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Book Review: How You Ruined My Life by Jeff Strand

Publisher’s description

how you ruinedA new hilarious novel from the author of The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever and Stranger Things Have Happened.

Rod’s life doesn’t suck. If you ask him, it’s pretty awesome. He may not be popular, but he and his best friends play in a band that has a standing gig. Yeah, it’s Monday night and they don’t get paid, but they can turn the volume up as loud as they want. And Rod’s girlfriend is hot, smart, and believes in their band—believes in Rod. Aside from a winning lottery ticket, what more could he ask for?

Answer: A different cousin. When Rod’s scheming, two-faced cousin Blake moves in for the semester, Rod tries to keep calm. Blake seems to have everyone else fooled with good manners and suave smile, except Rod knows better. Blake is taking over his room, taking over his band, taking over his life! But Rod’s not about to give up without a fight. Game on. May the best prankster win…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

An excellent holdover from my surly teen years is that if someone tells me I will like something, or if something is billed as being “hilarious,” I will immediately NOT want to like it and usually not even venture to read/watch/whatever something because YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I WILL LIKE and DON’T TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO FIND SOMETHING FUNNY. So, suffice it to say, between the description up there of this book as “hilarious” combined with someone having read this and told me I’ll “love” it, I was all ready to be disappointed. I think Rod, the main character in this book, would appreciate my very (leftover) punk rock attitude of I WILL PROBABLY HATE THIS.

 

You know where I’m going here, right? That’s right—I enjoyed the heck out of this book. 16-year-old Floridian Rod is in a semi-okay punk band with his two good friends, Clarissa and Mel. He’s dating Audrey, who is super smart and sells their merch at shows. Life seems like it’s going fine… and then his cousin Blake shows up to live with Rod and his mom for three months. Blake is ANNOYING. He’s an entitled snob who sends a U-Haul with 42 boxes to Rod’s tiny house, arrives at the airport with a dozen suitcases, and can’t even be bothered to help bring them in or even open his own car door for himself. He is INSUFFERABLE. Blake claims he’s not being insulting, just observant, as he makes snide remarks about Rod’s life. He treats Rod like a servant, and has no understanding at all of boundaries (like he immediately takes down half of Rod’s posters and puts up his own crap, then decides he’ll sleep in Rod’s bed and leave Rod with the air mattress). But to Rod’s mom, he’s a total suck-up. Rod is LIVID. He addresses the reader a lot, which normally would bug me, but really works here. That even works to hilarious effect in the chapter about biology class and animal dissection—it comes with a warning, and I did skip that chapter, because no thank you, but the next chapter provides a brief recap for those of us who couldn’t handle the dissection chapter. Super nasty Blake continues to act like he’s just being observant and trying to help and really working to help make Rod’s life BETTER. But Blake’s version of “better” involves Rod’s girlfriend dumping him, his band ousting him, and an awful lot of “helpful” things that sure seem like sabotage. When Rod just can’t take it anymore, when everything has imploded, he takes drastic action—only Blake isn’t sure if it’s a prank or real.

 

This book is funny, full of digressions and ramblings and lots of ranting. It’s not exactly deep, doesn’t have a whole lot of plot, and Blake’s reasoning for his actions is pretty thin, BUT this book is a lot of fun. A solid recommendation for readers who like unreliable narrators, pranks, and lots of humor. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9781492662020
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 04/03/2018

Book Review: American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Publisher’s description

american-streetAmerican Street is an evocative and powerful coming-of-age story perfect for fans of Everything, Everything; Bone Gap; and All American Boys. In this stunning debut novel, Pushcart-nominated author Ibi Zoboi draws on her own experience as a young Haitian immigrant, infusing this lyrical exploration of America with magical realism and vodou culture.

On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.

But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.

Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

A book that begins with someone being detained by immigration agents at the airport? How extremely timely.

Fabiola and her mother leave Haiti and are on their way to Detroit to stay with Fabiola’s three cousins and aunt (her mother’s sister), but Fabiola’s mother is detained at JFK and Fabiola must head to Detroit alone. While they say they are just going for a visit, really their plan is to stay. Fabiola was born in Detroit, but went with her mother back to Haiti when she was just a baby. Now, she will finish out her junior year in this new city, with family she has really only known from phone calls, without her mother. Her arrival is greeted with no fanfare—her family is glad to see her, but she’s left to her own devices for dinner and puzzled how everyone just goes about their business so quickly.

 

Before long, she gets to know her cousins better and learns that they are tough girls who no one wants to mess with, girls who are fiercely loyal and protect their family. Fabiola has to figure out what being in Detroit means for her. She maintains rituals and beliefs from her heritage, but also learns how to fit in in her new neighborhood—one that is full of drugs, guns, violence, and secrets. Fabiola relies on vodou and spirits (lwas) to help guide her toward understanding what she needs to do as things get more complex in Detroit. Meanwhile, she’s also started a new relationship with Kasim, the best friend of her cousin Donna’s abusive boyfriend, Dray. Also, don’t forget, she’s trying to figure out how to get her mom, who is now in a detention center in New Jersey, to Detroit. Things take a dramatic turn when Fabiola begins working with a detective who is determined to bust Dray for dealing drugs. In exchange, the detective will help Fabiola’s mother get out of the detention center and get a green card. Wherever you think that part of the story is going, you’re wrong. The many twists and turns that part of the plot takes blew my mind. By the time I got to the end, the only coherent thought I was capable of writing in my notebook was “WHOA.”

 

Zoboi’s debut is complex and gritty (I kind of hate that word, but it gets the job done), with characters that will stick in my mind a long time. Though narrated by Fabiola, we get small first-person passages from all of the other characters, allowing us to know them more deeply. These passages reveal pasts and secrets, some of which will send you reeling. This powerful and well-written story of an immigrant girl’s new life in the United States is absorbing and unpredictable. I hope this finds its way to bookshelves in all public and school libraries. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062473042

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Publication date: 02/14/2017