Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Book Review: 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario

Publisher’s description

500 words or lessA high school senior attempts to salvage her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates by writing their college admissions essays and in the process learns big truths about herself in this mesmerizing debut novel-in-verse, perfect for fans of Gayle Forman and Sonya Sones.

Nic Chen refuses to spend her senior year branded as the girl who cheated on her charismatic and lovable boyfriend. To redefine her reputation among her Ivy League–obsessed classmates, Nic begins writing their college admissions essays.

But the more essays Nic writes for other people, the less sure she becomes of herself, the kind of person she is, and whether her moral compass even points north anymore.

Provocative, brilliant, and achingly honest, 500 Words or Less explores the heartbreak and hope that marks the search for your truest self.

 

 

Amanda’s thoughts

There is something so satisfying about a novel in verse that is done well. To be honest, they don’t often work for me. I find that my eyes want to skim the lines and I finish in record time, which I like, but feel like I don’t retain a whole lot of what I read. Or, I feel like the story isn’t served well by the structure—like I want more, but can’t get it in this format. Thankfully, neither was necessarily (more on that later) true with this title.

 

The summary up there does a fairly tidy job of giving you the plot. The plot is a lot more of an internal journey than anything, which is fine by me (for the millionth time I’ll say it—go ahead and close people into a room to talk or put me inside someone’s head while they just think and I’m perfectly happy to keep reading). Biracial Nic Chen is at the top of her class. She’s smart, involved, and has applied early decision to Princeton, but she feels like she’s still not perfect enough for her dad and stepmom. She’s also constantly whispered about at school, her locker defaced with the word “whore” on it, feeling totally lost without her lifelong friendships with Jordan and Ben—friendships that fell apart when Jordan and Nic, who was dating Ben, slept together. But Jordan doesn’t seem to be suffering the same fallout as Nic—he’s still adored, no one is writing slurs on his locker, and he is still best friends with Ben, who no longer has anything to do with Nic. It’s all fairly lonely for Nic, who doesn’t appear to have many friends. It’s only because she starts writing college application essays for her classmates that she starts to interact more and realize some things not just about her peers but about herself. By writing about their lives, trying to see the world through their eyes and experiences, she also reveals parts of herself. She begins to realize that there are so many versions of herself that she shows and hides. Though she always felt held at an emotional distance by Ben, even when they were dating, she starts to see that she, too, held not just Ben but everyone at a distance. There are some pretty compelling reasons for this, including her mom’s disappearance from her life, but prior to this, Nic hasn’t thought too hard about them. Though Nic started writing the essays as a way to keep her from ruminating on her own life too much, she finds that this is a time in her life to be particularly reflective, especially once Ben reappears and things grow even more complicated with her feelings for him and for Jordan. 

 

The one part that I felt didn’t work for me was a thing that happens about 4/5 of the way through the book, a tragedy that I will avoid talking about here because of spoilers. I will say that it felt like a bit of a tidy/easy way to help both Nic and Jordan come to some realizations about their lives and their futures. It didn’t make me dislike the book, but it felt contrived and kind of like a cop-out. I also wish that we actually got to know the larger cast of characters better—the peers whose letters Nic writes, her friends Kitty and Ashok, and maybe even Nic herself, who holds the reader at a bit of the same emotional distance she grapples with in her life. The interesting plot of writing letters for others, of seeing through their eyes, thus highlighting and revealing Nic’s own loneliness, is an appealing one. A strong if imperfect look at guilt, regret, and forgiveness. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781534410442
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 09/25/2018

Book Review: Heat of the Moment by Lauren Barnholdt

I’m going to summarize the entire plot of Lauren Barnholdt’s Heat of the Moment in one sentence for you, okay? Here it is: Lyla really wants to have sex with her boyfriend Derrick while they’re in Florida for their senior class trip, but she’s surprised to find herself suddenly (and desperately) attracted to Beckett, much to her consternation.

 

That’s pretty much it. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Yes, there is of course (a bit more) to it: she ends up rooming with her two former best friends and she’s receiving constant emails that she wrote to herself when she was 14 telling her to learn how to trust. We get a little of her backstory—her family situation, why she’s estranged from Aven and Quinn (the former BFFs), her relationship with Derrick. But really it’s about sex and attraction. Lyla is thinking about sex all the time. She really wants Florida to be the setting for that perfect first time with Derrick—even though it appears they haven’t really ever talked about having sex or wanting to have sex, despite having dated for 2 years and been doing “everything but” for a long time. Really? I suppose it’s possible to have not talked about it. Derrick doesn’t seem nearly as excited about this plan to have sex as Lyla is. He says they shouldn’t rush it and should take some time to think about it (especially now that he’s pissed that Lyla caught a ride to the airport with Beckett after they both missed the school bus that took their class there). Lyla doesn’t seem deterred by Derrick’s attitude (though she does wonder why he is hesitant—what guy wouldn’t be psyched that his girlfriend is initiating a conversation about sex, she wonders). She continues to think about sex, hoping it will be romantic and special, wondering how long it will take and other fine details. She thinks about birth control, wondering if Derrick will have a condom (though, really, Lyla—this was your plan; go buy those condoms yourself, girl), wondering if she should go on the pill, etc. Lyla keeps pushing for it to happen and Derrick keeps holding her at bay (for reasons that never become super clear), asking her if she’s sure, if she’ll regret it.

 

And then there’s Beckett. Lyla, against all rational thought, is unbelievably attracted to him. She thinks he’s hot. Pretty quickly after they start hanging around each other, she’s picturing kissing him, making out with him. Yes, all of this is happening while she’s also getting ready to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. She knows it’s not right, but can’t seem to help herself: she’s into Beckett. Even though he’s sometimes kind of douchey (and so is Derrick, and so is Lyla for that matter), she is drawn to him. And when they eventually (and inevitably) kiss, it’s no surprise. She thinks to herself, “One of my personalities is totally normal and loves Derrick and is excited about this trip. My other personality is some kind of sex-crazed maniac who can’t seem to keep her boobs inside her top and wants to kiss and cheat with every guy she sees.”

 

Personally, I adore Lyla. I love that she’s sex-crazed, that she makes crappy choices, that she lies, she’s confused, she’s stubborn. She’s real. She’s a type of girl we don’t get to see a lot of in YA—someone who’s constantly thinking about sex. I just wish she had more people to talk to about it than Derrick, who doesn’t seem as interested as she does. A lot of her thoughts and desires are kept in her head. Her former friends she’s rooming with, Aven and Quinn, are pretty peripheral characters who only are used for convenient plot purposes in this story, though the cliffhanger ending makes it pretty clear they will play a big part in book two. Readers who don’t mind an extremely thin plot will fly through this story of lust, mistakes, and trust. 

 

REVIEW COPY COURTESY OF EDELWEISS
ISBN-13: 9780062321398
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 5/12/2015