of all that. It feels like Akemi Dawn Bowman lay her soul bare. To me, this is an absolutely remarkable novel.

Trigger and Content Warnings for loss of a loved one, car accident, depression, violence.

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

I Kissed Alice by Anna Birch | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

“She says she sees this version of Alice in me and reminds me almost daily that being brave simply means doing the hard thing—even if you’re terrified.”

I Kissed Alice is a YA Contemporary that I think will be incredibly divisive but that I loved so very much for its flawed and unlikeable characters and portrayal of the complexity of friendship.

I’m not gonna lie, this is one of those reviews that I’m almost dreading to write a little bit. I just think this book is going to have a lot of mixed reactions and will definitely not be for everyone but I personally loved every bit of it and I found myself relating to a lot of the inner monologue. I think this book offers a very realistic look at friendships and honestly it’s one of those books that I wish I would’ve had as a teen for many, many reasons.

Don’t be misled by the cover or the synopsis the publisher has provided. This book is not a fluffy sapphic rom-com whatsoever. This book is hard-hitting and emotional, filled with incredibly flawed, downright unlikeable characters. It’s honestly a book that turns most other YA Contemporaries completely on their head, where we get a cute falling in love story all throughout the book and then just a little bit of a fall towards the end, so we feel like the happily every after is especially rewarding.
This book is just one big fall. It starts out kinda messy and then it just gets messier as we go.

Our two main characters, Iliana and Rhodes, constantly fight with each other. This is not just some cute teasing, where you can see that they actually have feelings for each other. These characters are very mean to each other and the reason why they are is not only because they are competitors for a scholarship but because they have the same best friend, Sarah, and constantly fight for her attention or being “the better friend”. There are lots of things as to why the characters treat each other the way that they do but the synopsis is definitely quite misleading by just making it about the competition.

“My conversation with Mom a few nights ago hangs over my head, an entire childhood of Sarah standing too close to the blast zone while I pack dynamite into the crevices of each wall that has stood in the way of getting what I want. She has always been in the position to lose something where I’ve stood to gain.”

Really, the biggest theme of this book is jealousy, in all its ugly forms, and how messy and confusing friendships and feelings can be.
There is not only the element of Iliana and Rhodes not treating each other well. In their constant competition with each other, they also often make Sarah a tool to prove who is the better person or friend, more than ACTUALLY being a good friend. But Sarah is not any better. She, too, takes advantage of her friendship with the two, sometimes acting especially close with one of them to make the other jealous. You get what I mean when I say this is all very MESSY?!

But I would refrain from criticizing this book for portraying “girl hate”, as the motives for these behaviours become very clear throughout the book and it is much more complex than just that. I think this is exactly where this book stands out when it comes to the way the friendships are portrayed. There is depth to the dislike between these characters, which is something a lot of other YA books cannot offer because their focus simply lies somewhere else.

“No, I want to scream back to myself. Cheshire is the realest thing I have right now. Cheshire is real. What we have is real. And yet. The whispering continues. Anxiety doesn’t care about the laws of the universe. All it takes is one singular seed of fear and all bets are off.”

Honestly this book is really the hate to love trope in its truest form and maybe the only reason it works (although it still won’t work for many people) is that Iliana and Rhodes have an anonymous online relationship. They never really define what they are but it is clear from a lot of their texts but especially their thoughts that they both are not only in love with each other but want to be with each other too. You have to judge and see for yourself if you find this aspect realistic, especially considering that it is anonymous, and we obviously see how much they despise each other in real life, but I was feeling pretty soft about this aspect of the story.

I also loved the webcomic that the two write together. It is a fanfiction of Alice in Wonderland and it mirrors the relationship between the two perfectly and beautifully. Sadly we only get to see a little part of it and I honestly wish we had gotten more, especially as it includes beautiful illustrations by Victoria Ying!

“All I want is to curl up next to Cheshire and listen to all of her theorizing face-to-face, find some kind of a keyhole I could squeeze through into another life and another world where anonymity and distance doesn’t separate us. Sometimes I’m afraid that all she sees of me is a computer screen—to me she’s real, and she’s perfect. She’s all I’ve ever wanted.”

In the book we read from both Iliana’s and Rhodes’s perspective and I will say that I found their voices kinda hard to distinguish, to the point where there was one chapter in which I thought I was reading from the other POV. That’s definitely the biggest flaw with the writing for me personally. Iliana and Rhodes are two very different characters and that’s easy to tell from the story in general but their voices read very similarly and the tone of this book stayed the same all throughout, which was a little bit of a bummer but obviously didn’t really influence my overall love for the book.

Both the main characters are obviously queer. Iliana identifies as bisexual and is also fat. Rhodes does not use any label. Sarah is also queer but uses no label.
We also have Rhodes dealing with both depression and anxiety and going to therapy. I feel like there are little YA books that actually feature characters going to therapy within the book and us experiencing the sessions along with them and I immensely appreciated the inclusion of this aspect, although I can’t quite make up my mind on if I found the therapy sessions well done.

“I’ve been stretched about as far as I can go, and the only thing left is for me to snap.”

This book also puts an emphasis on falling out of love with your passion, which is a topic that I always appreciate deeply. Rhodes has trouble drawing for school and for the scholarship competition and the drawing for the webcomic and working together on it with Cheshire (Iliana’s online persona) is the only thing that still brings Rhodes joy.

But this novel also shines a light on privilege. It is a message that is subtly woven into the pages of this book but it is there. It shows how certain privileges do not only give you advantages in life but also that growing up with these privileges will give you a different perspective on a lot of things.

“According to Sarah, Iliana left Victory Hills High School like she leaves everything else: scorched earth, dousing every bridge with gasoline and dropping matches on her way out. Sarah told me once that she doesn’t know which came first: Iliana hating, or being hated.”

Especially in Rhodes’s chapters we also have some very interesting family dynamics. Rhodes has a really lovely relationship with her brother, Griffin, that I loved reading about. Maybe Griffin is actually the most likeable character in this entire book but it was especially wonderful to see their relationship and the way they unconditionally love each other, which felt especially comforting when everything else in this book feels so conditional, unsure and complicated.

Rhodes’s mother also plays a big part in this novel and is a good example for how a perfect looking, wealthy family, doesn’t necessarily have to be all that. Rhodes’s mum has a drinking problem and definitely acts questionable in a lot of ways.
On the other hand, Iliana’s mum positively stands out in this book, even though we don’t get to see that much of her. I loved seeing the very different relationships both of these girls have with their mothers.

“I gave her what she needed—space—and I turned my heart toward the very specific pain of getting used to the idea of what life will look like now without the person who filled it with color.”

As for the ending and if I ended up finding all of it believable? I honestly don’t know. But I’m still just head over heels in love with this story and the brutally honest way in which these characters were portrayed.
I think that this book is, if anything, brave. It depicts all the aspects in such a real way and it just doesn’t hold back in order to bring comfort to the reader and I liked that so much.

I think what eventually fully won me over, to the point where I could wholeheartedly give this 5 stars, is that at the end of this novel the characters have all gone through a lot of character development but they are still far from being perfect people.
They recognize their mistakes and fucked up behavior, they cut ties with some people and don’t just act like none of the things that have been said or done have never happened. I think the ending of this novel has a good balance between being hopeful, while still being realistic and that is something I very much appreciate.

“She walks past Sarah and me without another word, a girl who struck a match and doesn’t wait around to watch the entire world catch fire.”

Overall, I honestly have no idea if I would recommend this book. It is a study in flawed characters and I know it won’t be an enjoyable reading experience for everyone.
But for me personally, reading this book was a rewarding experience that emotionally captivated me on every page. I definitely recommend giving this a chance but don’t say I didn’t warn you if you don’t like it.

Trigger and content warnings for depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse (off-page, side character), cheating (off-page, side character).

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

Bookish and the Beast (Once Upon a Con #3) by Ashley Poston | Drumsofautumn ARC Review

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ARC provided by Netgalley
Publication: August 4th, 2020 by Quirk Books

1.) Geekerella ⭐⭐⭐⭐
2.) The Princess and the Fangirl ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Every place his lips touch – my mouth, my nose, my cheek, my neck – lights up like a star in a constellation for us.”

Bookish & the Beast was a very fun and enjoyable installment in the Once Upon a Con series, that to me sadly couldn’t live up to its predecessors.

I truly loved both Geekerella and The Princess & the Fangirl a lot and feel very invested in the Starfield world and storyline. I think where this book mostly fell flat for me was the element of fandom and especially spending time at a convention that I love so much about the other two books.

While this definitely tried a little bit of a new take on bringing the Starfield universe into this series, by talking about the book series and partly taking place in a library with special Collector’s Editions, it just didn’t give me enough of an emotional connection to the Starfield universe itself that I became so very attached to. I immensely enjoyed some of the snippets that we would get at the beginning of chapters but sadly there were only so few of them.

“Most of the time, I try not to think about it, but sometimes grief comes in waves. It laps against the sandy beach of your soul, again and again, soft and rushing and impossible to escape. She’s gone, but I miss her. She no longer exists, but the words she loved still do.”

While I enjoyed the characters, the one character that stood out the most to me was probably the female main character’s dad. I just found none of the characters to be very interesting or compelling. I didn’t dislike reading from their perspective or about them but I felt like they just weren’t all that exciting to read about either.
And again, Poston definitely tried to offer us a different take to the books before too, by introducing Vance, who is an actor for the Starfield series but currently taking a break from Hollywood. And while his character and journey was very different than anything we had seen before in this series, I just can’t say I found his journey to be very believable OR captivating. I just simply didn’t care. And the same goes for the female main character too. I feel like she put such emphasis on not just being “the girl with the dead mom” that she did end up being exactly that because I can’t point out many traits about her.

Again, none of these characters were dislikeable or not pleasant to read about, I just found them almost replaceable.
As for representation, both main characters read as queer (stating multiple gender attraction) but they don’t ever use labels. There is a non-binary side character that uses they/them pronouns and queer (one who is definitely bi) side characters. It seems like there is a Latinx side character too.. but that was never explicitly stated.

Just as the characters didn’t really stand out to me, the romance very much did not either and this was another really disappointing aspect for me with how much I squealed for the previous romances. Not only did I not really think the hate-to-love trope was well done but I also just found their entire development not very convincing just because I feel like we got too little of it. I barely felt chemistry, barely felt like they truly got to know about each other. We know they spend a lot of time with each other but I feel like we just didn’t really get to see that at all. Where was this entire process? There just wasn’t enough there for me personally.

When it comes to the retelling element of Beauty & the Beast, you could definitely see the elements but they didn’t stand out immensely. Some people might enjoy that, others not so much. As someone who is not a big fan of Beauty & the Beast I can’t say if that maybe affected my enjoyment of this story too? I normally never pick up retellings of the story cause I am just not interested in them or the original story but for me this was different, as I already felt invested in this universe.

At the end of the day I just don’t really think it worked all that well as the basis for a fluffy Contemporary story like this. But I also know that this was really the project of Poston’s heart and that does make me happy to know.

“With him, a little of her heart leaves, but it leaves room, too. For new people. For new loves. For new impossibilities.”

So all in all, while I enjoyed reading another installment in this series, it also just didn’t have the same magic as the other two for me personally. Nothing about this book set it apart from any other YA Contemporary, sadly, and that was a very different experience for me with the first two books. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s a fun reading experience, especially with other character’s cameos too, but it is really not a must-read at all.

3

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✨ Lea posts a review on Meltotheany every Friday! Read more of her reviews HERE! ✨

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Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

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“A map of us. It’s years in the making, and it’s messy and convoluted, some of it even tragic. But I wouldn’t change the route, because we walked it together, even when we were apart. And the best part about it is that it’s unfinished. Uncertainty isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes it can even be filled with extraordinary potential.”

Best YA Contemporary I’ve read all year? Yes. Best YA Contemporary I’ve read ever? Perhaps. From the beautiful romance, to the masterful different family dynamic depictions, to just having a story that made me smile on almost every page. Friends, this made my heart so very happy, and now I just want to read any and everything that Jenn Bennett has written and will write.

Basically, this is a story about two families, who live right next to each other, who also have places of business right next to each other. One family is two sapphic women and their son, who own a sex shop, unapologetically. And the other family owns some sort of health medical practice, where the father is embarrassed to be so close to a sex shop, while the mother and daughter do not care in the slightest. The families used to be close with one another, but a secret falling out has led to them not speaking at all. But, friends, I promise you, this is the best boy next door story I’ve read maybe ever.

Zorie – Obsessed with all things astronomy, and even though she has been isolating herself from her old friends, when she gets the opportunity to go glamping with them, she takes it as an opportunity to shoot the stars and accepts. Zorie is also dealing with a probable secret that her father has been harboring, when she unexpectedly gets some of his mail.

Lennon – Biracial, nerdy, and so very into hiking and camping. And because of a sudden unexpected turn of events, he is also going on the glamping trip, even though him and Zorie haven’t spoken as friends in a long while.

You all probably see where this is going, but what I didn’t see coming is them getting lost in the woods and becoming somewhat dependent on one another to survive. I for sure wouldn’t say this is a survival story, but there are some high risks that really kept me on the edge of my seat.

But obviously romance blooms and I couldn’t get enough of this story. I was honestly swooning, and the chemistry between these two characters was utter perfection while also being so damn believable. Also, this book was so sex positive! And I was completely living for it! Normalize healthy and consensual sex in YA, thank you! And thank you Jen Bennett, because she totally delivered in Starry Eyes.

I also want to touch upon Zorie’s relationship with her stepmother, because it was truly the best adoption relationship I’ve ever read in all my years. Joy was honestly the best side character; she’s Korean, she’s kind, and she’s the mother of my dreams, honestly. No spoilers, but when she told Zorie that she was the reason…. I cried so hard. Blood will only ever just be blood, and blood has nothing to do with who you claim as your parent, and this book honestly is five stars alone because of Joy and Zorie’s relationship. Again, my heart is so very full.

Overall, this book really just brought me so much bliss. It touched upon so many hard-hitting topics, the relationship dynamics were so expertly done, the family (both blood and found) was beyond words perfect, and the romance still has me weak in the knees. Seriously, I know I made this joke 102 times on Booktube, but I want to buy a tent and a rainstorm with Park Jimin. Okay. Pick up this book. Love you all, bye.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes), loss of a parents in the past, infidelity of a side character, talk of suicide, homophobia (always in a negative light), and grief depiction.

Blog Tour | Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

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ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

“Trying to get better at the thing you want to be the best at is humiliating.”

Hello to my favorite contemporary of 2019. Friends, this book was so quiet, but so loud, and really impacted me more than any other book I’ve read all year. This is the type of story that makes you want to see the world, the type of story that heals wounds you didn’t know you had, the type of story that makes you feel seen and loved and realize you are worthy of unconditional happiness, and the type of story that will make you want to find that happiness and hold on to it with both hands. I know I probably sound so very cheesy, but this really is the type of book that you close and you just want to be a better person, and want to live a happier life, and it’s a reminder why books truly have the power to change lives. I loved this book with the sum of my being, and I’ll carry it with me and pass it along for the rest of my life.

This is a book that borderlines on Young Adult and New Adult, about two characters who find each other while they are at the crossroads of trying to find themselves, too. They have very different backgrounds, and very different current living situations, but they both bond over the unknown and the bursts of happiness that they feel while communicating with each other.

Pablo Neruda Rind – biracial (Korean and Pakistani), 20, working at a bodega in NYC, was an actual meme and now has a little bit of Instagram success because of it, and is thinking about going back to college after dropping out with a large sum of debt following him.

Leanna Smart – biracial (Mexican and white), 22, childhood star now pop singer, and trying to be happy with the content she is putting out in the world.

And one very late night, while Pablo is working in the bodega, Leanna comes in and their lives change. They are both searching for happiness, in very different ways and very different forms of outlets, but they start to think that maybe they can also find happiness together.

And Mary HK Choi delivers a story that is so beautifully written, so heartfelt, so very real, that I won’t forget it, ever. Some of the themes and discussions in this book are so important and I truly think this story is going to change lives. I feel like I normally only read one book a year that changes my life, and I think that this year’s is without a doubt Permanent Record.

Seeing Pablo question what he wants for his life, while also entering into depression because of this overwhelming debt he has accumulated because of doubt and uncertainty is something that I’ve never read about before. Never has a book really forced me to understand that Americans truly expect seventeen-year-olds and eighteen-year-olds to make choices that will impact them financially (and so many other ways) for the rest of their lives. Graduating college with 100k debt is the reality that so many people in their young twenties have, but so many also have that debt without a degree as well. It’s heartbreaking, truly, that we put this pressure on young adults and that we expect them to know how they want to spend their lives at such a young age, while also feeling that weight from society, from schools, and from their families.

“God, this country. It’s so predatory.”

And people have so many options that don’t involve school. Sometimes people find happiness chasing dreams that don’t require degrees. Sometimes people find happiness becoming celebrities in many different forms. Yes, sometimes people do find happiness with a degree that will help them live the life with the job they want. But sometimes people will find happiness simply by being on the journey of searching for happiness in the first place. There is no wrong way to find happiness, and it can be so very hard to find, but it is always so important that you search for it, because you’re so deserving of it.

I think Pablo and his situation is such a reality for so many. Finding happiness, and determination, and inspiration… it can be so very hard. And Pablo, much like many of us, is someone who doesn’t make it easy. This book, in my eyes, is also a love letter to depression awareness and how depression can come in many forms unknowingly. Pablo’s life and struggle, both academically and with his loved ones, was something so very raw, and I was so easily able to connect with, and I think many others will feel like that too. Because sometimes the weight of other peoples’ expectations can be so very heavy.

“Life isn’t a destination. It’s the continual practice of things that make you wiser and happier.”

This is ownvoices for the Korean representation, but I just want to touch on how I really loved seeing Leanna and Pablo talk about them both being biracial. It was so important and meaningful for me to see characters talk about how they are both of their races, instead of half and half. This seems like such a simple concept, something that should be easy for me to say, “hello, my name is Melanie and I’m Filipino” but it is something that I really struggle with, and I always want to break my racial identity of being Filipino and white up in percentages as a kneejerk reaction when talking about myself. And this small conversation between Pablo and Leanna just really meant so very much to me, and really hit me extremely hard. Also, just seeing Pablo having a tough time not feeling as connected to parts of his identity was really important and moving, too.

And, like always, seeing an older sibling help take care of their younger brother is something that will always resonate with me and inside my heart. Pab’s entire family dynamic really was perfection actually, because I feel like in literature, we either get really horrible parents or really perfect parents; we never really get the messy in between, where parents are supportive and loving but have a hard time showing their love and support.

Overall, I just really loved this book and it means so very much to me. The messages in this book really are life changing and I truly wish I could put this book in everyone’s hands. I feel like, much like Emergency Contact, this could be a polarizing book, but I also think it is a book that is going to touch and impact so many. I know a lot of people probably won’t love the ending, but I truly thought it was perfection and really made this book standout as a true masterpiece. And if you read through this whole review, I hope you know that I appreciate you, and that it is never too late to follow your dreams and find the happiness you deserve. Oh, also, be warned that the mention of all the snacks in this will make you extremely hungry.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and Trigger Warnings: anxiety, debt, the debt crisis, credit debt, bill collectors, talk of sudden death briefly, talk of cancer, minor scene involving childhood cancer and the Make A Wish foundation, depression, codependency, and talk of assault (unwanted touching).


About the Author:

Mary H.K. Choi is a writer for The New York TimesGQWired, and The Atlantic. She has written comics for Marvel and DC, as well as a collection of essays called Oh, Never Mind. Her debut novel Emergency Contact was a New York Times bestseller. She is the host of Hey, Cool Job!, a podcast about jobs and Hey, Cool Life!, a podcast about mental health and creativity. Mary grew up in Hong Kong and Texas and now lives in New York. Follow her on Twitter @ChoitotheWorld.

Blog Tour Schedule:

August 26th – Vicky Who Reads

August 27th – Adventures of a Book Junkie

August 28th – Utopia State of Mind

August 29th – Read by Tiffany

August 30th – Rich in Color

August 31st – Your Tita Kate

September 2nd – Books on Pointe

September 3rd – Andi’s ABCs

September 4th – Book Scents

September 5th – Twirling Pages

September 6th – Bookshelves & Paperbacks

September 9th – YA Bibliophile

September 10th – Mary Had A Little Book Blog

September 11th – Chasing Faerytales

September 12th – Nicole’s Novel Reads

September 13th – Mel to the Any

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

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“He is my small son”

I’m going to write this review a little differently; instead of telling you the synopsis of this book right away, I’m going to show you the two parts of my heart.

Best Friends & Boy Bands – If you follow me on any social media, you will know that BTS has completely and wholeheartedly taken over my life. The amount of unconditional happiness that I have found within myself because of BTS could be a thesis statement all alone. But the pure joy I feel when I know that I will get to follow and enjoy BTS and everything they give ARMY, along side my best friends? That’s something I don’t have words for, and I don’t think I ever will, but it truly owns half of my heart.

Little Brothers & Video Games – I am very open in many reviews about my little brother being my best friend in this entire world. He always has been, and he always will be. Ever since I graduated college and moved across the country, we have kept our closeness because of video games. Don’t get me wrong, we play them nonstop when we are together, in the same room, too, but it is truly something that I’ve been able to do with him to never make me feel like I’m away from him, and because of this, this combination makes up half of my heart.

Foolish Hearts is a book that made me feel so seen and so very whole, because it combines those two halves of my heart seamlessly. Our main character, Claudia, spends her afternoons playing video games with her siblings and her best friend, not really looking to add any addition people into her life. That is, until the end of this summer, right before school is about to start up, where she has to go to a party where she accidentally overhears two girls break up.

Iris and Paige were the *it* couple at Claudia’s school, but now that they are broken up, Paige gets to still be the beloved, popular one, where Iris looks like the mean and heartless one. And when Iris and Claudia are forced to work together, not once, but twice, Claudia also uncovers Iris’s unconditional love for a boy band. And the start of a beautiful friendship blooms.

Not to get too personal in this review, but I am also pretty open about Jane being the reason that I got into BTS, and even though we were friends before, BTS really made Jane my best friend, and it really changed my life in the best way possible. The Iris and Claudia comparisons were just a little too real, but they were also a little too perfect.

So much more happens in this book, maybe with boys and them entering Claudia’s MMO and making me swoon because I’m nerdy and basic. Maybe with secrets that others were keeping from Claudia. And maybe this entire story is set with the backdrop of a school play. There is a lot to love about Foolish Hearts, but how real it felt to me and my personal experiences was really the brightest and shiniest star.

You can really tell that Emma Mills gets fandom culture. How it is so easy for people to be negative about things that (unharmfully) make people happy. But also how sharing your happiness and love for something with someone else is truly a magical feeling sent from the higher powers. How fetishizing is totally a thing that is very serious and very real, but most of the time fandoms just want to love, support, and bring happiness to the people that bring them happiness. (Protect Park Jimin at all costs!)

Overall, this was just a really personal read to me on a few levels, but I loved it completely with the sum of my being. Also, there is epilepsy rep in this story, too, and I really loved how it was written! This book is really just a love letter to friendships, and I really do feel so soft currently. But if you are into BTS, or any musical group, I really highly recommend this one. I had the goofiest smile on my face while reading this entire book, I swear. It is for sure one of the best things I’ve read all year. And even though this review already feels like a love letter to BTS, I just hope anyone who reads this review finds happiness in things they can love wholeheartedly.

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Content and Trigger Warnings: high risk childbirth, panic attacks, seizure mentions, and talk of past underage drinking.

Buddy read with Jane & Chelsea! ❤