Book Review

Broken but Just Fine

The Love Letters of Abelard and LilyThe Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, HMH Teen, for giving me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Love is about being broken beyond repair in the eyes of the world and finding someone who thinks you’re just fine.

I’m glad that I’ve found another meaningful contemporary novel that deals with mental health. I honestly didn’t have high expectations when I requested this book from the publisher, so I was delightfully surprised by its enlightening and philosophical content. If you’re looking for an Own Voices novel that is worth your time (and money), go ahead and pick this up on December.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily is the story of two “broken” teenagers. Abelard has Asperger syndrome, while Lily has ADHD (like the author). They’ve known each other since childhood, but they only become real friends when they are both detained for “innocently” destroying school property. Since Abelard finds it extremely difficult to talk face-to-face, he and Lily start a connection through texting. They have both love The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse, and they cleverly exchange passages to express their thoughts and emotions.

Unsurprisingly, this book had a character-driven story. Lily was the sole narrator, and her inner musings ranged from dark, to cynical, to downright hilarious. She was a very interesting character because she was caught in a quandary every day in school; even though she had ADHD, her peers and teachers seemed to be oblivious to her special needs and treated her like she was like an ordinary teenager. It was sad and ironic that Lily, one of the brightest students, was mistaken for a truant. I totally understood why Lily hated going to school since it was practically her own version of hell.

One of the lessons that I gleaned from this book is that sensitivity and consideration should never be out of fashion, especially towards people with mental conditions. We shouldn’t look down on them or treat them with condescension in the academe because they can actually have the capacity to be better or smarter than other “normal” students. For example, Abelard was indeed a social hermit because of Asperger’s, but his love for mathematics and science enabled him to participate in regional robotics competitions. Of course, this happened in a work of fiction. Nevertheless, I think that it can happen in real life.

Another great thing about this book was that unlike some of its peers in the YA market, it didn’t depict love as the cure-all for mental illness. Abelard and Lily were head over heels for each other. They made each other happy and secure, but they still had to struggle with their respective mental conditions. In the end, one of them sought the help of science in order to have a shot at “normalcy.”

I nearly forgot to mention how impressed I was by the author’s creativity. It was amazing how she managed to integrate specific, evocative quotes from The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse into Lily and Abelard’s conversations, which were always smooth and coherent. Logically, the quotes weren’t just chosen at random. Otherwise, the book would have been so disorganized and confusing. xD

This book was generally enjoyable and insightful, but there was one thing that I really disliked: Lily and Abelard acted like jerks toward their parents. It was good that family dynamics were included or explored. Lily’s mom in particular was a prominent figure in the novel as she tried her best to meet Lily’s needs. However, I was annoyed that Lily often treated her mother with disrespect. She even had the audacity to say the f word, for crying out loud! Abelard wasn’t as bad as Lily, but his behavior around his parents could be described as…cold. I had already encountered the same problem in Eliza and Her Monsters, another mental health novel I recently finished. With that in mind, I really dislike it when such books seem to use mental illness as a convenient excuse for characters to be so rude or ungrateful.

All things considered, The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily was fun to read. It didn’t please me entirely, but I would recommend it because of it’s enlightening content. Thus, I am excited to read more books by Laura Creedle. 🙂

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Book Review

Dancing with Master Cuckoo

The Midnight DanceThe Midnight Dance by Nikki Katz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

She shouldn’t miss the touch of this man who had done such despicable things, a man who forced people to serve under his control.

After giving meh ratings to two Swoon Reads titles (Kissing Max Holden and Just Friends), I was a little hesitant to read this book. However, as usual, the cover was so attractive that I just had to go beyond the title and copyright pages. Thankfully, I did not regret my decision.

Before you proceed, be warned that this book isn’t a typical YA contemporary novel. It is actually a mild psychological thriller about twelve ballerinas who live in an isolated finishing school owned by a dashing man named Master. Penny, the heroine, is strangely Master’s favorite student. She feels intoxicated in his presence, but a voice in the back of her mind tells her to stay away from him. When Master’s secrets are divulged by the gradual resurfacing of Penny’s lost memories, the Grand Teatro becomes less like a finishing school and more like a creepy dollhouse.

Those of you who are familiar with my reading tastes probably know that I rarely read thrillers. I don’t necessarily dislike them; I just don’t gravitate towards them like I do to fantasy or sci-fi novels. With that in mind, reading The Midnight Dance was somehow a refreshing experience. Even though it wasn’t so scary, Master’s psychopathic behavior triggered a sour taste in my mouth. The things he did to Penny and the other ballerinas were twisted as heck. I often feared for Penny’s safety (and sanity), and I was overwhelmed by the desire to know how and why Master became so…incongruous. He was gorgeous on the outside yet malevolent on the inside. If you’ve read Shadow and Bone, you might compare Master to the ever mysterious Darkling.

Since this book was published by Swoon Reads, I was delightfully surprised that romance wasn’t the highlight of the story. There were no too cheesy scenes nor an abundance of instalove. Penny and Cricket’s relationship did add a touch of sweetness and intrigue, but I liked that the author was more focused on telling about their attempts to escape from Master’s clutches. In this regard, The Midnight Dance is a rare gem among other Swoon Reads titles.

Penny was the most significant catalyst behind my 4-star rating. She was an empowered female in light of her constant craving for the truth. In fact, her mind was so strong that Master couldn’t control it completely. If Penny were thrown into a dystopian world, she would get along with Cassia Reyes (Matched) or America Singer (The Selection), heroines who always take something with a grain of salt.

My main problem with this book was it’s rationale for Master’s mental condition. I simply couldn’t accept that he became a control freak because of his Cinderella-like childhood. Also, I didn’t fully understand Master’s supposedly scientific process of mind control. The latter ideas were very promising, but their execution was unsatisfactory. Hence, by the end of the book, my mind was still shrouded in a mist of confusion.

Nonetheless, I had fun reading The Midnight Dance. I recommend it to booknerds searching for a moderately thrilling book to read this fall. Since I still have some unanswered questions, I hope that a sequel is in the works.

P.S. I read this book with the smart and pretty Brittney (Her Bookish Things). You can check out her review here.

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Book Review

There Is No Such Thing as Wrong Grammar

Love Is Both Wave and ParticleLove Is Both Wave and Particle by Paul Cody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, Macmillan, for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Light was something like human love. How could it be so smooth, so lovely and flowing and warm, the apex of human existence at times, and at other times so gritty, the cause of heartbreak and misery and misunderstanding and even murder?

Even though I was bothered by the author’s fondness for wrong grammar, I cannot deny that this book was so worth my time. It was heartwarming, raw, and so insightful. I particularly loved its unfiltered exploration and discussion of mental health. This inspiring story will stay with me for a long time.

Love Is Both Wave and Particle is basically the life story of two troubled teenagers, Sam and Levon. Both of them attend a private school for people with special needs, and they are asked by one of their teachers to write a biography, aka the story of their lives. Sam and Levon are expected to work on this project together as means of catharsis and self-discovery. Soon, everyone is suddenly intrigued by the gradual changes in Sam and Levon, and one question begs to be answered: is love somehow responsible?

It took me some time to appreciate this book. Since my current profession requires me to be a grammar Nazi, the intentional errors throughout the novel made me flinch occasionally. The dialogues were hard to detect because the author didn’t use quotation marks. Furthermore, the narrative was written in a very conversational style that was characterized by multiple comma splices and sentence fragments. I understood the intention behind such errors. Still, I couldn’t just ignore them even if I prayed. xD

I also had some trouble with the multiple POVs. People who knew Sam and Levon secretly contributed to the biography. Hence, there were many characters to analyze, as well as names to memorize. Honestly, I can’t remember all of them even now. Tee-hee. Looking at the bright side, I did appreciate that the author gave me the opportunity to get to know many of the side characters, whom I initially perceived as insignificant. Also, I genuinely loved that Sam’s and Levon’s parents were able to share their own stories since parents/adults are usually ignorant bystanders in YA.

Setting aside the technical/Formalist problems I had with this book, I am happy to tell you that it made an impact on me. Unlike other contemporary books nowadays, this one was unique and memorable. It dealt with serious topics like depression, self-harm, and sexuality in such a way that was straightforward but not overwhelming. Scientific facts about various things were also given, making the book both enlightening and credible. If you’re a nerd like me, this book will tickle your brain and make you smile.

For me, the most significant message of this book is that mental illness can be a product of nature or nurture. In other words, it can be triggered by your genes or environment (i.e. upbringing). In retrospect, Sam’s and Levon’s personal struggles depicted that mental illness can be a product of both. Of course, other factors may come into play. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the discourse of mental health is very relevant nowadays, and we should take it seriously.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed Love Is Both Wave and Particle, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a very meaningful book to read. If you want to enjoy it to the fullest, just pretend that there’s no such thing as wrong grammar. 😉

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Book Review

You Found Me in a Constellation

Eliza and Her MonstersEliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you, HarperCollins, for giving me an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Like life, what gives a story its meaning is the fact that it ends. Our stories have lives of their own—and it’s up to us to make them mean something. —Olivia Kane

Before I read this book, I was a stranger to Francesca Zappia. I remembered that my previous boss at work told me to check out a book named Made You Up, but I only made the connection recently. If you’re planning to pick up this novel in light of your love for the said book, prepare yourself for moments of deep introspection. Also, I beg you not to read the blurb/summary on Goodreads because it contains a major spoiler. (I’m currently thinking of using my librarian privileges to fix the latter problem.)

Eliza and Her Monsters is essentially a character-driven novel. It is about a girl named Eliza (like..duh!), who is extremely introverted. Ironically, she has a massive presence online. Under the pen name LadyConstellation, Eliza publishes a web comic entitled Monstrous Sea. Her work turns out to be so popular, having more than a million readers. Despite her success as an artist, Eliza’s life is not perfect. Her relationship with her parents and siblings is unfathomably strained, and her social life outside of the Web is…nonexistent. Everything starts to change when she meets Wallace, the most popular writer of Monstrous Sea fanfic.

I honestly had a difficult time deciding how I should rate this book. For me, Eliza and Her Monsters is the epitome of the term “mixed feelings”. Even though I didn’t love it, the thought of giving it three stars made me feel unsettled, regretful, even. The strengths and weaknesses of this book played a game of tug of war in my mind. The beautiful writing and story were on one side, while the annoying characters were on the other. Basically, the struggle was real, people.

I have always been a fan of stories that emphasize familial relationships, so I had no trouble delving into this book. Being a devoted hermit, Eliza spent most of her time at home. Logically, she had plenty of opportunities to interact with her family. I loved that Eliza’s parents and two brothers (Church and Sully) were given a lot of screen time. However, I was annoyed by how she treated them. She always snubbed her parents, as if they were obstructions to her happiness in life. As for her brothers, she avoided them because she sincerely believed that they hated her. To put it mildly, Eliza was not a good daughter and sibling. Looking back, Eliza’s parents were not exactly victims. After all, they were so frustratingly permissive.

In a similar fashion, Wallace’s family was placed under the spotlight. His family was actually very fascinating because he had both step siblings and half siblings. (You have to read the book to understand how that happened.) Unfortunately, Wallace also had problems with his parents, particularly with his father. :l I will never get tired of expressing my disdain for this Bad Father Trope in YA. Can’t we have lovable fathers for a change? :p

Now in regards to Eliza and Wallace as a couple, I liked that their relationship was excellently fleshed out. If my memory serves me right, physical appearance wasn’t even described as a catalyst for their love. There were cheesy moments in the book, but romance really wasn’t the main focus of the story.

In the end, I decided to give this book four stars because of its depiction or exploration of mental illness. Wallace reminded me of Mouse from The Problem with Forever (one of my favorite books) because he was a selective mute. He was such an inspiring character because, like Mouse, he didn’t let his condition prevent him from living life to the fullest. As for Eliza, she didn’t show clear symptoms of paranoia (severe anxiety) until the climax, so I was initially confused by the book’s marketing. I realized that this was actually a good thing because it did not give a sense of “exoticness” to mental illness. Throughout the novel, Eliza seemed like a perfectly “normal” and angsty teenager. In other words, I loved that Eliza’s condition didn’t make her any less…human. I had a lot of issues with Eliza, but I understood that the story would have lost its essence if she weren’t such a problematic character. Her growth at the end of book thankfully eclipsed my negative feelings.

Ultimately, I did enjoy this character-driven novel because it made me reflect on significant things like family, introversion, and mental health. I encourage you to add this to your shelf of meaningful YA contemporaries. Now that I’m aware of the author’s talent for emotional play, I am excited to devour more of her works.

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Book Review

A List of Literary Praise

A List of CagesA List of Cages by Robin Roe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

People heal a whole lot faster when they’re with someone who loves them. —Delores

A List of Cages is my first favorite book of 2017. I’ve been hearing nothing but positive things about it, particularly from people in the BookTube community. I used to think that the praise was quite exaggerated, but now I understand why this book has garnered so much hype.

Essentially, A List of Cages is similar to Jennifer L. Armentrout’s The Problem with Forever, in that it also explores the mechanics of foster care and its occasional, traumatic consequences. Furthermore, this book also features troubled characters who eventually find healing in each other’s company. The protagonists, Adam and Julian, both have psychological problems. The former has ADHD, while the latter has a much more serious “illness” that is unraveled throughout the novel. Regardless of their four-year age gap, Adam and Julian are able to form a very platonic and meaningful friendship. As Julian’s secrets are gradually brought to light, Adam becomes determined to protect him at all cost. That being said, A List of Cages is inevitably an emotional piece of literature.

Honestly, A List of Cages made me tearful so many times. I felt quite stupid because I kinda expected it to give me positive feels only because it was published by Disney, which is famous for its love for happy endings. Believe me when I say that this book trumps Colleen Hoover’s It Ends with Us in the popular list of Cry Worthy Books. Not-so-sincere apologies to Lily Bloom and Ryle Kincaid. If Adam and Julian won’t make you cry (or at least tearful), then you need to have a doctor heal your stone cold heart!

With that in mind, the best thing I liked about this book was its character-driven story. Given her background in psychology, I wasn’t surprised that Robin Roe really did an effort to create such impactful and inspiring characters. As flawed as they were, Adam and Julian’s personalities felt so authentic. And since the novel was written in dual perspectives, I loved getting to know them in a deeper and virtually personal way. Adam’s chapters were fun and lighthearted, while Julian’s chapters were generally morose and tear-jerking. This seesaw of alternating voices definitely messed with my emotions, thereby giving me a wonderful and memorable reading experience.

Overall, A List of Cages is YA contemporary fiction at its finest. It’s a short novel that surprisingly has super substantial content. For the sake of objectivity, the only thing I did not like was its tendency to be shockingly graphic. I sincerely enjoyed this novel, and I would happily recommend it to all of my bookish friends. I just might reread it by listening to its audiobook version. 🙂

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