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Amanda’s review roundup

For a year or so before starting to write for TLT, I was blogging over at Cite Something, my own blog. I’ve recently abandoned that to do all of my writing here at TLT. In the past I’ve been sharing a snippet of some of my reviews that originally appeared on Cite Something. From now on I’ll be doing as many mini-reviews as I can in addition to more in-depth reviews of LGBTQIA+ books and other titles that grab my attention. All brief summaries from the publishers or WorldCat. Read some of these titles? Tell us what you think in the comments or over on Twitter (@TLT16 for all of us and I’m @CiteSomething).

 

Top Ten Clues You’re Clueless by Liz Czukas

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 12/9/2014

ISBN-13: 9780062272423

Source of book: I received an advanced copy of this book via the publishers through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Summary: 

The day before Christmas, money goes missing from a donation box at GoodFoods Market and Chloe and five of her teenage coworkers–held in the break room until the police arrive–try to identify the real thief.

Review:

I’ve talked a lot about how much I am a character-driven reader. In a recent Top Ten Tuesday list (fitting to reference one of those when writing about this book, I think), I wrote, ” I’ve said repeatedly that I’d happily read any book where characters just sit in a room and talk, as long as that talking is full of interesting things said by interesting people. It’s why I like a good bottle episode, too. It’s why I like The Breakfast Club so much. I’ve always been this kind of a reader and can’t understand when people whine “but nothing happens.” Character-driven books have plenty of things happening!” So when I read that this book takes place all in one day at a grocery store, I was in. Better yet, it takes place on Christmas Eve and for some totally dorky reason I really like reading books that are happening near the time it is in real life. Makes it even easier to get lost in the story, maybe. ANYWAY.

 

Chloe loves making lists. She writes about the day’s plans and goals, details about her coworkers, songs, things that suck about being a redhead, secrets her mother can’t find out, and so much more. As a fellow list devotee, I enjoyed the many lists that popped up in the middle of the narrative. They do occasionally break up the momentum of the story, but don’t be tempted to skip over the lists—they definitely add to the story and to understanding Chloe. It seems like a regular day at work: Chloe pines for Tyson in between scanning groceries, makes some lists in her head, and tries to remember to take home the Christmas ham her mom ordered. When everyone learns that money has apparently been stolen from the charity box, Chloe kind of wants to solve the mystery, especially when Micah, her extremely smart  coworker estimates that there could have been $10,000 in that box. To her surprise, she finds herself on the other side of the mystery when she, Micah, and 4 other coworkers (known collectively as “the younglings”, due to being the youngest of the employees) are accused of having something to do with the theft.

 

The bulk of the story takes place with the 6 younglings (Chloe, Micah, Tyson, Gabe, Sammi, and Zaina) holed up in the break room, waiting for the police to come question them, and then later in the store itself when they are sent in to clean while they wait. An easy reference here is The Breakfast Club, particularly because of how diverse the group of teens is. Chloe is diabetic (and on her way to a low blood sugar crash the longer they wait) and the newish girl in town; Micah is homeschooled, observant, and a little awkward; Tyson is African American, from the south, and saving every penny for college; Gabe is the rich kid prankster who has the pressure of his father’s expectations weighing on him; Sammi’s abrasive and bold, but maybe not as tough as she tries to appear; and Zaina’s a Lebanese Muslim who, like Gabe, has family expectations pulling at her, but she wants to make her own path. All of the characters are well-developed and have layers to their personalities. They do the predictable thing of briefly turning on each other, but that doesn’t last for long, and before we know it they’re really getting to know each other, sharing their hopes, frustrations, and plans for their futures. The way they interact with each other, respect each other, and learn more about each other feels organic. They have deep discussions about stereotypes, racism, harassment, and more while they wait for the police to appear.

 

I’ve seen this book described as “cute” or “light,” and in a lot of ways, it is both of those things. Yes, there’s a small element of romance throughout the story as Chloe has a huge crush on Tyson. But those descriptors don’t do justice to this book. More than anything, this is a book about friendship and taking the time to get to know someone rather than just judging a person on their surface qualities. The heaviness of certain aspects like their serious discussion is alleviated with many moments of fun and humor. The elements of suspense and mystery are maintained nicely as the younglings wait out their time in the grocery store. This title will be an easy one to recommend to a wide audience of contemporary YA fans.

 

Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff 

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 1/27/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062310507

Source of book: Edelweiss

Summary:

There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, Sam’s best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you’ll understand. To figure out what happened, Sam has to rely on the playlist and his own memory. But the more he listens, the more he realizes that his memory isn’t as reliable as he thought.

Review:

Silly complaints first: I want this title to be Playlist FROM the Dead. Because that’s more accurate. And I either want the silhouettes taken off completely or for them both to be boys. Are they supposed to be Sam and Astrid (the “eccentric, unpredictable girl”)? Hayden and Athena? I don’t like either of those options. This is Sam and Hayden’s story (with parts shared by other people), so give me them or no one on that cover. (I told you it was silly.)

I’m torn on this one. Overall, I found the story engaging. It’s well-written, the characters stand out as memorable, and the grief and confusion that follow Hayden’s death read as very real and honest. But I kept wanting just a little more from everything in the book. I wanted more from the weird possibly supernatural, possibly grief-induced hallucinatory interactions with the mysterious ArchmageGed. I wanted the romance element of this story to feel less frustratingly forced. I wanted the story of what drove Hayden to kill himself to be less drawn out. Sam and Astrid kept bringing up bits and pieces of what really happened that night, how Astrid really knew Hayden, what she knew that Sam didn’t know, but then they back off in ways that felt unrealistic to me. What did feel realistic and done really well was how everyone felt in the aftermath of Hayden’s suicide. The guilt, regret, shame, confusion, pain… it all felt real. Sometimes I think the most damning review of something is “it was okay.” That’s kind of how I ended up feeling once this one was over. Maybe it’s because there are so many suicide books already out there. Maybe it’s because I wanted the playlist part, the music part, to be stronger and more obviously meaningful. Maybe it’s because I saw these loner characters who like comics and music and gaming and felt some affinity with them—I don’t know why, exactly, this one ended up feeling unsatisfying to me. Readers who automatically read suicide books (like I do) will certainly pick this up and likely stick with it, but might find the revelations and conclusions at the end to be too fast and tidy.

 

Geek Girl by Holly Smale

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 1/27/2015

ISBN-13: 9780062333575

Source of book: Edelweiss

Summary:

A self-confessed dictionary nerd and fact obsessive, there’s only one thing Harriet knows next to nothing about… Until she’s spotted by a model scout and whisked off on an international crash-course in catwalks and fashion shoots.

Review:

I kind of wish this book wasn’t billed as “perfect for fans of Louise Rennison and The Princess Diaries.” It sets up enormous expectations, which, for me, were not met. The book was indeed, at times, quite funny. The premise is not original at all—with a little makeover, the already attractive “geek” turns out to be a bombshell. Neither is the message of the book—be true to yourself. Actually, about 50 pages in, I considered abandoning this one. There are so many other books to read, so why stick with something that feels mediocre? But the thing is, somewhere in this book, there’s a nugget of it being good. When it’s funny, it’s really funny.

 

Harriet Manners is an enjoyably geeky character. She makes lists, is awkward, is bullied, and is pretty sure she’s losing her best friend. She’s the kind of character I’m drawn to: someone who doesn’t have it all figured it, and is not wholly one thing or another. Harriet hides under tables when she panics, makes a bubble chart to track all of the lies she and her dad are telling, and blurts out strange facts at inappropriate times. Super-geek Toby follows her around everywhere. He’s a little insufferable, but good-hearted and there for her when she needs him. But her best friend Nat, who I feel like we barely get to know, is not as well drawn, nor is Wilbur, the scout from the modeling agency. Think of the most outrageously stereotyped depiction of a gay guy that you can come up with. That’s Wilbur. It’s too bad he’s so flat and verges on offensive—he gets some hilarious lines. I don’t mind there being very little plot, but if there’s no real plot, I expect the characters to carry the story and make me want to stick around. They didn’t do that for me.

 

Partially I think I stuck this book out because I generally like YA books set somewhere in contemporary England. Partially it was because my kid was home sick, I’d worked all day on freelance stuff, and reading a not particularly challenging book seemed okay. Here’s why I think this book will still find a pretty good audience in America: the cliched “geek to chic” makeover movies of the 80s and 90s that we adults grew weary of are maybe not as well-known to today’s teenagers, so perhaps this trope isn’t as overdone for them as it is for me, at 37. The book is fun and light. It’s wish-fulfillment with a good reminder that being yourself is the best choice there is. Comparing it to Georgia Nicolson made me expect something wonderful (because dang do I love those books), but, as a recent email discussion with my fellow TLTers uncovered, not a ton of teens are reading those books anymore. This is one where I kind of can’t wait for an actual teen I know to read it and get his or her reaction.

Comments

  1. Nice reviews. Do you review nonfiction books? I’m looking for a review of The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Green.

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