Top Ten Best-Dressed YA Novels

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week is a cover-themed freebie, so I decided to feature my…

Top Ten Best Dressed YA Novels

I’m an absolute sucker for beautiful ladies in beautiful dresses and there are so many to choose from in Young Adult fiction!

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Inbox // Outbox 4/3/17

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Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

I hated, hated, hated the Divergent series… but am willing to give Roth another try.

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

This is my go-to read for this weekend.  I wasn’t overly impressed by the first book in this series, but

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

One of my favorite podcasts just did an episode discussing this book and it made me want to pick it up again.  I haven’t read it since early high school!  That was ten years ago and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate it properly.  Thankfully, my library had an audiobook copy available on the shelf.  I will be traveling long-distance next weekend and hope to convince my car buddy to let us listen to it.

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A Sunday in Photos

I’ve been experiencing writer’s block lately, so I thought I’d tell you about my day through a slightly different medium.  Enjoy!


Sunday Morning:

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The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit at my local coffee shop.

Sunday Afternoon:

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Salt by Nayyirah Waheed at Interstate State Park

Sunday Night:

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han in my bedroom

How was your Sunday?

On the Shelf: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I’ve noticed this book every time I’ve browsed through the Young Adult Fiction section at Target and finally decided to give it a shot.  Being a bit of a world explorer, I’ve always been drawn to coming-of-age-in-Europe tales and was excited to get a taste of Italy.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

25756328“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

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On the Shelf: Winter by Marissa Meyer

FINALLY, the conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Lunar Chronicles series.  This book was released on my birthday and it was one of my favorite gifts.

This post contains spoilers.

winter-finalMy rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

To answer the question in the summary: Yes they can.

I knew that these books would tie up neatly.  The tone in which they are written doesn’t imply defeat.  It was clear that all would end well, that Cinder would cast down Levana and reclaim the the Lunar throne.  I knew that the four couples would get together.

But, oh, how I loved the ride.

The thing about this series is that it’s not perfect.  To be honest, the characterization is patchy at points.  I like most of the male characters, but some of the heroines *cough*Scarlet*cough* are boring.  The plot tends to be predictable.

But what Meyer does is create a world and enjoyable that is so original that I can’t help overlook the weak points.  I loved my time in these books.  There are a lot of dystopian YA worlds out there and while the way her Earth is structured is similar to many of its contemporaries, the existence of Luna makes hers unique.  I mean, she’s got a society of magical aliens who can manipulate people’s minds who live on the moon!  How cool is that?

I adore the way Meyer merges dystopian lit with fairytales.  She balances them well.  Throughout the series, we see familiar moments: Cinderella losing her shoe, Red Riding Hood searching for her grandmother, Rapunzel escaping her tower, Snow White eating a poisoned apple.  But they’re morphed: Cinder is a cyborg and loses a foot and Cress is a computer-hacker and escapes a satellite.  Meyer strikes a wonderful balance between reteling stories from long ago while creating something new.  She has the hallmark moments, but those moments don’t overwhelm the story.  It’s almost as if the story pauses over the moments, acknowledges the source material, and then pulses forward into something entirely new.

While some of her characters get old, the rest are incredibly endearing.  Cinder is probably my favorite.  For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella retelling and Meyer’s princess has stolen my heart.  I mean… she’s a cyborg mechanic!  How cool is that?  She meets the fairytale requirements, but also throws them off entirely.  I also really love Carsewell Thorne, the dashing, obnoxious thief who is the hero of the third installment of the series.  Cress is timid to the point of being annoying, but definitely grew on me.  I couldn’t help love Winter and Jacin’s relationship.  Iko, though, remained one of my favorite characters.  Even though she’s an android, she is incredibly human.  She’s the perfect companion for Cinder, matching Cinder’s quiet intensity with her bubbly charm.  More than once, her swooning and sighing over attractive men and beautiful fashion made me laugh out loud.

I won’t go too far into revealing plot details, but the story doesn’t disappoint.  Characters are constantly coming together and becoming separated, various storylines weaving together towards the final conclusion.  The final showdown between Cinder and Levanna is extremely satisfying.  The happily-ever-after wraps up all the loose ends.

When I reached the end of Winter, all I wanted to do was go back and read the series again.  Meyer’s fairytale retellings are endearing, successful, and I know they will grow on me the more time I spend with them.

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Fan art by candy8496 on DeviantArt

Be sure to check out my review of Fairest: Levanna’s Story as well!

On the Shelf: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Of my most recent library haul, this was my favorite.

Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

Summary from GoodreadsDuring a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.  New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can’t help but be drawn back into the land of the living.

My Thoughts:

This was one of the most poigniant YA novels I’ve read in a while.  Wood beautifully captures the awkwardness, messiness, and pain of being a teenager without making me roll my eyes once.  So often, YA protagonists are either unrealistically shallow or unrealistically intelligent.  Wood’s are somewhere in the middle.

Wildlife is all about discovery.  In a way, it’s the story we all go through as teens.  It’s about finding a way through the messiness of life and figuring out who you are.  Her main characters are beautiful and complex individuals that captured my heart.  Their stories highlight different aspects of the teenage experience that felt authentic.

Until recently, Syb had never been popular and she was always okay with that.  But when her aunt scores her a modeling gig, her face plastered on a billboard becomes her ticket to the cool table.  Suddenly, the most popular boy in her grade likes her, she’s the center of attention, and her childhood best friend is right by her side, urging her to take advantage of the opportunity.  Deep down, she knows that popularity and the behavior surrounding it just isn’t her.  But, at the same time, she really likes the popular boy.  Stuck between two worlds, she has to decide what really matters–being with the cool kids or being true to herself.

Then, there’s Lou.  Dear, dear Lou.  Devastated by the death of her boyfriend, Lou is still in deep mourning when we meet her at the beginning of the novel.  She has no desire to engage with the world.  She attends therapy, but puts on a show to make them think she’s getting better.  She’s empty inside.  All her thoughts go to the one she lost.  When all her friends go spend a term in Paris, she decides to transfer schools just in time for their wilderness survival term.  Lou steps up to the challenge, finding solace in grueling hikes and beautiful scenery.  Forced to live in close-quarters with a handful of girls, she can’t help but become slowly involved in their lives.

Wildlife isn’t the most gripping novel out there, but what strikes me most is its honesty.  Wood poses questions and gives realistic, truthful answers.  Is popularity worth it?  When is it right to start having sex?  What is it like to lose a loved one?  What does friendship look like?

The best part?  It’s all set at camp!

Sample Quote:

“The trouble is that keeping [memory] alive, giving it all that energy, will, determination, stops me being alive in the present.  I’m not stupid.  I don’t need Esthers and Merills to tell me that is not a brilliant way for a sixteen-year-old to live.  I know what you would say.  You’d say, get on with it, Lou m’Lou.  There’s a lot more to do than thinking about me.  Don’t hang out somewhere that isn’t anymore.  Don’t haunt the landlost past, you’d say… I’ve written you a hundred unsent letters.  Maybe if I keep writing and sealing them, they can sit somewhere safely.  Our story is a one-sided correspondence–I know that’s oxymoronic–and I can allow that to be it.  I can put a lid… I can just go there sometimes… I can know it’s there, safely; we are there.”

You Will Like This Book If: You enjoy Young Adult fiction, wilderness, camp life, and coming of age stories.

Removing the Pedestal: Why Paper Towns is Culturally Important

This weekend, my the film adaptation of my favorite John Green novel is being released.  In light of this, I’d like to pause my usual On the Shelf book reviews in order to talk about why this story is important–not just to me, but to culture in general.

As far as plots go, Paper Towns is predictable.

Q, the hero of the book, fits the average, nice guy mold to a tee.  He drives his mom’s minivan, hangs out with the band kids, and hates the whole idea of prom.  He actually tries (to an extent) in school, never breaks rules, and is secretly in love with the girl next door.

Then, one night, Margo Roth Spiegelman (the beautiful, mysterious girl Q loves) shows up at his window and takes him on the all-night, prank filled adventure of his dreams.

We live in a culture that idealizes women.  We place them up on pedestals, see only the pieces of them that we choose, and in the process.  Women are seen as perfect, pristine creatures that must be served, protected, and loved.  In the process, their humanity slips away.  Idealized women are scattered throughout literature, starting with the Troubadours in medieval France.  It was true in the Victorian Age when Coventry Patmore wrote his famous poem about “Angels in the House“.  It happens in Tennyson’s Guinevere in Idyls of the King–a poem in which the failure of Camelot’s queen to live on a pedestal brings about the destruction of a nation.  The idealized women shows up in the form of Daisy Buchanan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  There are hundreds of examples out there.  Literature and film are great shapers of how people think and the presence of supposedly perfect women only leads to the expectation that such women actually exist. (Newsflash: They don’t.)

It’s not surprising, then, that our fictional friend Margo finds herself on a pedestal.  In fact, this is one of the first things we ever learn about her.  In the novel’s prologue, Q informs us that:

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle. Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust. But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us. I could have seen it rain frogs. I could have stepped foot on Mars. I could have been eaten by a whale. I could have married the Queen of England or survived months at sea. But my miracle was different. My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.

When the wonderful miracle that is Margo disappears, of course Q feels compelled to rescue her.

In addition to idealizing women, culture has messages for men as well.  You see, we live in a culture that is obsessed with guys “getting the girl”.  Don’t believe me?  Go pick up any chick flick released in the past thirty years.  You’ll see what I’m talking about.  So many movies and books teach men that they can get the girl if they just try hard enough.  Although this story line leads to some adorable, enjoyable, films, it also introduces rhetoric that is alarming.  It implies that nice guys get girls.  Which isn’t always the case.

Messages like these are powerful.  They have consequences.  In 2014, Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree on his college campus to enact revenge against all women.  His logic?  Watch the video he made before committing his murders.  It’s bone-chillingly familiar.

Back to Paper Towns.

The story has been told before.  Average boy (Q) loves unattainable, idealized girl next door (Margo).  Idealized girl disappears and average boy feels the need to rescue her.  They fall in love, ride into the sunset, and live happily ever after.

Or do they?

This is where Green turns the tables.  This is where things get good.

What if Margo is aware that everyone around her idealizes her?  What if she would rather disappear completely than continue living on her pedestal?  What if Q goes on a quest to save her but, instead of saving her, discovers that he never actually knew her in the first place?

The story’s main message is pounded into Q’s head through retracing Margo’s steps and closely analyzing Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”.  In order to find Margo, Q must put himself in her shoes, to see the world as she does.  In the process, he learns that he knows nothing.

Q’s quest, ultimately, isn’t about Margo at all.  It’s about stripping away preconceived notions and learning to see people as they really are.  At one point, one of his friends even points this out, saying “You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves.

Ultimately, this leads to Q’s major revelation:

Yes. The fundamental mistake I had always made—and that she had, in fairness, always led me to make—was this: Margo was not a miracle. She was not an adventure. She was not a fine and precious thing. She was a girl.

This is why I love Paper Towns.  Green spoon feeds us the expected “boy gets girl” story only to turn the tables.  The story isn’t about finding Margo.  It’s about taking Margo off the pedestal and restoring her humanity.  It’s about stripping away the ideal and acknowledging that people, even beautiful ones, are cracked, flawed, and messed up.  In the end, the story presents us with the challenge of seeing people as they really are.

My favorite line from the book states it perfectly:

To finish it all off, I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie adaptation.  I know it won’t be exactly like the book, but I’m okay with that.  I’ve been assured by John Green (via Vlogbrothers videos) that it stays true to the message of the book–a message that I believe is powerful and relevant.

P.S. Much of this post was influenced by the Courtly Love literature class I took this past Spring.  A huge thank you to my professor for giving me insight into the importance of these messages and the way they affect society.

On the Shelf: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

I’m currently plugging through the masterpiece that is The Silmarilion by J.R.R. Tolkien, but since I can only cover about twenty pages a day due to its density, I’ve been reading more YA on the side.

So, this week I’ll be discussing The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet… or the novelized version of the hit YouTube show, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

Summary: Twenty-four-year-old grad student Lizzie Bennet is saddled by student loan debt and still living at home along her two sisters – beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. When she starts recording her reflections on life for her thesis project and posts them on YouTube, she has no idea The Lizzie Bennet Diaries will soon take on a life of their own, becoming an online sensation and turning the Bennet sisters into internet celebrities, seemingly overnight.
When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things really start to get interesting for the Bennets — and for Lizzie’s viewers. But not everything happens on-screen. Lucky for us, Lizzie has a secret diary.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet takes readers deep inside Lizzie’s world and well beyond the confines of her camera — from the wedding where she first meets William Darcy to the local hangout of Carter’s bar, and much more. Providing revealing details about the Bennet household, including Lizzie’s growing suspicions about her parents’ unstable financial situation and her sister’s budding relationship with Bing Lee; her anxieties about life after grad school, the perils of her unexpected fame; and her uncertainty over her future… and whom she wants to share it with.
Featuring plenty of fresh twists to delight fans and new readers alike, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet expands on the web series phenomenon that captivated a generation and reimagines the Pride and Prejudice story like never before.

My Thoughts:

Honestly… I disliked this book.  Usually because of the writing style, YA novels suck me in.  This one left me flat on my face.  The thing is, I ADORE the YouTube series.  That’s why I went through the trouble of buying the book.  But, unfortunately, the book wasn’t worth it.

What I love about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that it takes a two hundred year old story that I’ve been reading and rereading since the age of thirteen and breathes new life into it.  I was an early viewer–catching wind of the series within its first ten episodes.  I remember agonizing over Mondays and Thursdays when new ones would be released.  I found myself hating Darcy, moaning over Wickham’s lies, and falling in love all over again.  It does incredible things with characters like Charlotte and Lydia who, in Austen’s original, get sidelined and written off.  The way the creators modernize key events and scenes is not only delightful, but believable.

The show took storytelling to a completely new platform–YouTube.  It broke remarkable ground, won an Emmy, and set the trend of adapting classic literature to web video format.  In short, I could gush about my love for LBD for hours.

Written upon the waves of the show’s success, the novelized version takes us behind the camera into Lizzie’s life.  We get to hear about things from her private perspective–learning insights and details that aren’t in the videos.  Although intriguing, the concept falls flat.

My main issue with the book is that it’s just not well written.  I’ve taken enough creative writing classes to know the old “Show, Don’t Tell” mantra like the back of my hand.  But seriously–whoever edited this novel needed to remind the writers of this basic tip.  The book was primarily Lizzie telling us things.  Yes, this is fitting for the diary format.  But it’s just not satisfying.  Scenes left me wanting more.  On-screen characters I adore fall completely flat on page.  They’re underdeveloped and unlikable.  I found myself picking up the book just to get it over with, not because I savored it.

You Will Like This Book If: You like fluffy YA love stories and Pride & Prejudice retellings

I Recommend: Skip the book.  Watch the web series.

On my bookshelf

When I’m not running around doing campus ministry or diagramming sentences for Grammar & Language or working the circulation desk at the library, you can usually find me with a book.  (Actually, now that I think about it, I have a book in all three of those situations… but I digress).  I’m taking less credits than usual this semester, which means I have slightly more free time.  So, in true English major fashion, I’ve been filling my time with books!

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately.

1. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is Elizabeth Gaskell’s first novel, a widely acclaimed work based on the actual murder, in 1831, of a progressive mill owner. It follows Mary Barton, daughter of a man implicated in the murder, through her adolescence, when she suffers the advances of the mill owner, and later through love and marriage. Set in Manchester, between 1837-42, it paints a powerful and moving picture of working-class life in Victorian England.

(Description from Goodreads)

The perks of being in a Victorian literature class is that I’m assigned books I’d read for fun.  I just finished Mary Barton this afternoon (a week earlier than the syllabus called for) and loved it!  Gaskell vividly describes life for the lower classes of Manchester, makes a complicated argument for the solution of class disatisfaction.  About halfway through the novel, Gaskell changes pace and I found myself unable to put the book down, wanting to know what happens to all the characters.  I found the end a bit unsatisfying, but am willing to forgive Gaskell for that.

2. The Selection series by Kiera Cass

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself–and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.

(Description from Goodreads)

I downloaded the first book for cheap on my Kindle for reading material at the gym and then proceeded to read the entire series in a week.  The trilogy definitely has weaknesses–it feels like a cheap knock-off of The Hunger Games, characters are pretty two-dimensional, and it’s not that well written.  Despite these things, though, I adored the trilogy.  It’s like The Hunger Games meets reality t.v. meets fairy tales.  They’re not perfect, but make for excellent brain candy.  And, oh my goodness, the covers are SO PRETTY.

2. Enchantress by James Maxwell

Ella and her brother, Miro, are orphans, their parents killed long ago in the ongoing struggle against the mad Emperor.

From the day Ella witnesses an enchanter using his talents to save Miro from drowning, she knows what she wants to be. But the elite Academy of Enchanters expects tuition fees and knowledge. Determined, Ella sells flowers and studies every book she can. Meanwhile, Miro dreams of becoming one of the world’s finest swordsmen, wielding his nation’s powerful enchanted weapons in defense of his homeland.

A dark force rises in the east, conquering all in its path, and Miro leaves for the front. When the void Miro left is filled by Killian, a charming stranger from another land, Ella finds herself in love. But Killian has a secret, and Ella’s actions will determine the fate of her brother, her homeland, and the world.

(Description from Goodreads)

I haven’t finished this one yet.  It’s my current gym salve.  (By that, I mean it takes my mind off the pain of the gym and gives me something to do.)  Book one of a trilogy, the only reason I happened upon this one was because it was a featured daily deal on the Kindle store.  It’s not particularly well written, not very original, and the characters feel really flat.  But Maxwell creates a very compelling world that I want to know more about.  I’ve avoided reading Goodreads comments on this one, not wanting to spoil my enjoyment.  Because, so far, it’s definitely been an enjoyable read!

4. The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

(Description from Goodreads)

This was my brain candy this past weekend.  I downloaded a copy on my Kindle from the local library.  Again, it’s your typical coming-of-age YA novel, but enjoyable.  Schneider’s writing reminds me of John Green and Rainbow Rowell.  It was a fast, fun read.

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Have you read any good books lately?  What were they?  Do you have any recommendations?