Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.
With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

This book is so cute? Like I rarely read YA books where romance/sexuality is the main theme, but after various awful fantasy books, I decided to finally pick this one up (It’s been on my shelves since it first came out.That’s almost two years.) and I am so glad that I did. It was exactly what I needed to read.

It was clearly written for teens- I know it’s YA but there are sometimes books that are written so well and beautifully you forget. But this one was full of references, some that were good and others that missed slightly (eg ‘the Tumblr’ Like I get they are talking about a specific blog on tumblr but there is no ‘the’ in front of it. And even if it was, teens are lazy. We are all lazy. its easier just to say tumblr on its own)

But the awkwardness of some of the wording didn’t make a difference of how warm and fuzzy it was- from the start all the way to the end. It was funny at times, sometimes heartbreaking- when Simon was talking to another character about his choice being taken away from him, it did break my heart- but it was happy. And in a world where most media draw you in with an LGBT+ character only to have them end up broken or ruined or in most cases, dead, happy is honestly the best thing ever.

Despite the happiness, there were parts of it that struck- sadly- true. Blackmail from someone that knows- even if the other person doesnt even get that its blackmail, there is nothing like the weight of a sword above your head, ready to let it drop and announce to the world something you are not ready to say. Being outed online in vicious ways and the gentle, strange terrified feeling when you try to- or do- tell people. And the bullying afterwards. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many people you have around you supporting you, that one person that makes fun is the memory that sticks in your head.

But each part of it was done so well in this. While Simon isn’t my favourite character I’ve ever read about, he was one I understood well.

Away from the romance of the book, there was a lot more I liked about it. Supportive parents! (Oh my god so many YA books have shitty parents like why) supportive friends! Amazing teachers who take no shit! (again, theme in YA seems to be that teachers never believe if someones being bullied?) The awkwardness of teenage years and school.

however….as always, there were a few things I didn’t like.

  1. There seems to be no female friendships in this book? Like the two main girls hate each other because they both like the same guy? Maybe my school was just weird but the very few crushes I did have at school, if anyone else liked them, we shrugged and ended up talking to each other and kinda becoming friends from it.
  2. Simon makes a comment early on that ‘lesbians and bi girls have it easier coming out because guys think they are hot’ which is frankly disgusting. Not only is that basically saying that its fine to be fetishized by men but it also invalidates what those girls go through.
  3. There was also like a ‘dress up as the opposite gender’ day at their school which just made me completely cringe because really really do I need to explain how horrendous that is?

So yeah, this book isn’t all perfect. But its cute and funny and fluffy and sometimes, that is the kind of book you need to read.

*It turns out the author has actually apologized on Twitter for the comment about lesbians, saying its not something she agrees with and that she should have made it be questioned in the book.

four stars

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Stealing Snow, Danielle Paige

 

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Seventeen-year-old Snow lives within the walls of the Whittaker Institute, a high security mental hospital in upstate New York. Deep down, she knows she doesn’t belong there, but she has no memory of life outside, except for the strangest dreams. And then a mysterious, handsome man, an orderly in the hospital, opens a door – and Snow knows that she has to leave …
She finds herself in icy Algid, her true home, with witches, thieves, and a strangely alluring boy named Kai. As secret after secret is revealed, Snow discovers that she is on the run from a royal lineage she’s destined to inherit, a father more powerful and ruthless than she could have imagined, and choices of the heart that could change everything. Heroine or villain, queen or broken girl, frozen heart or true love, Snow must choose her fate …

Oh my god, where do I begin.

This book takes the bad and makes it look medal worthy, takes the ridiculous and makes it look positively normal. It makes the character development in 50 Shades look (almost) brilliant.

Firstly, I feel I should mention that I actually DNFed this book on page 202, then went and looked up the spoilers from the rest of the book because I really really didn’t feel like wasting my life reading the rest of them (even with the entertainment of liveblogging my reading)

Okay, so we start off with Snow in an asylum. Which should really have alarm bells ringing at once because like… why? Apparently at the age of 6 she tried to walk through a mirror with her friend and both are covered in many many scars from it, and her friends family tried to sue hers for it?

Like… I’ve walked into plenty of glass doors in my life, and thanks to those weird fairground rides called maze of mirrors or whatever, have also walked into some of them. At speed. Yeah, it’s painful and annoying but walking into one doesn’t cause it to break, and even if it did shatter, theres no way the scars she’s talking about would happen (its right you know, turns out later on in the books the scars are actually a map of the world she comes from.) 

She’s also… not ill enough to be in an asylum? Her worst trait is biting people. That’s it. But apparently that means that you can be dumped in one for over 10 years, without any therapy or lessons by the looks of it, being dosed up on medication they don’t explain to you.

At first, I kinda assumed it was set sometime in the past- since way back when, girls could be sent to them for normal things like reading. Or studying. Or thinking. But nope, her mother has a phone, they drive. Its modern. which is even more stupid because we still may not be perfect, but mental illness and stuff and treating and learning about it has come on in leaps and bounds in even the last 20 years.

It’s just like… The author had a massive opportunity here, to give her Main Character a real mental illness (rather than the non-existent one that isnt even believable) and still have all the cliche YOU’RE A LOST PRINCESS YOU HAVE MAGIC moments, but made it different and better by having her struggle through her illness at the same time?

Plus if she’s been on meds for 10 years and suddenly stops taking them withdrawal would happen. she wouldn’t just wake up and be like YAY I’M FREE it would be hard.

(random sidenote, also, if you one day turn up in a land that doesnt exist being told magic is real and your dad is an evil king, would you really be like oh, cool let’s go?)

(I could go on about this bit – which is only like the first 80 pages – but I’ve already written nearly 500 words on it and I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO SAY)

Next: We’ve all heard of Love Triangles. Now get ready  for The Love Square. (Or rather, if you want a handy diagram, get a piece of paper, write Female Main in the centre with a circle round it, then write Male 1 in one corner  with an arrow pointing to Female, then write Male 2 with an arrow towards her, then Male three with an arrow, then lots of side character males as well because basically, like every male character will probably end up loving her or her them in this book. As I said, I only made it half way.)

Why. Why. Why do authors do this. Espeically when Mainy spends the first 100 pages talking about how Male One is her One True Love and she even goes into this strange land to rescue him after he gets taken through a mirror (what). The first guy she meets is Mysterious and Handsome and the second one is Brooding and Grumpy and she ends up making out with both of them, wasting pages of her story (and minutes of my life) going over What If They Don’t Love Her Back or What Did That Kiss Mean.

Like I get it. Okay. I do- not everyone thinks that sex and making out and kissing is repulsive. I understand that. But she’s spent her whole entire memories worth of life in a corridor with only like 6 other teens, and only one other guy. Yet she falls in love with every guy she meets and cant chose between them, even though ALL OF THEM (and her) have the personality of a 2D drowned fish.

But… If you somehow ended up in a fantasy world, where your apparent best friend and Love Of Your Life had been kidnapped, would you really waste time flirting with other people rather than TRYING TO RESCUE HIM.

*breathes*

Added to that is the ‘friendships’ she gains? Like, the (very few) friends she makes (strangely she seems to hate almost very girl she comes across?) she just abandons without any other thought. She spends ten years in an asylum with a few other people and never gives them second thoughts, she gets to know a river witch who teaches her- and the two teenagers that stay with the witch. She seems to be friends with them then runs away and never cares again. I gave up reading just after she joins another ‘gang’ (all BEAUTIFUL FEMALES except Love Interest Number Three) but it really wouldn’t have surprised me if they abandoned them all without a care as well.

I mean, to be fair, none of the characters were memorable. I can’t even remember half their names and I put it down two days ago. So many Snow and her flatness just couldn’t help forgetting the flatness of everyone else? I’m not actually sure if all the characters were meant to be bad or if it was the authors lack of skill with 3D, realistic characters at this point. The more I think of it all, the more of a mess the book actually looks.

I could go on about the actual writing and the plot of the book forever as well, but it can all be summed up with just the word…disappointing. The writing in most places was stilted and almost painful, the descriptions non existent. Most speech was awkward and cringe-worthy to read and just… I expected far more from what I had heard about the authors other series.

Plotwise- I couldn’t actually tell if this was meant to be a retelling of Snow White or The Snow Queen. Major hint, guys, not the same story, despite both having the word Snow in the title. For the entire time Mainy was in the asylum, she refers to her meds asthe seven dwarfs which made me assume it was Snow White But then suddenly its a whole new tale? And then Alice in Wonderland type things kept appearing? It was just really confusing and annoying.

I like retellings. I like seeing what people can do to a story we all know, I like seeing which parts of the fairytale they think are the most important. But to do a retelling correctly, the fairytale has to be recognizable. You can’t just call a main character Snow and go of course its a Snow Queen retelling! Like, no. I didn’t get a single real hint at all. It was like she had muddled every fairytale up in her head and couldn’t decide which one to do.

So, all in all, a book that I question even giving one star to. If you want fairytale retellings with a twist and magic and lost princesses, please, please read The Lunar Chronicles instead of this. Hell, I don’t even know if I’m going to read Dorathy Must Die after reading this, and I own that already.

one star

PS- Snow’s magic power is to control snow. Right. But the River Witch, who controls water, can’t control snow. Maybe my whole life has been a lie, but isn’t snow just really cold water?

Under Rose-Tainted Skies, Louise Gornall

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At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

After the awfulness of some other YA contemporary books I’ve read recently, I didn’t hold up much for this one. I’d seen a lot online about it, though, and the fact that it was realistic in the mental illnesses it portrayed and thought I would actually give it a chance.

I was so so wary going into this. I had a proof copy, so I don’t know what it says on the back of finished ones, but the blurb on mine made it sound like the whole girl meets boy girl falls in love *poof* mental illness cured! Which… yeah, I’m definitely not the only one that hates the whole idea of that thing. It really really isn’t like that at all. But I had the book and I knew enough about it to be interested, so I started it.

It was slow. There is no denying that, and for someone like me, who likes fast paced fantasy and on-the-edge-of-your-seat plots, it was hard to get into (pretty much why this is a 4 star and not a 5 star.) but how can it be anything but slow, when the main characters whole world is the four walls of her house?

But that slowness didn’t stop the story, or make it boring. With something like agoraphobia, it would have been easy to slump down the monotonous route-with how Main Character’s, Norah, life was, it would have been more than easy. But Gornall is a clever writer that it never seems that way. She has just proven that you dont need massive world building and endless sets to create a beautiful story.

Because it was beautiful. In its writing but also in the truth of the mental illnesses it tackled. It was unflinching in everything, from the anxiety to the panic attacks to the self harm- and also the treatment of them all. And you know what else was beautiful? The fact that Norah has a caring support system from her mother. In so many YA novels, the parents are the bad guys. The ones that don’t understand, or don’t care, or teach their kids as less. Or even, aren’t in the story at all. But Norah’s mum worries and cares- but when Luke appears on the scene, she doesn’t smother. She just tries to help, and its lovely to see.

And lets talk about Luke. He’s apparently your average teen- good looking, and wanted by the High School Queen (this is a running theme in YA books. Was it just me that never seemed to have one of Those Types while in school?). He’s caring and funny and desperately wants to know Norah. I loved the interaction between these two. Because it wasn’t all love will cure everything. It was awkward- not just when Luke didn’t know anything about her, but even after she explained it, and they were trying to ‘date’. Luke made mistakes- as everyone does, and it’s heartbreaking to see from both sides.

Luke wasn’t the ‘cure’. Norah was not ‘cured’ at the end of the book- she still struggled leaving the house- even when her life was at risk- she still struggled with her OCD and anxiety. But Luke was almost… motivation (not the right word but I can’t think of it at the moment) to get better. To try the treatments suggested to her.

Though some of the book was funny, a lot of it was gritty and hard to read. Because she does struggle with a lot, and the book is written in her POV, you see a lot of what goes on in her head, and sometimes some of the things she went through reminded me of things I’ve struggled with in the past. But not all books are meant to be light- and books that rotate around characters with mental illnesses shouldn’t be easy, because mental illness isn’t easy.

It was an honest view into Norah’s life, and I really enjoyed it and I recommend it to everyone, no matter your normal reading tastes.

four stars