Author Interview

Q & A with Brigid Kemmerer

I recently read Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars in light of its intriguing premise and very meaningful content. You can check out my full review here. I hope that this interview will encourage you to read LTTL when it comes out on April 4, 2017 (next week).

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1. What was your inspiration for LTTL? Were you guided/motivated by a particular experience in life?

“I remember sitting on the couch watching You’ve Got Mail and thinking, “I wish I could rewrite this as a teen story. But darker. Like maybe if someone was leaving letters in a cemetery…” And then it just kept evolving from there until it became its own story.”

2. If you were in Declan’s shoes, would reply to Juliet’s emotional letter? If yes, what would you tell her?

“Well, I’m a 39-year-old mom, so I would probably write back to her with a mother’s perspective and tell her how her memories of her mother are nothing anyone can ever take from her. And I would tell her that grief takes time, and it wasn’t something she could rush. And finally, I would tell her to come over to my house for dinner and cry on my shoulder and it would all be OK.”

3. Both Declan and Juliet have big problems to overcome. With that in mind, which character was the most difficult to write about?

“They were both difficult to write about. Their stories are so emotionally charged. I sobbed over Declan, I sobbed over Juliet, and in Rev’s book, More Than We Can Tell (coming March 2018), I sobbed over him too.”

4. LTTL explores the repercussions of the human tendency to be judgmental or presumptuous. What do you think should we do to overcome it?

“I think that we’ve gotten to this place with society where everything is expected to be fast and immediate. We make snap judgments all the time, based on an incredibly small sampling of information. I think that’s beginning to take a toll on interpersonal relationships. I mean, a lot of people date using an app where you swipe left or right if you’re interested in someone. You’re making a dating judgment from a thumbnail picture! I’m not saying that’s wrong, but there’s no way it can’t bleed into our personal lives and how quickly we judge and react to others around us, and we should be aware of it.”

5. In LTTL, Rev is depicted to quote a verse from the book of Proverbs. How would you react if readers would classify your novel as “Christian”?

“I’d be surprised, since Rev is not the main character, but I’d be okay with it too. I was raised Catholic, and while I’m not religious now, I consider myself a spiritual person, and I love learning about others’ faiths. I find faith and religion to be fascinating, and I love hearing different people’s interpretations of it and learning about their relationship with God.”

6. If you became a teenager again, would you be able to fall in love with someone through an anonymous, pen pal relationship?

“Absolutely!”

7. Briefly describe Declan and Juliet’s perfect date.

“Oh wow. Probably somewhere quiet that they could walk and talk. I live near Annapolis, Maryland, where the book is set, and there are a lot of beaches and waterways here. (We’re on the Chesapeake Bay.) I can see them going to one of the local parks to walk by the water and talk. Holding hands, of course. 🙂

“Thank you so much for having me!”

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About the Author:

Brigid Kemmerer is the author of Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance;  Thicker Than Water (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

Visit Brigid’s website

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Book Review

Letters to the Judged

Letters to the LostLetters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Bloomsbury USA Childrens, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

You were the first person to see all of me, Juliet. The first person who made me feel like I was worth more than a reputation and a record. —Declan

Have you ever experienced the pain of being judged? I bet you have. Sometimes, it can become so hard to ignore what other people say or think about us. We are naturally social beings, conditioned to value our so-called image or reputation. We tend to protect it at all cost in fear of being ostracized by the people in our lives. This shouldn’t be a surprise because we live in a judgmental world, after all.

Letters to the Lost is an insightful exploration of the latter truth. It is the story of Juliet (aka Cemetery Girl) and Declan (aka The Dark), two troubled teenagers who become intimate yet anonymous pen pals. They form a close, cathartic bond through their letters and emails, not knowing that they actually know (and hate) each other in real life. Each has preconceived notions about the other. Juliet sees Declan as a criminal. Declan, on the other hand, sees Juliet as a prima donna. This novel will surely keep you on the edge of your seat as you eagerly wait for them to put two and two together.

Between the two protagonists, Declan was the one who was judged the most. After he crashed his father’s car into a building, people started to see him in a completely negative light. His schoolmates, most of his teachers, and his step-father treated him as a hopeless case, if not someone to be avoided in either fear or contempt. To make things worse, Juliet was initially one of those who couldn’t see beyond his criminal record. In totality, Declan had a miserable life, and reading about it filled my heart with sorrow, as well as a sense of righteous anger. It was frustrating how most of the people in Declan’s life didn’t even bother to understand him nor get to know him.

Declan’s real identity was palpable in his letters/emails as The Dark. He retained his understandably negative outlook on life, but he also showed signs of kindness, intelligence, and even sweetness. His true, adorable character really shone through written communication. Hence, it was sad how most of the people around him caused him to conceal it.

As for Juliet, I found it difficult to like her because as I’ve implied/mentioned earlier, she unfortunately had a tendency to be judgmental. Her prejudices against Declan were often so mean that I found myself wanting to shake her. I was particularly pissed off whenever she took a step away from Declan because she irrationally thought he would hurt or kill her.

Furthermore, I disliked that Juliet was judgmental towards her own father. She idolized her late mother so much that she couldn’t help but see her father as an inferior parent. I felt so smug when a certain plot twist put Juliet to shame. Looking at the bright side, at least Juliet reminded me that it never pays to practice favoritism in your family.

Thankfully, like Declan, Juliet had a much more pleasant attitude in her letters. Since she didn’t know The Dark’s real identity, she was more honest, understanding, and encouraging. This might be insignificant to other readers, but I specifically admired Juliet’s eloquence; her metaphors for pain and loss hit me right in the feels. They were just so evocative!

I cannot end this review without mentioning Rev, Declan’s best friend. Despite his dark/emo facade, Rev was one of my rare sources of happiness in this book. I loved that he grew up in a religious foster family. I grinned when he quoted or alluded to passages from the Bible; I really didn’t care that Declan kinda resented him for doing so. Come to think of it, Rev’s name is not so different from the title “reverend.” Tee-hee. Ultimately, Rev was my favorite character because I admired how he managed to rebuke/edify Declan and “push” him in the right direction. Isn’t that what best friends are for? 😀

Overall, Letters to the Lost was utterly raw and substantial. It was definitely dramatic because Declan and Juliet had so many personal issues to overcome. Ultimately, I enjoyed this book because it perfectly conveyed how our tendency to be judgmental—towards others and ourselves—deprives us from forming meaningful relationships and living life to the fullest. With that in mind, I look forward to reading more of the author’s works.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Author Interview

Q & A with Christina June

Hi, booknerds! Dessa and I recently read an ARC of It Started with Goodbye by debut author Christina June.

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We genuinely enjoyed this contemporary retelling of Cinderella (both of us gave it 5 out of 5 stars), and we can hardly wait for the rest of the YA community to read it. If you want to know more about ISWG, feel free to check out our review. We hope that this written interview will encourage you to pick up ISWG when it comes out on May 9, 2017. Happy reading!

1. The title of your book is open to interpretation, so what does it mean to you personally?

The original title of the book was VALEDICTIONS, which is just the long word for saying goodbye, usually at the closing of a letter.  My publishing team came up with something a little more catchy, but the definition of a valediction will appear on the back of the finished copy–both what the dictionary says and Tatum’s more snarky explanation.  I’m glad it survived!  At the beginning of the novel, there are many goodbyes–Tatum to her father, Tatum to her best friend, Tatum to her summer of fun–that turn into new beginnings and opportunities, so I think the title fits well.”

2. What version of Cinderella do you like more, the Grimm version or the Disney version?

I grew up on the Disney version, and Disney-like versions in the fairy tale anthologies my mom would read from at bedtime.  I like that it has a hopeful ending and that Cinderella gets away from her unfortunate home.  But, I do enjoy the Grimm’s version as well.  I like the step-family getting a little justice.  I used an awesome website out of the University of Pittsburgh when I was doing research that lists the Cinderella trope in all the cultures where it occurs.  It’s fascinating how the same story cropped up, just different details, all over the world.”

3. Romance is a minor theme in your novel. Was this done intentionally, and would you describe Tatum and SK’s relationship as true love?

I would certainly say Tatum and SK are a great match and could definitely fall in love down the line.  While romance is pretty central to the original Cinderella story, I purposely made sure all the relationships in Tatum’s life–family and friends–were examined as well.  Not every teen falls in love, or is hoping to, but I believe we all need a strong support network.”

4. Tatum and her stepmother had a really tough relationship. What is your message to those who are in the same situation?

I would hope that readers would feel empowered to stand up for the things that are important to them.  Just because someone you love has a different idea of what happiness or success looks like doesn’t make your dream less valid.”

5. What is the story behind Tatum’s name? (It inevitably reminded us of Channing Tatum) xD

Honestly, it’s just a name I like and not one that I’ve seen much in YA.  It does make me think of Channing Tatum, though, and that’s never a bad thing.”

6. ISWG deals with family and friend issues. Is the book somehow inspired by a significant part of your life?

No, nothing specific from my own life informed this story, but universal emotions certainly did.  I observe a lot of teens struggling with the moment they discover their parents, or other important adults in their lives, come with their own baggage.  It can be a hard pill to swallow, but as we see from Tatum’s story, having that context can be really eye-opening.”

7. What did you like about the process of writing a fairy tale retelling?

I love that fairy tales are easily recognizable and make for a good starting place with a brand new story.  It was really fun taking the classic elements and turning them into something new.  A lot of retellings, especially in YA, are fantasy or science fiction, so I wanted to do a contemporary story with no magic.  It was important to me that Tatum feel like an “everygirl” and not a damsel in distress.”

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About the author:

Christina June writes young adult contemporary fiction when she’s not writing college recommendation letters during her day job as a school counselor.  She loves the little moments in life that help someone discover who they’re meant to become – whether it’s her students or her characters.

Christina is a voracious reader, loves to travel, eats too many cupcakes, and hopes to one day be bicoastal – the east coast of the US and the east coast of Scotland.  She lives just outside Washington DC with her husband and daughter.

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Author Interview

Q & A with Cale Dietrich

This month, I was fortunate enough to get an e-ARC of The Love Interest by debut author Cale Dietrich.

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I happily gave it 5 out of 5 stars, and you can know why I did so by reading my review. I am so thankful that I got the chance to have a correspondence with Cale even before I finished reading his book. He turned out to be a nerdy Feminist like me, so I dare say that we get along well. Haha. I am still very happy that he granted my request to have a bookish partnership with him. I hope that this interview will persuade you to read TLI when it comes out on May 16, 2017.

1. Who or what inspired you to write TLI? Is there a special story behind it?

“What a great question to start with! Also I must say I’m super happy to be doing this interview with you, I’m a fan.

“To answer your question, TLI was very heavily influenced by the feelings I was going through at the time of writing it. I’m super wary of those ‘it came to me in a dream’ type things, but the truth is I really did wake up one morning with this idea of a training academy for the dreamy love interests of YA fiction. So that’s how I came up with the plot.

“But I think the thing that makes the book what it is are the feelings I was having at the time of writing. I was feeling very tokenised and sort of shelved – like, because of my sexuality, everybody around me had this crystal clear idea of who I am and what I am capable of, which seemed to undercut the potential I felt I had. It’s hard to explain, but I really felt that people had lowered the bar on their expectations from me because I’m gay, and that made me so frustrated and upset and I kinda aimed those feelings into my writing and the end result was The Love Interest. I like to think of it as my Fight Song. Not sure if that makes sense, but I hope it does!”

2. What made you decide to write the story from Caden’s POV? Is he the character whom you most relate to? (I would also have loved to read from Dyl’s and Juliet’s perspectives.)

“I think it’s about the voice! Caden’s just happened to be the voice that was in my head, demanding to have his story told. As for character I most relate too, I think I can relate to them all to some degree, but Caden and Juliet are in particular so much like me. I think if you mashed those two together you’d get pretty close to what I’m like. And aww thanks!”

3. TLI pokes fun at major tropes and gender stereotypes in YA literature. With that in mind, what tropes and gender stereotypes do you dislike/hate the most?

“It sure does! Believe it or not, I don’t hate love triangles! I’m a fan of them when they’re done well (#teamPeeta for life). I’m not the biggest fan of tropes like the Gay Best Friend, where the gay character doesn’t have agency and just seems to exist to serve their straight friend. I also hate that horrible trend of killing LGBTQIA+ characters to advance a straight character’s narrative, because that’s so messed up. As for gender stereotypes, is it okay to say all of them? I just wish people would chill out a bit and let people be who they want to be.”

4. If you were a Love Interest, would you be a Bad, a Nice, or something in between?

“Omg, I like to think I’d be a Nice, but I’d probably be terrible at it! There’s just no way I could be a Bad, I’m not very brood-ey.”

5. What is the impact of Feminism on your work? Would you describe Juliet as an empowered female character?

“Ohhhhhhh tough one, and I love this question so much. It’s hard to say exactly, because I am a feminist and I feel that just impacts my writing without me even thinking about it. Like with Juliet, I’m getting a lot of comments about her as a feminist character, but it wasn’t a conscious decision to make her who she is, that’s just the way she appeared to me. And I would like to say that she’s an empowered female character (I hope she is) but I think it’s best to leave that up to women to decide, because I’m a man and I’m not the right person to make that call. So, I think it’s safe to say feminism has shaped TLI, but it’s hard to identify exactly how, as being a feminist is just naturally a part of who I am and that influences everything I do, including my writing.

“Btw, you did an EXCELLENT feminist dissection of TLI, and the things you pointed out are all things that matter to me. I like letting readers come up with their own theories about the meaning and stuff, but yeah, I think you pointed out a lot of the things I was trying to achieve re: Feminism.”

6. What did you want to be before you became an author? (Or did you want to be an author since you were a kid?)

“I always wanted to be an author! I’m 24, so I was super lucky to kinda fall into this career pretty much straight out of college. I’ve worked a bunch of retail/hospitality jobs to support myself while writing, but I’ve never had like a serious career outside of this.”

7. TLI is a YA novel, but what would you say to encourage adults to read it? 

“Another great question! Hmmn, I’d say that it’s an unapologetically gay novel that is also fun and will possibly make you think a bit. Hopefully that’s a good pitch!

“Thanks so much for such thoughtful questions! They really made me think, and were super fun to answer.”

Fin

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About the author: 

Cale Dietrich is a YA devotee, lifelong gamer, and tragic pop punk enthusiast. He was born in Perth, grew up on the Gold Coast, and now lives in Brisbane, Australia. The Love Interest is his first novel.

Visit Cale’s website

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Book Review

Roses, Revolutions, and Royal Problems

Blood Rose Rebellion (Blood Rose Rebellion, #1)Blood Rose Rebellion by Rosalyn Eves

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Penguin Random House, for sending me an ARC of this book (all the way from New York) in exchange for an honest review.

I was different. I could choose to see it as a gift. I could embrace my own power. I could change the world. —Anna

I’ve noticed that some readers have been marking this book as DNF, so it’s the perfect time for me to voice my thoughts and opinions on this fantastic start to a trilogy. I hope that my review will persuade you not to expect the worst from this book. Nevertheless, I promise to be objective as I possibly can.

Essentially, Blood Rose Rebellion is about Anna Arden, who is a pariah among the Luminates (the magical elite). Labeled as a Barren in light of her incapability to perform even the simplest of spells, she is hated more for her unique ability to shatter or dispel all kinds of magic. Anna sees her ability as a curse, especially when it results in her exile to Hungary, a country dominated by the Austrian Luminates. There, as Anna desperately searches for a way to overcome her curse, she is thrust into a world teetering on the edge of a revolution.

From a bird’s eye view, Blood Rose Rebellion is similar to most dystopian novels in that it features a society plagued by the struggle between the upper and lower classes. As expected, the rich possess supernatural/magical abilities which they use to subtly oppress the poor. However, this book is refreshing because the story is entirely told from the perspective of someone belonging to the upper class.

With that in mind, I enjoyed this book mainly because it gave me the rare opportunity to see the upper class in a different light. Although the antagonists in the novel were still from the upper class, I was glad to encounter a dystopian work that did not typically portray the bourgeoisie as necessarily evil. Kudos to benevolent royals! xD

I also found this book delightful because of the beautiful complexity of its magic system. In Blood Rose Rebellion, there are four orders of Luminates or spell casters, and each of them has an intriguing set of abilities, such as animal persuasion, truth spells, weather magic, and temporal (time) manipulation. Furthermore, each order’s magic is given and governed by a mysterious and ethereal entity known as the Binding. As an avid fan of RPG games like Final Fantasy, I thankfully had no trouble comprehending (and thereby appreciating) the mechanics of this world.

The last thing I liked about this book was its historical content. As stated in the Author’s Note, Blood Rose Rebellion is actually a loose retelling of the Austrian-Hungarian War, which lasted from 1477 to 1478. Before I read this novel, I did not know anything about Austria. As for Hungary, all I knew was its capital, Budapest. Hahaha. Considering my pitiful ignorance, reading this book was definitely a very enlightening experience. It reminded me of the time I read The Bear and the Nightingale, which became my very own literary primer on Russian culture.

Ultimately, the only problem I had with this book was Anna. I sympathized with her desire for familial and social acceptance, but I particularly disliked her rebellious streak. I honestly cannot remember a time when she willingly obeyed her authorities. Her impulsiveness was also irksome because it often put her loved ones in danger. I am generally not fond of selfish characters, so I couldn’t help but feel detached towards Anna.

To sum up my thoughts and feels, Blood Rose Rebellion is worth your time. I strongly encourage you to give it a shot, especially if you are fond of history, fantasy, and political intrigue. I really enjoyed its refreshing, stimulating, and educational content, so I am more than happy to give it 4 stars.

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Book Review

It Started with a Fairy Tale

It Started With GoodbyeIt Started With Goodbye by Christina June

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Blink, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

Nothing this summer had gone the way I imagined. But maybe it was supposed to be that way so I could turn the page and move onto a new, clean chapter in my story.

—Tatum

This contemporary retelling of Cinderella is nothing short of literary perfection. I even liked it more than the original fairy tale. It was a quick read for me, but I thought that its content was surprisingly hefty.

It Started with Goodbye features elements inspired by its predecessor. Essentially, it is about a teenage girl who finds herself unhappy in her own home, particularly because of her mean stepmother. The doting father archetype is also present, as well as the beloved fairy godmother and the infamous stepsister. Finally, let’s not forget Prince Charming, although he is relatively negligible in this book.

When I come to think of it, It Started with Goodbye is not a love story. One of the reasons why I loved it is that it focused on Tatum’s relationship with her family and friends. In fact, one of the main conflicts in the story is the strained connection between Tatum and her best friend, Ashlyn. The identity of Tatum’s very own Prince Charming isn’t even revealed until (whisper whisper). 😉 It is a truth widely accepted that YA contemporary books generally put a premium on romantic themes. Hence, in light of its sober content, I really found this book to be very refreshing. Surprisingly, the lack of romance (combined with the simplistic writing) even made the novel fast-paced. I could have read it in one day, but I restrained myself because I wanted to savor each intriguing chapter.

I also loved this book because of its well-developed and down to earth characters. I especially liked Tatum because her inner monologues made me feel a variety of emotions. It was also hilarious how she tended to overthink the valedictions of her letters. To my delight, I even managed to like Tatum’s stepmother and stepsister because they were suspiciously more than what they seemed. Reading about them made me understand why retellings of fairy tale villains became so popular nowadays. This might sound strange, but the only character I disliked was Tatum’s loving but naive father.

I may have given this book 5 stars, but I did encounter one minor problem: Tatum’s relationship with her mysterious Prince Charming was reminiscent of a certain overhyped novel written by Nicola Yoon. Haha. I shall leave it at that. If you’re curious, please go ahead and read this book!

In the end, It Started with Goodbye is a new addition to my shelf of favorite books in 2017. Even though this book is a retelling of Cinderella, the feelings it evoked in me were beautifully authentic. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a short yet meaningful book.

*The featured image was contributed by Dessa Mae Jacobe (@dessatopia)

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Book Review

That Deadly Performance Called Love

The Love InterestThe Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you, Feiwel & Friends, for sending me an ARC of this book (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.

A Love Interest is who I am, and it’s all I’ll ever be. Questioning that, or letting other people know that I’m questioning it, will result in my death. —Caden

The Love Interest is one of the most engaging books I’ve ever read. I’m really impressed that this is Cale Dietrich’s debut novel. Although it does have a minor flaw or two, I am more than willing to give it five stars because it made me have countless moments of nerdy introspection, uncontrollable laughter, and even happy sighs.

Essentially, The Love Interest is a mixture of YA contemporary and sci-fi. Yes, I this book does have scientific elements; the technology featured in the story is very advanced compared to what we have nowadays. The Love Interest Compound, a secret organization, finds (if not kidnaps) abandoned or unwanted kids, and then educates them in the “arts” of seduction and deception. When the right time comes, these foundlings become spies whose main purpose is to acquire information from particularly special people (e.g. celebrities, politicians, and more). Caden and Dylan, the main protagonists, are assigned to “court”Juliet, a science prodigy. This is not your typical love story, because Juliet can only pick one boy (Tessa Gray of The Infernal Devices might object to this :p), and whoever loses is obliged to prepare himself for the afterlife.

If it still isn’t obvious, I am an avid fan of The Love Interest. Hopefully, this review will still be objective. Hahaha. The reasons why I loved this book are quite nerdy, so I encourage you to brace yourself and put on your thinking cap. I just really want to prove how substantial this book is.

I significantly adore this book’s delineation of two Feminist literary theories: Hegemonic Masculinity and Gender Performativity. The former argues that there are many kinds of masculinity and that society prefers some over others; The latter asserts that gender is literally a rehearsed act or performance. If you don’t have a nosebleed yet, then please read on. xD

The Love Interest affirms Hegemonic Masculinity in that the Love Interest Compound trains its male foundlings to exhibit two kinds of masculinity: Nice and Bad. This is done in accordance to the belief that girls in society (or at least in YA literature) predictably prefer or fall in love with two kinds of boys: the charming “Boy Next Door” (i.e. Simon Lewis) and the aggressive “Tortured Soul” (i.e. Christian Grey). With that in mind, it is possible to see this book as a satirical commentary on our modern gender stereotypes.

In regards to Gender Performativity, this book affirms it by featuring characters who can change their gender roles when it’s convenient or necessary. As Love Interests, Caden and Dylan are trained to perform their masculinity (Nice or Bad) with the primary intention of enticing their Chosen. Consequently, they become skilled at suppressing their real identity/masculinity. They are depicted be themselves when they’re alone, but their gender roles change in the presence of Juliet. In other words, Caden and Dylan are excellent actors. In fact, they even have their own directors and scripts to follow!

Focusing the limelight on Juliet, I must say that The Love Interest is also a positive commentary on femininity. Looking back, I was actually mildly surprised by Juliet’s detachment from powerful, negative emotions, such as anger, bitterness, and resentment. It is a common belief or argument that females are generally emotional, but Juliet’s personality proves otherwise. Her outstanding intellect is also something to be praised.

The only negative thing I have to say about The Love Interest is that its climax seems rushed and disjointed. The first and second parts of the book emanate a YA Contemporary vibe, but the third part suddenly feels like a sci-fi thriller reminiscent of The Terminator. #Incongruous

In its totality, this book is a delightful, powerful and evocative commentary on gender and its accompaniment of stereotypes. I ardently wish for a sequel, though that ending already gave me a sense of closure. Get ready, booknerds. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Love Interest would be a new addition to your shelf of favorite books.

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