Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

New York City. 
1927.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.

 

And the dead are coming…

 
After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that early claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough of lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.
With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.
I…
I just…
I don’t even know where to start with this book. It is amazing. I consider myself to be one of Libba Bray’s top fans. I picked up A Great and Terrible Beauty back in 2003 when it was on the new arrivals shelf, and I’ve religiously followed her work since then. I have read The Gemma Doyle trilogy more times than I can count.
But this… this book is her best yet. It’s amazing – one of the best I’ve ever read. It has everything; gasp-inducing horror, tremendous character growth, an overall sense of dread that left me unable to put it down, and plot points that broke my heart. The cast of characters have grown so much over the first three books in Libba’s four-book series, and I feel as though they have become truly real and fleshed out by this entry.
My favorite thing about this book is that we continue to see more and more diversity throughout the cast. The cast is racially and ethnically diverse, but also includes many characters who identify as various sexualities. I would love to also see some gender diversity present, but I can not complain whatsoever because Libba is doing what I wish more YA authors were… characters who identify as a sexual minority are main characters, and their sexual orientation is not their defining characteristic.
That bears repeating. There are lesbian, gay, and questioning characters whose defining personality traits are NOT their sexualities. 
As I mentioned in my Lair of Dreams review, Libba does not shy away from discussing the harsh realities of being different in the 1920s. Unfortunately, some of these harsh realities described in Before the Devil Breaks You are still reflected in American culture today. Libba doesn’t pull punches.
This book is so intricate, and there are so many things going on, that I can’t say much without spoiling it. Trust me, this is a journey that you should take for yourself – totally spoiler free.
Also, if you have the chance, the Audible version of the book is incredible. January LaVoy is probably the best reader that I have ever listened to. I plan to look up more of her audiobooks just to hear her again!
Here’s to my first 5-Bard review! Before the Devil Breaks You certainly deserves it!

Book Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has left Justyce contemplative and on edge. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.

Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up (way up), much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.

Dear Martin has quickly been labeled a must read book for 2017 and overall I agree with that conclusion. Let’s get something out of the way though: the biggest disadvantage this book faces is that it was published in the same year as The Hate U Give (THUG). The authors are friends and the books deal with similar subject matter, so comparisons are inevitable. Readers of THUG will notice several points of overlap: Black protagonists who attend private schools, are in interracial relationships, live/grew up in a high crime area, witness a police involved shooting, have a prejudiced parent, have a “friend” who doesn’t understand the complexities of White privilege, etc.

To be clear, addressing issues of racism and police brutality in fiction is incredibly important and the more novels which deal with the subject, the better.

Dear Martin is designed to meet a need for modern readers, giving an insightful and in depth look at what it’s like to be a Black man in America in 2017, and it doesn’t hold back. The book packs a powerful emotional impact. My heart raced, I cried, and, above all, I got angry. Invoking such emotions in a reader is no small feat.

For me, the parts of the book which provoked the most intense reactions were the depictions of Justyce in the media after he is shot by the off-duty cop. It’s heartbreaking to see the ways in which he has to navigate life after news reports insinuate he is a criminal rather than a victim. Stone’s commentary on how media narratives contribute to racism and influence our perceptions of victims resonates in part because it is easy to recognize the real world stories which inspired her writing. It’s timely, relevant material for young readers who may be struggling to understand why stories about police shootings and media depictions matter.

While the book portrays the struggles of Black Americans, it does so by contrasting their lives with the White Americans with whom they interact. For readers who have never considered how racism continues to impact the Black community this can serve as an introduction to those realities. However, I felt some characters were there to check boxes; Blake, the unrepentant and clueless racist; Jared, the White dude whose racial views drastically evolve throughout the book; Melo, the on-again/off-again girlfriend whose actions lead to Justyce’s first police encounter. Nevertheless, they serve the purposes of the narrative well and I never felt like they were out of place (except Melo, who basically disappears from the book at some point, and I did not miss her).

The book also touches on the ways that limited exposure and negative interactions between people can create stereotypes and prejudices as many of the characters have no experience with the Black community beyond their encounters with Justyce, Manny, and the few other Black students at Braselton Prep. They deal in stereotypes or use their classmates as “evidence” that systemic racism does not exist. Stone’s work extends this discussion of discrimination as she touches on anti-Semitism through the character of Sarah Jane. At multiple times in the book when she is referred to as White it’s followed by a reminder that she is Jewish. While this does not mean she experiences the same disadvantages as Justyce, it is a friendly reminder to readers that prejudice takes many forms. Unfortunately, this is actually a way in which the book fails for me. Obviously Justyce’s story and life extend beyond his mistreatment by the police, but a significant portion of the book focuses on the fact that Justyce’s mother doesn’t want him dating White girls. Unfamiliar readers can project onto this, and it could feed into a narrative of “reverse racism” (which doesn’t exist, by the way).

Additionally, Stone’s premise of having Justyce engage with the work of Martin Luther King Jr. was intriguing to me. Quite often in narratives surrounding modern protest, dissenting voices like to argue that “this is not what Dr. King would do,” and Stone’s work is directly engaging with that flawed argument (flawed because those critiques ignore the true experience of MLK in the 1960s and turn him into a convenience). Justyce’s attempts reflect this complexity as well as the problem of applying philosophical frameworks in an effective way. His struggle, and at times abandonment, of being “like Martin” helps demonstrate that communities and movements cannot be distilled into one voice. I was a bit confused though because from the promotional materials, summaries, and title, I assumed that much of the book would center around Justyce’s journal addressed to King, but the book is not epistolary and the letters are so few and brief that they are largely extraneous to the plot, which is a shame because they are beautiful. We see Justyce develop and grapple with societal questions clearly in those moments because they are written in first, rather than third, person.

As a side note to that, I had two main critiques of the work itself. I wasn’t always happy with Stone’s use of point of view which was predominantly third person limited. At times it read as stage directions or a script, which worked well for the conversations but made larger scenes and time jumps seem stilted. I also did not like the opening of the book. It’s a move I’ve seen more and more (including in THUG) but opening with an incredibly dramatic scene (Jus’s unlawful detention) does not work for me. I objectively understand: my empathy for victims of injustice should not require an emotional connection to the person, but I find it jarring. It took me until around Chapter 5-6 to finally connect with the characters and engage with them as rounded figures. Those early chapters felt like reading a play built out of stock characters and part of that was down to the recoil I felt from the opening.

There are other things I could discuss in this review. The depictions of successful Black men (Manny’s father (a businessman) and Doc (a teacher)), the humanization of gang members and the incarcerated, and on and on. For a short book, it manages to contain a multitude. However, I think the main thing to take away from this book is that it adds to the conversation by giving readers an opportunity to learn, reflect, and engage with a narrative that many have seen played out on TV but haven’t really thought about or considered from the perspective of those living these experiences. While it isn’t perfect, for me this was a four bard tale, without question.

Midsummer Meets Marie Lu

Book Review: Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller

There will be plenty of time for me to beat him soundly once I’ve gotten what I came for.
Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.
More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King. 

This book. This dang book. I was in a slump before i started this and in all honesty this just made my slump worse because of how good it was. Here is why i loved it so much:

  • I originally didn’t want to get this book because i was holding out hoping for an audio book version(there is one now, get it here). In the end my friend and i both got discount cards for going to a book signing. We were only there for the day so we both ended up getting a book. I picked out this one. I really lucked out because it is a signed copy! I’m super happy i didn’t get the audio book because the way the I visualize the characters is nothing like how it is done in the audio book(this isn’t bad but some days i have to read books and others i have to listen to them. Nothing wrong with doing either.)
  • I’ve seen all of the Pirate’s of the Caribbean movies(spoiler alert, The last one was so anticlimactic. Please just let this series be over.) but this book puts every single one of those movies to shame.  
  • The book is so vibrant and action packed. I loved the adventure. I loved how it sucked me in and i did not want to finish it because of what the world looked like in my mind’s eye. I loved the world building.  I loved how the main character was a feminist and knew that woman were priceless assets to her crew.  I really loved this book.
  • Whenever i’m in the water(specifically the ocean) i finally feel at home.  I feel a sense of peace wash over me. I feel safe. I feel like the she is protecting me. Like she wants to keep me safe.  There is a passage in this book that resonated with me when it comes to my feels about this ocean/sea. It is:

“Even a man who’s spent his whole life at sea has reason to fear her when she’s angry.  But not I. I sleep soundly. Listening to her music. The sea watches over me.  She protects her own.“ Chapter 4

  • Recently i have been having a very hard time with my mental illness and managing it. Ms. Tricia Levenseller wrote a line that when i read it i had to stop reading because i was going to start crying. 

“Everyone has something dark in their past.  I suppose it’s our job to overcome it. And if we can’t overcome it, then all we can do is make the best of it.” Chapter 5

  • Alsoa overcomes so many obstacles in it. She is a very strong heroine.  The more we learn about her, how she thinks, how she acts, how she simply plays the game of life.  She made me want to be strong.

Anyone who wants a strong heroine and who can hold up her own in a fight should pick this book up ASAP.  I can not wait for the sequel to come out in 2018.

This book is in my top five favorite new released for 2017. 5 Bards

Book Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Moxie girls fight back!

Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules.

Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Ever since I heard about this novel I have been waiting, very impatiently, for it to be released. In a time when the party in the White House is fronted by a man who proudly stated, when talking about women, to “Grab ’em by the Pussy,” this novel for young adults couldn’t be coming at a better time. I have high hopes that Mathieu’s novel will show that a movement can start in the simplest way and every action makes a difference.

The positives of this novel are almost unending because I loved all of it.  I did feel like there were certain parts or discourses happening between the characters that seemed a little awkward ONLY because I know that Mathieu was trying to get in the standard conversation about feminism and what feminism means into the narrative, so I forgive that really easily.

Moxie includes the version of feminism that we all should subscribe to: all inclusive and unapologetic. Thank you so much to Mathieu, especially, for including links in the acknowledgements for those coming newly to feminism to visit for more information, and for all of those links being inclusive of women of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and sexual identities. It’s important to remember that feminism isn’t true feminism unless it is intersectional.

I love Viv for being everything I wish I could have been in high school. I wish I had stood up to the patriarchal bullshit that meant the male sports received all of the support, that men didn’t have to subscribe to the dress code, and that their sarcastic comments were ignored while the girls were disciplined for saying anything remotely crass.  Needless to say I identified with Viv and the Moxie girls on a deep level. I played on the high school softball team that played in old uniforms and on an old baseball field with plastic “fences” brought in to mark the end of the field instead of an actual chainlink fence, so the plight of the soccer team in this book brought back some memories.

Seth, oh sweet Seth who I like to pretend was named after Seth Cohen in The O.C., I loved that Mathieu made him learn the hard way that you can be a feminist and still not recognize your privilege as a male. He learned a lot in the book, and was a superb love interest, but I think it was SO imperative for that dynamic to be represented here.

I loved this book so much and I wish SO MUCH that this had been out when I was still a teenager.

5 Bards

 

 

 

 

Check out Team Midsummer’s 67 Questions with author Jennifer Mathieu, too!

Book Review: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price. 

This whole book is basically the episode of Doctor Who, Season 4, Episode 11 “Turn Left.” Each decision has a specific reaction that could change the outcome of the universe and Jane, Unlimited takes that idea to 5 different extremes.

At first glance, Cashore’s novel seems like a fun romp of an orphaned girl going to a private island with her rich acquaintance to get away from the hardships of every day life.  But it becomes so much more than that

I need a Jane Umbrella.

once the first part’s introduction is done.

This is a spoiler, so if you are looking for non-spoilery…I’m sorry, I find it almost impossible to review this book properly without being able to explain a certain aspect of the plot.  That is the theory of the multiverse.

Cashore does an excellent job creating what could be almost 5 separate novels based on one decision by Jane toward the beginning of the book.

Jane is a complex and yet somehow still simple character. I love that the umbrellas she creates represent her need to protect herself from the outside world that robbed her of her parents and her aunt. It’s excellent.

I think the crowning achievement in this is that the ending makes it seem like it is up to the reader to decide which ending is THE ending, if that makes sense.  Sure, there is the last scenario in the possibilities as explained in the novel, but it isn’t definitive that this is the clear ending. I love it.

I know this novel is probably going to be divisive between Cashore fans and those readers who haven’t read her previously, because of the nature of the narrative.

However, for my purposes I’m giving this book 4 Bards. It has romance, diversity, intrigue, fantasy, and so much more.

Give it a shot, I promise it will be an interesting read.

Book Review: When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

This. Book. Was. Amazing.

It’s been so long since I’ve read a novel of magical realism that touched me as deeply as When the Moon was Ours. It’s hard to live up to 100 Years of Solitude in terms of magical realism, but hell yeah McLemore has earned her spot in my heart along with García Márquez.

This story is so much deeper than what the synopsis implies; in fact, I find the synopsis doesn’t do this narrative justice. I wish that it would mention how inclusive this story is and how beautifully it explains the fears, memories, and secrets that everyone holds inside them wishing no one would hear or discover. I interpreted Miel’s roses as a way of expressing how those things can affect our outward world completely, and while we all don’t have roses growing beautifully and painfully out of our wrists, our emotions affect how we present ourselves to those around us. So much applause for McLemore on this.

Be aware that magical realism might take a few chapters to draw you in, but stick with it- it’s worth it!

Seriously, this review is going to be me gushing for the most part.  I understand the town that McLemore has created around Miel and Sam. The small town where any weirdness is outcast and those who don’t fit into the picture of normality are the topic of hurtful gossip, name calling, and more.  It’s so realistically done even though the narrative is told specifically through the eyes of Miel and Sam.

This is probably a spoiler, so I’m going to preface it by saying that, but Sam’s journey throughout this novel was absolutely wonderful. Sam is a transgender boy and I can honestly say I’ve not read a passage from a book about transgender identity that has described the experience for those individuals better than this one:

The endless, echoing use of she and her, miss and ma’am. Yes, they were words. They were all just words. But each of them was wrong, and they stuck to him. Each one was a golden fire ant, and they were biting his arms and his neck and his bound-flat chest, leaving him bleeding and burning.

He. Him. Mister. Sir. Even teachers admonishing him and his classmates with boys, settle down or gentleman, please. These were sounds as perfect and clean as winter rain, and they calmed each searing bite of those wrong words. 

Beautifully written with the narrative full of lush depictions of nature this is a book you don’t want to miss. Anyone looking for an LGBTQ book recommendation: here it is. Read it, Love it, and Share with others.

4.5 Bards to When the Moon was Ours.

TTBF Author Repost Book Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

 

Team Midsummer, Jessica & Lyv, are attending the Texas Teen Book Festival again this year in Austin, TX! To prepare and get ourselves amped-up for this event, we are reposting some of our reviews by some of the TTBF 17 authors!

This review was originally posted on November 3, 2015

 

dumplin

Self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson (dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom) has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked…until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Clover City beauty pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all. 

As someone who suffered from body dysmorphia and a full blown eating disorder, I’m really proud of Julie Murphy and Willowdean as a character.  I wish that I had been as somewhat confident as she was when I was in high school. I can tell you that I was of average size, but as many high schoolers can tell you, everyone is plagued by self doubt and the feeling that everyone is staring at you and judging you.  I wish that this book had existed when I was seventeen.

Basically, Willowdean lives in a little bubble of a town with her enigmatic, skinny, tall best friend, her former pagent queen mother, the ghost of her aunt haunting her childhood home, and a job at the local fast food restaurant. This book really shows how crazy intertwined our body image is with our self worth.  Willowdean, up until Bo kisses her for the first time, really isn’t that tortured by the way she looks or the way that others view her.  Her kryptonite at this point really is just the class jock who also happens to be the class jerk.  Once she starts being pursued by someone who doesn’t fit into the picture she had of how her life would go, she immediately begins to question everything.

She even goes as far as to self sabotage her own semi-relationship with Bo after finding out that he would be attending the same school as her, out of fear for how her classmateswould perceive their relationship.  Or rather, how embarassing it would be for him to be seen with her since she is just a fat girl.  This is so important, to remember that we only expect the love we think we deserve (to paraphrase Perks).  I’m not a huge Dolly Parton fan, but I do know the song Jolene, so I can appreciate the interpretation of the song within the novel.

So Willowdean makes mistakes.  She is so wonderfully realistically constructed as a character that it was almost impossible for me to not feel connected to her and her journey.  I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and enjoy this character’s journey.

4 Bards to Dumplin’

fourbards

Book Review: Warcross by Marie Lu

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire. 

Truth time: I’ve only read the Legend series by Marie Lu and I am now kicking myself in the ass for not reading my copies of The Young Elites before now because holy hell Warcross kept me on my toes and was absolutely wonderful.

It has everything a modern reader could want: advanced technology, a love story, rags to riches narrative, an intricate game, and so much more.

This book was addicting!

Emika is a seriously relatable character. I found myself completely invested in her narrative, the struggle she had from her parental background and her monetary problems. (Let’s be honest, what millennial wouldn’t relate to that?) Her intense love for art in all forms, her hair, her father’s, and the graphics of Warcross was so believable and it made Emika truly breathe off of the page.

I was completely engrossed in this story from start to finish.

Lu picks up with a chase for a criminal and then snowballs into a hacker being given all she ever dreamed of…but it comes with a price.

I think the only thing I wish had been elaborated on further was the friendships created within the Phoenix Riders.  Why? Well, I just wish I could have spent more time with these characters that Lu created. I know that they should be back for the sequel and I can only hope we get more of their development as well. Although I know the narrative for Warcross was so fast paced (and it needed to be) that some of this development had to be sacrificed, I just wish there was more!

On Twitter there were people complaining about one of the twists in the novel and I have to say that I whole heartedly disagree with their feedback on that. I found it absolutely twisted and excellent. Kudos to Lu for putting that in. Want to know what it is? Buy a copy of the book now.

4.5 Bards for Warcross

TTBF Author Repost Guest Review: More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera


Team Midsummer, Jessica & Lyv, are attending the Texas Teen Book Festival again this year in Austin, TX! To prepare and get ourselves amped-up for this event, we are reposting some of our reviews by some of the TTBF 17 authors!

This review was originally posted on October 31, 2016

eveThis review was done by another one of Team Midsummer’s favorite people, Eve.  She has submitted reviews to us before, so we were excited to have her on board for LGBT History Month! Thanks so much, Eve!

 

 

 

In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again—but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely. 

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is. 

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

I was immediately drawn into narrative of this intriguing novel, although I’ll confess to being a little suspicious of its potential similarity to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, with a sexuality angle rather than the desire to forget a past heartbreaking romantic relationship. But I was impressed by the way the focus wasn’t specifically on any one of the main issues addressed by the story, but rather a cleverly crafted weaving of the elements of grief, mental health, class and social structures, teen relationships, and love developing outside of an expected heteronormative paradigm. For this reason, while the book certainly addresses the complexities and struggle of coming out, I found the whole story to be involving and important – not just the relationship between Aaron and Thomas. It also isn’t a copy of Eternal Sunshine – it has one similar element, the neuroscience of forgetting, but it fans out to be much greater than that.

One thing I will note, because it stood out to me so much while reading that I texted Jess about it at the time, is that Aaron and Thomas say, “No homo” to each other a seemingly inordinate amount of times in the space of two pages. Now, it may be my heterosexual, cisgender privilege showing that I have never had to clarify my sexuality while interacting in an affectionate way with someone of the same sex as me, but I did feel that this phrase was somewhat overused. I’d be interested to know if this is a common experience among young men, because perhaps this phrase is used so frequently and that is part of the culture of hiding homosexual attraction.

Aside from this, the character development seemed very natural and totally solid within a few chapters – I feel like I know Aaron Soto, his friends and family, and have an understanding of his perspective on the world. The outstanding part of this book for me was how bravely and easily it tackled upsetting and painful topics, making it comfortable for the reader to continue (albeit through tears) even when the characters were suffering. Silvera does not shy away from the impact of suicide nor from the violence inherent in some relationships. On top of that, the balance of wit and warmth is spot on, throughout the happy moments and the hard ones.

I don’t want to give away too much about the plot but there are twists, and they’re the delicious ones that you sort of see coming but still have to pause and take a moment to think back on and process them once they do happen. The story will have you feeling all of the emotions and, while it certainly has a central homosexual relationship, I think it actually is a more profound commentary on humanity as a whole.

4.75 Bards

475-bards

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