Contemporary

The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne

insideofoutA major reason I wanted to read this book was because of the cover, and the fact that it has an Asian girl as one of the three characters depicted on it. Oh, and rainbow colours, implying that it’s quiltbag YA. Which it is… and yet, it’s written from the point of view of the straight best friend. I have to admit, there were a lot of moments that made me want to read this book from Hannah’s point of view instead of Daisy’s, but the point is that – Daisy is the straight best friend who made Hannah’s queerness all about herself, instead.

The thing about Daisy is that she is annoying and selfish and insensitive and she totally appropriates asexuality to further her own cause. However, like I expected her to, and hoped she would, she does grow as a person throughout the story. I think I would’ve been fine even if she didn’t, because (1) I appreciate the fact that Jenn Marie Thorne didn’t shy away from writing an unlikable character, and (2) her character helps drive home the message about different kinds of privilege, and straight privilege in particular. Continue reading “The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne”

Contemporary · Romance

Been Here All Along & No Holding Back

These were originally from my zine, where I wrote quick first impressions on all the recent(ish) YA I’ve been reading. I probably would end up posting more of those in this blog, too, since these days it’s harder to find the time to… take my time. Ha. I wish I’m back in college sometimes. Who would’ve guessed that having to read 3 novels, 1 play and 10 short stories, memorize a monologue, and write a bunch of essays in the same week, as the good old days of “having free time”?

Anyway, I’ve been interested in the YA romance imprint Swoon Reads for awhile, and am currently highlighting them at the store. These are two of the more interesting ones by them I’ve read recently! Continue reading “Been Here All Along & No Holding Back”

Contemporary

Fans of the Impossible Life by Kate Scelsa

fansoftheimpossiblelifeMuch like Cut Both Ways, which I had read around the same time as this book, I found the synopsis rather misleading. But unlike Cut Both Ways, I really enjoyed Fans of the Impossible Life, and think I would’ve been in love with the book had I read it as a teen. The initial synopsis for this book was something like, “this is a book about a girl, her gay best friend, and the boy in love with both of them.” So it sounds like “bisexual love triangle”, but it isn’t. It really isn’t.

What it is, instead, is a lovely read for fans of Perks of Being a Wallflower. Because it has Perks‘ slow pace and beautiful, pensive tone, and utterly likable protagonists. The main difference is that in this book, everyone is pretty screwed up, more so than any of the characters in Perks. Because there’s Mira, whose suicide attempt lands her in a hospital. At the hospital she meets Sebby, who tried to kill himself after he was beaten up for being gay.

They become very close friends, and about a year later they meet Jeremy, a painfully shy artist in Mira’s English class, and decided to befriend him. Jeremy begins falling for Sebby, but is hesitant to get drawn into their lives, because caring for others means that it’s harder to keep oneself safe. Overall, this is a lovely book with complicated, vulnerable friendships/relationships that reminded me way too much of high school, (another thing it shares with Perks of Being a Wallflower) and the only thing that I don’t feel satisfied about is how it ends, which I have to admit is more realistic than the end I would have wanted.

Comics · Contemporary

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

awkwardThe categorizations at the store where I work are a little weird – I’m the YA buyer, which includes middle grade fiction but does not include any comics or graphic novels for YA/MG/Children’s. I’m also the (adult) Comics buyer now, which I guess makes things even more confusing. Sometimes titles like this come my way because it’s an intersection between my categories, and I’m glad when they do, because I don’t pick up YA/MG comics enough. I really should read more of them, because they are usually pretty awesome.

In Awkward, Peppi starts at her new school with two rules – one, to avoid getting noticed by the mean kids; and two, to seek out a group with similar interests to join. She manages to join the art club, but when she trips into Jaime Thompson, school nerd, she breaks the first rule. The mean kids called her the “nerder girlfriend”, causing her to panic, shoving Jaime away and telling him to leave her alone before running away.

As she concentrates on art club, Peppi starts to make her own friends, but she’s still guilt-ridden for how she treated Jaime. But then she finds out that he’s a member of the science club, the natural enemy of her new group. The school’s limited resources lead the two clubs to war, but after spending time together Peppi and Jaime realise that art and science may not be so different after all.

The story and message may not be new, but I adore Peppi, and the mix of great characters and storytelling makes it awesome. This is basically a cute, funny, and FUN graphic novel perfect for all ages, but especially middle schoolers that are just getting into comics. Oh, and also fans of Raina Telgemeier.

Contemporary

Cut Both Ways by Carrie Mesrobian

cutbothwaysThis book taught me a very important lesson, one that I have to relearn every time I forget: do not judge a book by its cover. Or it’s synopsis, really. See, it’s supposed to be about Will Caynes who likes girls but somehow gets into a drunken make-out session with his best friend Angus, and finds he likes it. So he thinks he might be gay, but then he meets Brandy, a hot sophomore, and finds that he’s totally into her, as well.

My expectations: I thought this would be a good book featuring a bisexual teen, finally. While I liked Pink by Lili Wilkinson, there’s still something lacking about it to me, and there still aren’t enough books out there to represent bisexuality. So that’s what I wanted, something more positive about bisexuality, something that doesn’t portray it as something it isn’t.

Reality: all this book does is reinforce negative stereotypes about bisexual people – Will is indecisive and lazy/cowardly and selfish. He continues fooling around with both Brandy and Angus without considering that he’s being unfair to either of them. And when he realises which of the two he actually has feelings for, he doesn’t stop fooling around with the other person. It’s just so terrible, and it doesn’t help that the story doesn’t really properly address the issues he’s facing with his family, and why he never even considers the fact that he might be bisexual (he acts like he only has one choice, to be either gay or straight), and – just, everything I can think of when I remember this book makes me want to go, ugh.  I gave this book three stars on GoodReads, so I did enjoy certain aspects of it, but every time I think back on the book all I remember are the things I didn’t like.

Contemporary

The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

viewsaturdaySo, there was a time when I’ve never read E.L. Konigsburg. It wasn’t that long ago. Back in 2013 we did a highlight on her books, and I remember saying to Daphne that I’ve never read her and that I wanted to. That year, Daphne gave me a copy of The View from Saturday for Christmas, saying it was her favourite by Konigsburg. For some reason, I didn’t read it until last September, when I brought it to Japan with me because it was light and thin (I could start and finish it in one long train ride) and I knew it would be good.

And it WAS good. So good that I wondered why I didn’t read it earlier, but at the same time, it made me wonder if being on a two-hour train ride on Saturday morning alone was the best time for me to start and finish the book. Anyway, it’s about four sixth graders – Julian, Noah, Nadia and Ethan – who were all very different but had something important in common. Julian realised this, and invited the others for tea. Their teacher, Mrs. Olinski, also realised this, and chose them for her Academic Bowl team, but she didn’t know why until they had won the championship (not really a spoiler; this was established from the beginning). It may not sound like much, and really it’s about so much more, and I will write about some of it here, but really it’s better if you just read it for yourself.

Another book that Daphne recommended, and I loved, was Garret Freymann-Weyr’s My Heartbeat. That book is not similar at all to The View from Saturday (and when I asked Daphne later to recommend other books I’d love as much as these two she said, “but they’re such different books”, which is true) but I guess to me they have the same sort of feel, or rather, they made me feel the same way.

Continue reading “The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg”

Contemporary · Malaysiana

The Sum of Our Follies by Shih-Li Kow

sumofourfolliesI had been hesitant to write about this book, which I had read for our Malaysian Fiction book club, because it pretty much left me with a “meh” feeling. And usually I wouldn’t bother writing about books I didn’t feel strongly about either way, but I also wanted to write about my attempts in reading more local fiction.

I think my biggest complaint about this book is the characters. They didn’t feel real, and their feelings didn’t feel real, which made it very difficult to engage with the book, because I am very much a “characterisation first” sort of reader. I don’t have to like or love a character, but I definitely do have to get a feel of who they are as a person, and I didn’t get that with any of the characters in this book. The narrators kept getting switched around and they all sounded the same to me, and I couldn’t tell them apart, which wasn’t a good thing considering that one of them was a young girl, another was a middle-aged (I think) woman, and the third was an old man. Each of these characters came from very different backgrounds, with different levels of education… and they all sounded the same.

What I did like about this book was the setting. Lubok Sayong, the fictitious town the story was set in, was described vividly enough, and the best parts of the story was when it took on a magical realist feel, like with the big fish that kept turning up in different parts of the book. The prose was pretty in some parts, and it made me wonder if I would enjoy Shih-Li Kow’s short stories more, as I am more apt to overlook lack of character development in that format. Since I’ve been told that her Ripples collection is better than this novel, I may give it a try one day. Overall, I found this novel readable, if much like Lubok Sayong’s nasi lemak bungkus – “lukewarm and thinly garnished, in portion that fall short of satisfying the appetite and the imagination.”