Though Kimi has been accepted to a prestigious school of fine arts, she finds that she is having a bit of an artistic block during her senior year. Instead of starting her portfolio and working on developing her style, as her mother keeps urging, she finds herself drawn more to “distractions” like designing and creating original fashion pieces for herself and her friends. Kimi is so stalled, in fact, that she even dropped out of her studio art class — but can’t find the courage to tell her mother. In an act of desperation, after her mother finds out that she has been lying about the art class, Kimi decides to take up her estranged [maternal] grandparents on their out-of-nowhere invitation to visit them in Kyoto, Japan, during her spring break. Not only will this trip give Kimi a bit of a break from her mom, but it will afford her the opportunity to get to know her grandparents, to learn more about how her mom grew to become the woman she is today, and a chance to explore the Japanese half of her heritage.
As you would expect, based on the title, Kimi finds a love interest when she travels to Japan. She met Akira in the market as he was working for his uncle’s mochi stand — dressed up and dancing around in a mochi mascot costume! I really liked how Akira was such a fun-loving and spirited guy despite the fact that he was a medical student, since so many people assume that all medical students are very serious all the time. I also liked that he chose to be a doctor or his own volition, which goes against the stereotype even Kimi believed about overbearing Asian mothers/parents always pressuring their children to be successful and to take on elite career paths. Aside from the plot of the story itself, I loved that readers were given such a great primer on Japanese culture — whether it was about expected behaviors in public or traditional familial relationships. My only complaint about this story, to be honest, was how Kimi could be *SO* smart and yet oblivious to the obvious realities of where her future could lie… Still, I think this is a cute story and that it would be a fun poolside/beach book to add to your #SummerReading list.
Freya is an up-and-coming [teenaged] singer who has inexplicably lost her ability to sing. Harun is a young Muslim man who thinks he may have just lost the love of his life due to his resistance to “come out” to his family and date James openly. And Nathaniel is a guy who has just arrived in Manhattan with only a backpack, a small amount of money, and a desperate plan. Three very different people, with very different baggage, but seemingly fated to come together. You may be wondering, “Why does it seem these three were ‘fated’ to come together?” Well… While it may seem a bit cliche, Freya literally *fell* into Harun’s and Nathaniel’s lives when she tripped off a pedestrian bridge in Central Park and landed on top of Nathaniel. And though he was not directly involved in the accident, Harun seemed to believe that his unhappiness and wish that other people would suffer like him caused the accident. Feeling guilt over his possible role in things, he went over to help before he suddenly recognized Freya — the singer from YouTube whom James watched obsessively. James would always daydream about someday meeting Freya and professing to be her biggest fan, so Harun took it as a sign… Maybe he could get James back afterall!
Though the story alternates between characters and travels back and forth between the past and present, I didn’t find it the least bit confusing. Gayle Forman has a way of bringing her characters to life and making them relatable despite their unique backgrounds and characteristics, which is incredibly helpful in fostering empathy and/or the sense that one is not alone in a particular struggle. I think my favorite thing about Gayle Forman’s writing/books, nevertheless, is how even the saddest of storylines have a thread of hope woven throughout. It’s almost as if she is reaching out from her books to assure her readers that they, too, can overcome the obstacles in their lives with enough hope, grit, determination, and love.
Whoa! It’s a really good thing this book didn’t come out *before* my husband got suddenly interested in hiking a few years ago. Between my anxiety creating its own “worst case scenarios” and the crazy situations in this book, I may not have been able to handle him heading out into the wilderness! So, what is so crazy about this story?!? Well, let’s start off with the fact that a PE teacher is taking an entire class of high school seniors, many of whom have no hiking/camping experience, out into the Canadian wilderness for an overnight hike. Though I am sure there are probably teachers and students who have had such experiences, thinking about that kind of a scenario just makes me nervous to begin with. Of course, two of the students end up separated from the rest of the group. And the weather suddenly turns, bringing both rain and snow. Without proper gear and with hardly any food between the two of them, they need to manage long enough to be found or to get themselves back to town. Gah!!!!!!!
There were a few things that I really loved about this story, despite all the anxiety it caused me. 😉 First was the story of the friendship between the two main characters, Ash and Vale. Although they had been best friends as kids, the two had drifted apart. And, even worse, Ash didn’t stick up for Vale when she became a bit of a social outcast and was being bullied; he felt bad but didn’t want to make himself a target. There’s nothing quite like an emergency, nevertheless, to bring people together. Second is that this story was a little crash course, in and of itself, into wilderness survival. Since Vale had experience in the outdoors and Ash was a complete beginner, she taught him (and readers) a bunch of survival tactics and hacks. The third thing I particularly loved was the fact that Vale was open with Ash about her identification as ace/aro (asexual and aromantic) and explained what that meant (feeling neither sexual or romantic attraction towards anyone, regardless of their gender). Although this book was published right before #PrideMonth, I am not sure whether it was intention or kismet. Either way, I hope readers will take away both wilderness survival hacks and a little understanding of and empathy for the ace/aro contingent of the GLBTQ+ community.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am *dying* over here as I wait for the 3rd season of Stranger Things. So, when I saw a blurb that said this book was likely to become a “new obsession” for fans of The Raven Boys and Stranger Things… You better believe I immediately requested a review copy from NetGalley! (I’m so grateful I was approved!)
Having to move near the end of high school has got to be tough in and of itself. Violet had it even worse, though, because her dad was dead, her sister had just died, and her mom kept her from the extended family on her father’s side. The only family Violet had left were her mother and her aunt — who was struggling with mental illness and now required her sister’s care.
Almost immediately upon entering Four Paths, Violet realized something was not quite right. As it turns out, she was a member of one of the four “founding families” who had joined forces and used their special powers to trap an evil beast in an alternate dimension called the Gray. Violet’s ignorance caused her to release the monster from the Gray and set off a terrible chain of events.
I really liked how Herman used Violet’s coming of age story to explore the themes of friendship, family, and loyalty. And I especially loved how the Gray did, in fact, resonate with me as much as the Upside Down.
Darius might not be okay, but this book was fantastic! Aside from Darius’ humor-filled blunt honesty, I loved that his story taught me so much about Iranian/Persian culture without being didactic. I was particularly intrigued by the celebration of Nowruz — the Iranian/Persian New Year — which just so happened to be this week. I thought it was interesting that they visited and tended the graves of the dead, went on picnics, did “spoon banging” for treats, and jumped over fires/had fireworks on the holiday eve. It was like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Halloween, and Dia de los Muertos all rolled into one!
Aside from the cultural education, I appreciated the way Khorram presented Darius’ depression so realistically. It is important for readers who don’t have depression to understand that there isn’t always a huge inciting event that triggers a depression. A simple chemical imbalance can be all it takes for a person to retreat inside him/herself. And though taking medication for brain health should be no different than taking medication to assist any other organ, like using an inhaler for asthma, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
This book is so much more than a primer on Iranian/Persian culture and depression, though, so I would hate for people to walk away from my review with that impression. Regardless of their heritage and mental health status, I think plenty of readers will be able to relate to Darius. Some readers might relate to Darius on account of his geeky obsessions (most notably Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings). Others will surely see themselves in his struggle to find his place, both within his peer group and in his family. There are also some very subtle hints about Darius questioning his sexual identity, but nothing overtly sexual, so I am not sure if it even warrants the GLBTQ category but am checking it off just to be thorough. No matter the reason you choose to read this book, nevertheless, I have full confidence that Darius will teach you that it’s okay to not always be okay and that admitting you aren’t okay is the first step to getting better.
April May was working for a startup in New York City when she discovered something “absolutely remarkable”… It didn’t really have anything to do with her job, though, except for the fact that she was on her way home from work when she found it. She was trying to get home via the subway when her Metro card wouldn’t work. Since it was 3am, there was no one to help her and April decided to just try another station. It was on her way to a new subway station that she discovered Carl — a gigantic statue that resembled a Transformer wearing Samurai armor. April had no idea where the statue had come from, since there was nothing to identify the statue or its creator. But, surely someone had created it. Right?!?
I loved so many things about this story. First of all, I appreciated the fact that April came very close to brushing off and walking right by this amazing thing because she had already become so jaded and generally unimpressed by all the impressive things all around her. How often do people ignore the beauty of nature or the hard work of an artist simply because they are in a hurry to get somewhere? Far too often, in my humble opinion. Second, I loved the fact that Green explored the ways that fame and our world’s obsession with social media can fundamentally change a person. April went from a person who didn’t even really have a social media presence to a world-wide celebrity who was addicted to the fame this viral video spawned. Most of all, though, I loved the fact that April continued to assume the best about humanity (and The Carls) as she strove to both solve this mystery and fight the hatred that resulted from the fear of the unknown.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like reality TV “jumped the shark” a while ago. It seems like a lot of what the producers are trying to pawn off as “reality” is about as unrealistic as you can get. So, it didn’t even seem like too much of a stretch to think that this story could actually come true. Convicted killers being sent to an island prison [Alcatraz 2.0] where they would be hunted down by government-sanctioned killers and live streamed on an app called The Postman? Why not, right?!? I mean, especially when the beginning of the story mentioned that the President was a former reality star and used his clout to make this show happen. I actually though to myself, “I really hope no reads this story and decides to treat it like a proposal.”
While I was horrified by the comments made by people who watched the murders via The Postman app, I wasn’t terribly shocked. Society has already gotten to the point where many people are desensitized to violence, and plenty of people already make callous remarks on social media because the anonymity and distance that the internet provides. So, if people in this near-future honestly believed that the inhabitants of Alcatraz 2.0 were convicted killers who “deserved” to die… Yeah. But what if they didn’t deserve it? Dee swears that she didn’t kill her step-sister, and some of the other young inmates have similar tales of being framed. Is there any chance that they can prove themselves innocent? Who can they turn to? Will anyone even attempt to listen to what they have to say? And how can they possibly trust each other enough to try and team up when their very survival means that they shouldn’t trust anything or anybody? Talk about an edge-of-your-seat thriller.
P.S. It’s hilarious, too!