Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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Uprooted

by Naomi Novik

Rating: 5/5 stars

     A unique Beauty and the Beast retelling, Uprooted primarily takes place in a magical valley that is overseen and protected by a Lord known to the villagers as the Dragon.  On the border of the valley is a mystical Wood that is full of evil power.  In exchange for the Dragon’s protection, the villagers must sacrifice one of their girls to work in his servitude for 10 years.  After which, she will be released and a new girl will take her place.

     By the time Agnieszka is 17 years old and now eligible to be the Dragon’s next servant the rumors of what happens to these girls has spread and grown throughout the valley.  With none of these rumors being positive, the only thing dampening Agnieszka’s fear is the fact that everyone knows her best friend Kasia is the girl who will be chosen.  With Kasia being the most beautiful and accomplished girl in their valley, there is little doubt that the Dragon won’t look at the other girls.  He does however, and when he sees Agnieszka, he sees something that none of the other girls have and he has little choice but to take her back with him as the chosen girl.

Review:  I loved so many things about this story!!!  First, I love Fairytale retellings, but what is especially great about Uprooted is that is has shades of Beauty and the  Beast but is still unique enough to be its own story. Novik still inputs plenty of her own creativity to really bring this story to life.

I also loved the gender equality in this novel.  I don’t want to give much away because I think it is story that is more enjoyable with less knowledge, but there is some fighting and such that goes on, and the female characters are just as active in the fighting as the men.  Also I applaud Novik on the amount of principal female characters in this novel.  Aside from the Dragon, the rest of the main characters are women in positions of power, which was really awesome to see.

Finally, I really enjoyed the romance aspect.  This story wasn’t about falling in love with the Dragon and trying to change him or Agnieszka being attracted to the “bad boy”/abusive aspects of the Dragon’s character.  When she first goes to his home and his treatment of her is awful, she can’t stand him and wants to leave more than anything.  It isn’t until he begins making changes on his own and Agnieszka notices them that their relationship begins to take shape.

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Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

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Saint Anything

by Sarah Dessen

Rating: 4/5 stars

     Sydney has always lived in her brother, Peyton’s shadow.  When they were younger it was because of his charming personality, but as they grew up it had more to do with the trouble he was constantly in.  After finally getting help and staying clean of crime, drugs, and alcohol for a year, it looks like Peyton is finally back on track and Sydney’s life can get back to normal.  That is until Peyton paralyzes a boy while drunk driving.

     After Peyton is sentenced to prison, Sydney’s parents are less focused on her than ever and she begins branching out.  Seeking to escape her brother’s reputation, Sydney transfers schools and spontaneously starts spending her free time at a pizza shop owned by the Chatham family.  Here she finds total acceptance despite the family going through their own trials, including a mom that is battling Multiple Sclerosis.  She also meets Mac, a quiet, loyal, and protective boy who truly sees Sydney despite all the chaos in her life.

Review:  This book hit all the right chords for me.  Despite being about a very complex and heavy topic, Dessen finds a way to insert really heartwarming scenes throughout the novel that make me appreciate all the characters.  I loved that this book spent so much time on the Chatham family dynamic.  I mentioned this in my post about Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universebut it is a major pet peeve of mine when YA novels neglect to talk about the teenagers home life and parental interactions.  This is not a problem with Saint Anything.  The reader gets a super clear picture of the Chathams and Sydney’s family to make a pretty stark comparison.

Dessen also gets major points for the complexity of Peyton’s situation.  It would have been easy to paint him as a bad kid who was finally stopped when he hit a pedestrian while drunk driving.  But the fact that he was trying to get his life back on track, was applying for trade schools, and leaving his past behind, makes the reader empathize with his guilt and sadness so much more. Overall, this is a really well written YA contemporary that I would recommend to anyone 🙂

Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

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Hopeless

by Colleen Hoover

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

 Sky is a senior in high school who is attending public school for the first time after being home schooled her whole life.  With her mom, she leads a very natural and tech-free lifestyle that has left Sky pretty sheltered and unprepared for the upcoming year.  Without a cell phone, tv, or computer with internet, Sky has had to solely rely on her best friend and neighbor Six for all the information she needs to know about her upcoming year.  Unfortunately, Six has been accepted into a study abroad program and has left Sky to fend for herself.  One piece of advice Six gives Sky before leaving, is to avoid Dean Holder, a brooding senior who is rumored to have just returned to school after a year in juvie.

 It ends up being too late for that warning though, because Sky and Holder have already met and have even set up a schedule so that can take their morning runs together.  Although Sky is attracted to Holder she also wary of him and his intense moods.  While he often seems angry and tense around others, when they hang out together she feels like she is spending time with an entirely different person.  It is obvious Holder is hiding something from Sky.  While he tries to figure out the best timing to reveal his past, Sky begins to learn the truth on her own and is surprised to find how closely their pasts are linked.

Review:  I am usually a pretty big Colleen Hoover fan, however that just wasn’t the case with Hopeless.  This has everything to do with Holder’s character and his role as Sky’s love interest.  I totally get that he has some unresolved issues and that they might cause him to react negatively.  Holder is definitely dealing with a lot, but this undeniable attraction that Sky has to Holder is just bonkers!  The very first time they meet he is rude and really creepy, he follows Sky into a parking lot and then prevents her from driving away by forcing her door to stay open until he sees her ID.  Then as she drives away she sees him punching the hood of his car.  These are all things that realistically would have most people consider a restraining order, not encourage some instant crush.  He then memorizes every detail on her ID down to whether she is an organ donor, definitely some stalker-type behavior.  Although it doesn’t work with the plot, Holder clearly should be working through his own issues before trying to integrate himself into Sky’s life and solve her problems.

Sky’s past and repressed memories were an intriguing part of the plot, but this book lost me because of Holder’s behavior and Sky’s reaction to it.

The Fill-in Boyfriend by Kasie West

The Fill-in Boyfriend

By Kasie West

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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The Fill-in Boyfriend stars Gia, a selfish, snobby, high school senior who is dumped by her boyfriend on the first page of the book.  Because her boyfriend leaves her in the parking lot of her school right before prom. Gia’s most pressing issue at the moment is having to walk into the dance by herself.  She is facing pressure from her friends to finally introduce her college boyfriend to them, because it has been a few months and they are beginning to doubt his existence.

Luckily, there is a random boy sitting in a car of a parking lot, that Gia convinces  to pretend to be her ex, Bradley, for the night.  However, at the end of the night when the two break-up according to plan, Gia finds that she still wants to talk to the fill-in boyfriend, and figure out what is so different about him.  Gia’s problem, she was so focused on her issues at the beginning of prom, that she never asked this boy his name.  The rest of the novel involves Gia meeting different kinds of people than she would normally spend time with in order to reunite with her fill-in boyfriend, and discovering that her dream come true high school experience might not be all she thought it was.

Review:  The first few chapters of this book almost ruined it for me.  Gia is really, really unlikeable and it is impossible to have any kind of sympathy for the “plight” this girl is facing.  I also think that the first interactions between Gia and the Fill-in boyfriend are forced and there isn’t really any reason for the two of them to be attracted to each other, besides the fact that it is required for the plot.  However, once I began reading and saw the message West was trying to get across I was able to appreciate the story a little more. I think Gia’s awful personality is intentionally exaggerated.  She portrays extreme behaviors and habits of many high school age girls when it comes to interacting with their peers.  These include, need to constantly update social media sites, the amount importance placed on how the internet interprets our social lives, and sacrificing real authentic relationships in order to maintain a specific appearance amongst our peers.

After finishing this story, I think West is effective in making the reader pause and think about the amount of value we place on social media validating our social lives, and showing how much more fulfilling a relationship can be when you make the interactions between you and that other person the focus rather than way the public and peers will view that relationship.