Book Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

I received a copy of Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds at the Spring Frenzy Presents event held by Harper Collins Canada. I loved the cover when I received it and was told that the story would be a good one.

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary, Young Adult Romance

Blurb:

Jack Ellison King. King of Almost.

He almost made valedictorian.

He almost made varsity.

He almost got the girl . . . 

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack. Jack’s curse of almost is finally over.

But this love story is . . . complicated. It is an almost happily ever after. Because Kate dies. And their story should end there. Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Beautiful, radiant Kate. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind. Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do—and let go—to save the people he loves.

My thoughts:

I was enjoying the novel until I was asked to suspend my disbelief and to go back in the past with the protagonist and re-experience an event – more than once. Reliving the same episode was difficult for me especially when I realised that the character had actually gone back in the past with his knowledge of the future. Re-experiencing the past was not a reflection on what he could have done differently; instead it was actually reliving the events and changing the story of the characters.

The repetition of the same event with minor changes did become a bit tedious to read and I found myself skimming paragraphs (not a good sign). I was a little disappointed, too, that the story ended on a happy note. I am of the realistic bent and, even though I enjoy happy endings in stories, some tales do not merit it. And this one, I feel, should not have had it as the girl does have an illness that affects her longevity.

Having said all of the above, I did enjoy Jack, the main character. He reads like a typical teenager who is experiencing his first relationship. He falls head over heels with a girl an reacts in the way a young boy would. I believed the description of his experience easily and had no doubt of his charm. It was interesting to see how he developed as a character in the story, and how he came to certain realisations of his friendship with the girl he loved as well as his close friends and parents. The characterisation of Jack was, for me, the saving grace of this novel.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️ 2 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 25th in my book pledge for 2019)

Advertisements

Book Review: What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

I was still in the mood for a little romance so I picked up What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. I had seen so many positive comments about this novel over social media that I hoped I would not be disappointed.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb: 

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play? But what if it is?

My thoughts: 

Arthur and Ben: the encounter of two young boys who are meant to meet. The story is told from two points of view: Ben’s and Arthur’s. Ben is the New Yorker who has just come out of a broken relationship. Arthur is in New York for the summer. He is starry-eyed and never been in love. It is his determination and enthusiasm that changes a chance meeting in a post office to the chance to get to know another. I love the naivete of Arthur and how his enthusiasm makes Ben a believer in the possibilities.

This novel definitely made me smile. Who can’t but love the description of first love? And what makes this story relevant for teens today is that it is a love story between two boys who are finding their place in the world and who are learning to be comfortable with who they are. The novel fills in a gap that has existed in the reading world and shows boys that it is okay to fall in love with someone of the same sex – that it is not something to be ashamed of.

Without giving much away, I will say that I liked the ending. It is not a traditional ending for a romance; but it is an ending that is perfect for a teen novel. I started this book wondering if the social media hype was accurate; and ended it with the conclusion that What If It’s Us was well worth the read.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 8th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Pride by Ibi Zoboi

My favourite all-time classic is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so when I heard that there was another rewrite featuring the characters of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, I knew I had to read it. Pride by Ibi Zoboi is an original rewrite that puts the main characters in Brooklyn, New York.

Genre:  Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Blurb: 

Zuri Benitez has pride. Brooklyn pride, family pride, and pride in her Afro-Latino roots. But pride might not be enough to save her rapidly gentrifying neighborhood from becoming unrecognizable.

When the wealthy Darcy family moves in across the street, Zuri wants nothing to do with their two teenage sons, even as her older sister, Janae, starts to fall for the charming Ainsley. She especially can’t stand the judgmental and arrogant Darius. Yet as Zuri and Darius are forced to find common ground, their initial dislike shifts into an unexpected understanding.

But with four wild sisters pulling her in different directions, cute boy Warren vying for her attention, and college applications hovering on the horizon, Zuri fights to find her place in Bushwick’s changing landscape, or lose it all.

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant re-imagining of this beloved classic.

My thoughts: 

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it is a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing that they want to do is clean it up.” (Zoboi, Ibi. Pride, 2018, p1)

The first line in the novel made me smile in glee as the beginning of this sentence echoes one of my favourite lines in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The remainder of the sentence echoes what is suggested in the rest of the novel: the gentrification of a neighbourhood that, on the outside, may look neglected.

Pride depicts a young woman’s pride in her neighbourhood and in her culture. Zuri (Zoboi’s Elizabeth Bennet) is comfortable with her culture and has no shame of her roots. She does not immediately take to Darius Darcy as he does not appear to fit in with the neighbourhood, nor does he behave in the way Zuri believes he ought to. Her prejudice reflects the prejudice of Austen’s Elizabeth albeit in different surroundings. In addition, Zoboi adeptly transforms the setting of Austen’s novel into a modern day Brooklyn while embedding the prejudices that people living in the environment may embrace.

The neighbourhood described in Pride is unknown to me; and I am not intimate with its culture. Tidbits are added to my knowledge as I read the story – tidbits that are subtly woven into the story. Yet the romance described is a well-known story of two young people who come to know one another and fall in love. This is a story that transcends time.

I love how Zoboi wove a well-loved and well-known story into a story of her own. The story that she created is a contemporary one and is well suited for a young teenager of colour.  Yet Pride is not so far from the original that the reader cannot make the connection. I enjoyed this reworking of Austen’s novel and will surely read it again in the future. If you are a fan of Austen’s novel, you will enjoy this retelling. And if you do not know Pride and Prejudice, you will enjoy this romance for being a story of our times.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 80th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

For my next read, I decided to pick up one of the ARCs I received at Frenzy Presents, an event held by Harper Collins Canada for book bloggers.

Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction

Blurb: 

It’s 2002, a year after 9/11. It’s an extremely turbulent time politically, but especially so for someone like Shirin, a sixteen-year-old Muslim girl who’s tired of being stereotyped.

Shirin is never surprised by how horrible people can be. She’s tired of the rude stares, the degrading comments—even the physical violence—she endures as a result of her race, her religion, and the hijab she wears every day. So she’s built up protective walls and refuses to let anyone close enough to hurt her. Instead, she drowns her frustrations in music and spends her afternoons break-dancing with her brother.

But then she meets Ocean James. He’s the first person in forever who really seems to want to get to know Shirin. It terrifies her—they seem to come from two irreconcilable worlds—and Shirin has had her guard up for so long that she’s not sure she’ll ever be able to let it down.

My thoughts:

I loved reading this book! The story is refreshing and encompasses so much: identity, loneliness, growth as a person, social issues, young romance. Shirin is a young girl who is angry most of the time because of the way she is treated by those in her community at at her school. As we read her story, we get inside the head of so many young women who cover their heads. They have the freedom to choose how to dress – and yet their choice is reviled. As I read about the experience of this young Muslim woman, I respected her and began to understand the choices she had made. What I love about this character, though, is that she grows and develops during the story. She learns to see others for who they are and, as a result, grows as a person.

This novel is honest. It forces you to see the experience of a Muslim teenager living in America. It encourages you to look at preconceptions – your own as well as those of others. A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a story I would recommend not only to teens, but also to older readers who are looking to understand the experience of young people from another culture living in a western society.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 74th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen

At the Frenzy Presents event organised by Harper Collins Canada for bloggers, I received an ARC of the book When We Caught Fire by Anna Godbersen. I always enjoy historical fiction, and the touch of romance was an added bonus.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Romance

Blurb: 

It’s 1871 and Emmeline Carter is poised to take Chicago’s high society by storm. Between her father’s sudden rise to wealth, and her recent engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor, Emmeline has it all. But she can’t stop thinking about the life she left behind, including her childhood sweetheart, Anders Magnuson. Fiona Byrne, Emmeline’s childhood best friend, is delighted by her friend’s sudden rise to prominence, especially since it means Fiona is free to pursue Anders herself. But when Emmeline risks everything for one final fling with Anders, Fiona feels completely betrayed.

As the summer turns to fall, the city is at a tipping point: friendships are tested, hearts are broken, and the tiniest spark might set everything ablaze. Sweeping, soapy, and romantic, this is a story about an epic love triangle—one that will literally set the city ablaze, and change the lives of three childhood friends forever.

My thoughts:

The historical aspects of this novel interested me – Chicago’s Great Fire and the possible causes of it. The fire raged over a number of days, killing people and leaving many homeless. The reference to this event in Godbersen’s novel, however, is minimal which, for me, was disappointing. The novel instead centres on the love triangle between three friends since childhood: Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders. There were some moments during the novel, especially in the beginning, when my attention wandered from their story. The description of their relationship was a little too repetitive and, at these moments, I wished for the novel to move forward.

The story did become more interesting to me when the historical aspect of the novel was introduced. The Fire changes the relationship between the three – and also helps the women (Emmeline and Fiona) realise a little about who they are and what their own relationship with one another means to them. I enjoyed the second half of the novel more than I did the first -it was definitely the saving grace of the book for me.

This novel was written for those who enjoy romance stories – more so than for those who enjoy historical fiction. As a Young Adult fiction novel, the sexual relationship described is not explicit and focuses instead on the feelings of the two women in the love triangle.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 70th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

After finishing the second volume of the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series, I could not help but pick up the third.

Genre: Young Adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb:

And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.

Life couldn’t be more perfect!

At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.

Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

My thoughts: 

The book describes Lara Jean’s final year at high school as well as her continued romance with Peter Kavinsky. In the story she is also looking ahead to the next step in her education, as is Peter. We read about the decisions she has to make for her future and the struggles she has to make these decisions.

The book is a perfect continuation of the story we read in the first and second volume. The emotions expressed are heartfelt, and the decisions made sincere and born of love – a love for oneself as well as for another person. This volume is the perfect ending to the romance we have enjoyed so far; and, like the other volumes, is written with sensitivity and an adherence to Lara Jean’s sense of what is right and wrong for herself.

I recommend the series To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before for those who enjoy reading romance. These novels were written for adolescents and they capture the essence of first love as well as the decisions that teens need to make when in a relationship with the opposite sex. The series is perfect for this age group and avoids any inappropriate descriptions of a sexual nature.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐  5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 65th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

After reading To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before and enjoying it, I knew that I had to read the next book in the series. I ordered the book online and, when it arrived, I placed it near the top of my TBR pile.

Genre: Young Adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter. She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever. When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

My thoughts: 

This volume is the continuation of the unexpected romance between Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky. The story describes Lara Jean’s first romance with all the problems that come with it. As with the first novel in the series, the romance described is pure and what one would wish for when reading of a first love. No relationship is perfect, and this is what Lara Jean Finds out. The obstacles described to her love in the novel are believable, as are the resolutions.

I loved reading this volume as much as I did the first. I turned the pages with a smile on my face and, even though the drama described is a typical teen drama, it was not overdone. This is an excellent sequel to the start of the series and I look forward to reading the next installment.

I give this novel ⭐⭐⭐⭐  4 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 64th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)

Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

My Twitter feed was filled with posts referring to the upcoming film on Netflix which was an adaption of a Young Adult romance novel that I had not read. After reading the blurb For All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, I saw that the story would be something that I would enjoy. I decided that I would read the book first before watching the film – as you know, the book always has more detail than the film.

Genre: Young Adult, romance, contemporary

Blurb:

Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave to her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are one’s she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved – five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

My thoughts: 

While reading this story, I was reminded of why I enjoy reading Young Adult romance novels. The storyline was a breath of fresh air with no overt sexual scenes, and the description of a first love was tender and empathetic. When I read about Lara Jean, I could imagine my own teen daughters experiencing their first love. The interaction between the siblings, as well as between the members of the opposite sex, is believable. I loved this story so much, I could not stop reading it and finished it within a day! I have set the novel aside for my daughters to read – and I have ordered the next book in the series. If you enjoy romance stories, you will enjoy this one (no matter whether you have read a Young Adult book or not). This story is also appropriate for young teens, so there is no need to worry if you daughter or granddaughter wishes to immerse herself in it.

The film: 

As can be expected, the film is not as detailed as the novel. A few minor things have been changed to enable to film to flow fluidly – and to stay within the 99 minutes of the film. Despite the changes in the film adaptation, I enjoyed the film especially as it kept the ethos of the novel.

I give this novel ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐️⭐️ 5 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2018

(This novel was the 54th in my 50 book pledge for 2018)