The Young Elites and The Rose Society by Marie Lu

I know, I know, I’ve been slacking. I have been reading and I have been listening to a lot of great music. But life got busy and didn’t leave a lot of time for blog posts. But HERE I AM, ready to tell you why you need to start The Young Elites series immediately. I read the first book when it came out and had been dying for the follow up. It lived up to the hype I created in my head.

  • It’s dark, in the best way. Okay, not everyone likes dark books. I like dark books more than I should. Maybe I’m destined to be a villain. My potential villainous tendencies aside, this series’s darkness is appealing for a few reasons. For starters it isn’t “shock value dark” (i.e. most premium channel shows). Every twisted, sinister detail has a purpose. The darkness also grows and simmers. You’re reading about a girl’s descent into ~evil~. It’s fascinating. The first book starts it out, and then everything explodes in the second.
  • No sophomore slump. The first book was great. It took me a little time to decide I loved it, but in the end it grew into a favorite. It’s hard to live up to the first beloved book in a series, but Marie Lu manages a deliciously dark second book that delivers what the first book promised.
  • Not your typical “people gain powers” book. You’ve likely read or watched a story before where something happens that gives a bunch of people superpowers. Some use them for evil. Some for good. This series takes that idea and twists it into something new. The lines between good and evil are excellently blurred. And the powers? The main character’s power is unique and beautifully described. A lot of the powers are what you’ve seen in superhero media, but Lu makes them so much more interesting.
  • Not a whitewashed fantasy. With wonderful characters. People really like to make up reasons why it’s okay that the likes of LOTR and whatnot has all these white characters. There are excuses why dragons can exist but PoC can’t in a FANTASY. Thankfully these books don’t fall into that category. The world of the young elites isn’t ours, but it’s as diverse as ours. Despite all the supernatural, unordinary things going on, it feels realistic because the characters are complex and human. And honestly sometimes when I read books, the images of characters in my head look very similar to other books I’ve read. There’s definitely a lineup of similarly looking white male MCs in my head from various books. (Maybe my imagination isn’t that great?) Lu however describes her characters well and creates a distinct cast that I adore.
  • Everything else. This would be an endless list if I continued with all the reasons I loved this series. There’s action. Romance and vengeance. Twists and turns. Most of the time you’re unsure of who to even root for. And while it’s marketed as young adult, it feels more about young adults than for them. It’s definitely on the more mature side which means some boundaries are pushed. IT’S REALLY GOOD, OKAY???

You might read this and be horrified and in that case GOOD. It did it’s job. I’m horrified, too, but I love it. Also, a secret: Game of Thrones bored me. People have drawn comparisons between GoT and this series. Those people are wrong. I get there are some similarities, but I was never bored reading either of these two books.

In conclusion, this series might end up being my favorite fantasy ever. I’ll wait for the next (and final?) book to make a definite judgment though. *starts twitching because there isn’t even a release date yet*

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Serpentine by Cindy Pon

Release Date: September 8, 2015

This book is set in the Kingdom of Xia and based on Chinese mythology. It follows Skybright, a teenage handmaid, who discovers she can shapeshift into a snake demon.

What I liked:

  • The Mythology: I loved the Chinese folklore details in this. It’s not something I read about often and Pon works in multiple myths along with the rich history.
  • Female Friendship: Skybright’s mistress is also her dearest friend. I love how much they care for each other and also the exploration of growing pains in friendship.
  • The Details: Pon draws you into this historical setting with beautiful descriptions of the clothes, food, and everything else. I was hungry a few times reading this and wishing I had some of their beautiful outfits.
  • Romance: What’s nice about the romance is it doesn’t overpower the story. The story is ultimately about Skybright’s challenges with what she has discovered about herself. But there are two different romances in this that are sweet and important in their own individual ways.

Serpentine is relatively short but Pon manages to provide enough character development and a satisfying plot. I enjoyed reading a fantasy different than many I have read recently.

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Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

Release Date: September 1, 2015

This book is about 18-year-old Maddy who has lived her entire life (except for some brief time as a baby) inside because she is allergic to everything. She thinks she has come to peace with this until a boy moves next door and THINGS HAPPEN.This book was a such a pleasure to read and beautiful in so many ways. A run down of what I liked:

  • Madeline: I cared for Maddy almost instantly. She is so lovable. The best books are ones where you just really want to get to know the main character, aside from the plot. Nothing could have happened in this book and I still would have been happy to have gotten to know about Maddy. I empathized with the girl trying to figure out what she wanted from her life, who didn’t feel like she was missing out until she suddenly did.
  • The format: This book has illustrations (that Nicola Yoon’s husband drew! So cute!), online chats, and a few other deviations from standard text. It makes reading the book a lot of fun. The way this is all used is part of what helps Maddy have such depth.
  • The romance: The relationship between Maddy and Olly is truly sweet and I didn’t even roll my eyes once! Yoon stayed away from dangerous tropes. It’s so easy to root for them, to ache for them.
  • EMOTIONS: This book is going to make you FEEL. An emotional rollercoaster I was glad to experience.
  • Representation of Illness: I can’t go into too much detail without being spoilery, but this is a good book where the sick character isn’t a big Life Lesson for the healthy counterpart.

There is also a THING that happens that is a spoiler which some people were unhappy with. I think the unhappiness stemmed from expectations of what some people wanted the book to be vs. what it actually is. Guess you’ll have to read and see though!

If you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. It’s one I am going to make friends read so I can talk about it.

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Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories by R.J. Palacio

Release Date: August 18, 2015

For anyone unfamiliar with Wonder, it’s about a kid, August “Auggie” Pullman, with a severe facial abnormality. He starts at a new school and as kids can be cruel, he has to put up with bullying. I absolutely adored the book and believe it’s something everyone should read. Learning kindness is something humanity seems to struggle with. While “kids can be cruel” so can adults and children often learn the cruelness from the grown ups they observe. There are many books that attempt to tackle bullying and don’t get it right but Wonder got it absolutely right.

Auggie & Me is three novellas from the perspective of three other students we don’t hear a lot from in Wonder. For me Wonder was perfect as a standalone so I read these stories with the belief there didn’t really need to be anymore of Wonder. After reading the stories, I still feel the same way. However, that doesn’t mean I believe they shouldn’t have been written. They don’t add much to Auggie’s story, but there were other lessons additional perspectives provided.

The Julian Chapter focuses on the bully of Wonder and how he saw things. Humanizing the bully is often important for kids because they start to understand where someone’s meanness comes from. When I was in grade school, I remember meeting some of the bullies at school’s parents and starting to understand why they acted the way they did. Yet, I feel like an even more important life lesson for me was sometimes mean people are just mean and will continue to be mean. Julian eventually chooses to be nice and since the whole message of the Wonder world is to “choose kindness” I understand why it ended up that way. Julian’s story just didn’t feel like it worked to me. It seems more like a bully got rewarded in the end without doing much to redeem himself. Maybe I am just a grumpy, jaded adult who shouldn’t read books for middle school students. But I see too many Real Life bullies pat themselves on the back for the tiniest kindness.

Thankfully the first story doesn’t set the tone for the other two. The second book follows Auggie’s long time friend, Chris. This one worked better for me because Chris’s growth is more realistic. Chris isn’t a bully but like anyone, he has moments of not being the kindest. He’s not always the best friend to Auggie. He struggles with trying to be nice to another student in after school band while still impressing the older kids who play with them. While this story is short, he works through some of these minors flaws and is better by the end.

The final story is about Charlotte and the story I enjoyed the most. Probably because it has a female protagonist and brought me back to the grade school drama I remember. It also does a good job at exploring different kinds of friendships in a short amount of time. And when it comes to humanizing the mean kids, this story is much more successful. Charlotte’s story takes the drama of lunch tables and cliques and who is friends with whom, and sheds lights on these dynamics in a more subtle way. She learns which friends are true friends, which friendships to let go of, and which friendships don’t have to be close friendships. Throughout your life you’re always learning who is worth the effort and I liked a story about that that wasn’t overly dramatic. No one is cruel in this which offered something different than the bullying that happened in Wonder.

I think these stories worked better as something separate from Wonder. Although Auggie is mentioned, he barely plays a role and the stories ultimately feel disconnected from the original novel. They didn’t add to the Wonder story but Chris’s and Charlotte’s at least worked as something on their own. Julian’s was the most caught up in the original story which is ultimately why it didn’t work for me.

This isn’t a must read like Wonder. You won’t particularly be missing out if you skip it. But if you liked Wonder and need some quick reads, I think the second two stories are worth it.

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Recent Reads

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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is simply required reading. Coates’s latest, about growing up black in America, is written as a letter to his son. His writing, as always, is completely absorbing and powerful. There are enough articles floating around the internet about why you should read this. (And some terrible articles from raging racists, of course, and their existence alone is a reason you should read the book.) No matter who you are, read this book. And then have your family and friends read this book.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
I had hoped to love this book and alas, did not. It’s well done and captures the lives and trauma of a town plagued by tragedy after tragedy. There was plenty I did enjoy about it. However, I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. I also think 1950s suburban America is just not my cup of tea.

Paper Towns by John Green
This was a re-read for me before I saw the movie. I first read it right after it came out when I was 18. I think the story overall was more interesting at 18, but the message is something that impacted me then and stayed with me. “What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person” was stuck in the back of mind and served as a reminder throughout college and into adulthood. Seven years later and this book still got to me.

Alias by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos
I’ve been making an effort to read more comics and graphic novels. I graduated university with a degree in graphic design and clearly I love words so the combination of graphics and writing is something I do appreciate. Yet somehow they can be harder for me to get into. Probably just takes time to really enjoy. Anyway, in anticipation of Netflix’s A.K.A. Jessica Jones I decided to to pick up the original comics. I liked this second volume better than the first. And I love Jessica Jones as an ex-superhero character. I’m not sure the male writers of this completely did her justice but still found myself into the story. Hoping the Netflix series is even better.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
If you would like something gritty and heart-wrenching, well here you go. This book is worth the hype I saw all over my Twitter feed. The book follows Aaron Soto after his father’s suicide while he tries to come to grips with both what his father has done and thoughts about his own sexuality. Then there’s the Leteo Institute which has a memory-alteration procedure which looms over the whole story. The cast of characters in this is fantastic and it somehow covers so many different topics in little ways.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
I put this off for too long. Because it’s the 21st century, I’ve followed Roxane Gay on Twitter for a while and she’s pretty kickass. This collection of essays is also pretty wonderful. The book isn’t strictly about Feminism. It’s more about Gay and her experiences as well as pop culture. While some of the pop culture references were lost on me, I still liked these essays. Gay has important things to say whether or not they are “new” things (as some reviewers find this not revolutionary enough). You have to repeat some things before people get them. When it comes down to it, I just like Roxane Gay. She is personable and funny and can also talk about big topics in way that is easily understood.  With any collection of essays, I enjoyed some essays more than others. But overall felt they were well-written and worth the read.

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