Review: Kaleidoscope Song by Fox Benwell

Kaleidoscope Song

Genre: YA contemporary

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication date: September 19, 2017

kaleidoscope songSouth Africa is loud. Listen. Do you hear the song and dance of it? The chorus of Khayelitsha life? Every voice is different, its pitch and tone and intonation as distinct as the words we choose and how we wrap our mouths around them. But everybody has a voice, and everybody sings…

Fifteen year old Neo loves music, it punctuates her life and shapes the way she views the world. A life in radio is all she’s ever wanted.
When Umzi Radio broadcasts live in a nearby bar Neo can’t resist. She sneaks out to see them, and she falls in love, with music, and the night, but also with a girl: Tale has a voice like coffee poured into a bright steel mug, and she commands the stage.

It isn’t normal. Isn’t right. Neo knows that she’s supposed to go to school and get a real job and find a nice young boy to settle down with. It’s written everywhere – in childhood games, and playground questions, in the textbooks, in her parents’ faces. But Tale and music are underneath her skin, and try as she might, she can’t stop thinking about them.

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Review: History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

history-coverLast year, I was fortunate to win a Twitter giveaway from Adam Silvera for a signed paperback of More Happy Than Not and ARC of History is All You Left Me. It was very lovely and I immediately jumped at the chance to read History, one of my most anticipated releases of 2017. So since it’s going to be published tomorrow, January 17, I’m now going to post my (non-spoilery) review!

History alternates between “Today” and “History” sections, both narrated by Griffin. “Today” begins with the funeral of Griffin’s ex-boyfriend, Theo, who drowned. Against the odds, Griffin finds that he’s able to cope with his grief by becoming friends with Theo’s second boyfriend, and the two work through the situation together. Meanwhile, the “History” sections are Griffin telling how he and Griffin began dating, broke up, and after. Unlike other books I’ve read, I was very engaged in both storylines, especially once Jackson became more of a presence. I was never like, “Oh great, got to get through another ‘today’ section again.”

I’m not an expert in YA (especially since I almost exclusively read the darker contemporaries), but I think it’s fair to generalize that most YA–contemporary or not–features first love, or at least the beginning of a relationship. I’m also often disappointed by these (especially if they are subplots in a more plot-drive, SF/F book) because the dynamics and even descriptions of the characters are often very similar, not at all representative of teenage relationships (as someone who was in one). Like Griffin, I was also in a significant, long-term relationship in high school on which college and mental health had an impact, though that is about where the similarities end. Yet, I found myself relating very deeply with Griffin’s feelings throughout the history and prsent, and that aftermath of a relationship isn’t something I’ve been able to find much in YA. Some of the conversations were painful to read (in a good way!) because of the memories they brought back, and I really related to the situations of wanting things to work out a certain way, still talking to ask for forgiveness, and wanting Theo to be happy.

Another aspect is that Griffin struggles with OCD, based on Silvera’s own. OCD is a wide spectrum of obsessions and compulsions often unique to the individual (I personally have a mild form iinvolving checking and repetitve thoughts), so it was interesting to see the similarities between Griffin and Molly from Finding Perfect, which I read recently too. Unlike the latter, it is by no means the main focus of the novel, but it is a part of Griffin’s life. I really liked how Griffin came to view his mental illness and its impact on his life and conclude that therapy is not a bad thing. Most importantly, he came to realize that he isn’t just “quirky,” as Theo began to call him, and it’s healthy to become a better self rather than holding onto the one someone loved you for despite the fact it was ultimately unhealthy. In a world where mental illness is often romanticized, this is an important lesson, and at the very least it’s difficult to reconcile who you are despite your OCD and how that impacts your relationships, especially romantic ones.

Grief hangs over the whole novel, but for me, History is All You Left Me ultimately revolves around the messiness of being human. Griffin and others make some impulsive decisions that fracture relationships, at least for a little while, but it doesn’t become a lesson. Things aren’t necessarily right or wrong, sometimes tragedy strikes and there’s no one to blame. Welcome to adulthood!

Reviews: Still Life with Tornado and Finding Perfect

Well, it turns out getting a camera is more complicated than I thought, so my foray into videos has come to a standstill. So, I return to some traditional blogging to tell you about two October releases that I’d been looking forward to (and lived up to my expectations)! (Also, yes, this is quite late. I failed at working blogging into my schedule this semester, but now I have more ideas and creativity that things are looking better.)

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

still-life-with-tornadoOne of the reasons why I love A.S. King’s novels so much is that they feel a bit like stumbling across a file folder of collected information and piecing it all together. In Still Life with Tornado, we mostly follow the perspective of sixteen-year-old Sarah as she stops attending school and runs into versions of herself from the past and future. Slipped throughout this narrative are excerpts from a family vacation seven years previously–which led to a rift between Sarah’s brother and the rest of the family and which Sarah doesn’t quite remember–and diary-like narratives from Sarah’s mother about her relationship with her husband. The different story threads weave together to reveal the troubles in Sarah’s family as Sarah herself learns, bringing about an inevitable confrontation.

I don’t think Still Life with Tornado is one of my favorite of King’s novels, but it was a ride that kept me engaged and gave me plenty to think about. The cycle of abuse and its effects on everyone involved is explored in a heartbreakingly realistic way. Sarah may first come across as a little annoying, as she’s so disdainful toward anything that isn’t “original” and is worked up over something that she is so embarassed of being a small issue that she doesn’t tell us for a while, but this is only the surface level of her character. She’s from a troubled household with repressed memories and the career path she loves is in danger. She’s lost, and we come to understand her as she lets some of her guard down. This is important. Kids may seem “difficult,” but what are they burying inside? So King unabashadly takes on a seemingly frustrating character to reveal her true self that she has been hiding from even herself, and every page is worth it.

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

finding-perfectOne of my most anticipated middle grade books of the year, Finding Perfect follows a 12-year-old girl named Molly as her OCD worsens while she concocts a plan for her mother (who left for Canada after a separate) to come and visit her if she wins a poetry slam competition.

As evidenced by the acknowledgements, Swartz did a lot of research when writing this novel, and that shows. It’s very informative,  immersing the reader in Molly’s world of even numbers divisible by 4, right sides, and more. It’s important in this society where “I’m so OCD” is a thing kids (and adults!) say WAY too much that we see Molly organizing her glass figurines and using perfect pencils alongside the profound anxiety she feels concerning her brother’s health when that order is disrupted, as well as her other obsessions. I really do hope that realistic portrayals of OCD like this help kids understand what it REALLY is. Finding Perfect even touches on the treatment Molly recieves once diagnosed, though I do not recall the option/addition/aspect (because it’s rarely used alone) of medication being mentioned.

Another thing I really liked: Molly goes to the Internet for answers when she is worried about her compulsions, as all curious kids do in the 21st century.

But Finding Perfect isn’t just about OCD. Molly’s relationship with her best friend, Hannah, stumbles at times, as does her relationships with her father and her siblings. She has to confront her optimistic image of her mother, too. Family, friends, and personal identity–it all comes together here, as they do for so many adolescents as they figure out who they are and where they belong in the world. It’s lovely.

Anticipated Release: Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia

My schedule is a bit off, so yes, it isn’t Wednesday, but I can still talk about books releasing soon that I’m excited to read.

Today’s pick is a book that is coming out on Tuesday, August 2nd:

enter title hereI’m your protagonist—Reshma Kapoor—and if you have the free time to read this book, then you’re probably nothing like me.

Reshma is a college counselor’s dream. She’s the top-ranked senior at her ultra-competitive Silicon Valley high school, with a spotless academic record and a long roster of extracurriculars. But there are plenty of perfect students in the country, and if Reshma wants to get into Stanford, and into med school after that, she needs the hook to beat them all.

What’s a habitual over-achiever to do? Land herself a literary agent, of course. Which is exactly what Reshma does after agent Linda Montrose spots an article she wrote for Huffington Post. Linda wants to represent Reshma, and, with her new agent’s help scoring a book deal, Reshma knows she’ll finally have the key to Stanford.

But she’s convinced no one would want to read a novel about a study machine like her. To make herself a more relatable protagonist, she must start doing all the regular American girl stuff she normally ignores. For starters, she has to make a friend, then get a boyfriend. And she’s already planned the perfect ending: after struggling for three hundred pages with her own perfectionism, Reshma will learn that meaningful relationships can be more important than success—a character arc librarians and critics alike will enjoy.

Of course, even with a mastermind like Reshma in charge, things can’t always go as planned. And when the valedictorian spot begins to slip from her grasp, she’ll have to decide just how far she’ll go for that satisfying ending. (Note: It’s pretty far.)

I love this synopsis. I don’t want to have too many high expectations of where the story should go, but I do love satire and metafiction, which this definitely is. I can also relate to the feeling that one’s school-focused life (though I was much lest focused on college admissions than Reshma0) is “boring,” and the idea of a perfect storyline of how life should go.

What do you think? What other books are you looking forward to?

Rewiew: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: March 3, 2015

Genre: Young adult, contemporary + magical realism

Winner of the 2016 Printz Award for Young Adult Literature

bone gap.jpgEveryone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Bone Gap is a bit of a difficult book to review, and I don’t feel like a pro/con review does it much justice. It’s something very different, quite literary, and its own little experience. I liked it, but I’d much prefer to discuss it in broadstrokes than a standard review.

Bone Gap is a small town (and a real one) and home to a mystery: the disappearence of Polish immigrant Roza, who we later learn out has come to reside with teenager Finn and his older brother Sean from seemingly fleeing an unsafe situation. The three have quite complicated feelings toward each other. Despite the missing persons case, however, I’m not sure I would really call Bone Gap a mystery. The third-person perspective shifts around from Finn to Roza to even some of the secondary characters, filling in their backstories. As such, the story is much more about who these characters and how they relate to each other.

What it’s really about? The narratives/expectations that surround people (which all small towns and/or other communities are bound to come up with) and horrible consequences of mysogyny, basically. Roza has dealt with many men taking advantage of her because they think they’re entitled to it, leading to some dangerous situations. Meanwhile, Petey (who Finn begins to date in the book) has her share, too, albeit of a different kind because unlike Roza, she isn’t conventionally pretty. There was also a scene where Finn focuses on Petey’s pleasure, containing an act that I haven’t seen depicted in YA (or most of the media) at all. Not that I’m an expert, but it was refreshing to see that.

I’ve seen “magical realism” used the most when describing Bone Gap, and it does play a subtle role. The characters struggle with real issues, but their world is lightly laced with magic. Whispering corn fields, a horse, which is female and likes to be ridden at night, so it’s a “Night Mare,” and more. It gets weird, but it’s rather beautiful, adding a hopefulness to the story. (And I love weird.)

Bone Gap is marketed as YA, and it won a major YA literary award, but I feel that it’s more of a crossover. Finn and Petey’s story deals with teenage feelings and themes, yes, but Roza and Sean are adults and a large part of the story is about them (especially Roza). I really enjoyed the multiple perspectives, especially when publishing seems to want to fit everything int categories (now we just need more push for books about kids aged 12-14, right??).

I highly recommend Bone Gap if you’re interested in magical realism, feminism, and literary fiction.