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Weekly Reviews and Recommendations: Week 4




Hello, everyone! Even though this week has been super hectic, I've managed to read and review three great books. I was pretty sure that only two of them were going to make it, but thanks to will I didn't know I had and weekend free time, I was able to add Piper Perish to the list this week. All three books this week were all great reads, and they all came from Teen Book Con, so I'm going to include extra pictures of the signed title pages of the books because I think getting to see how each author signed them was interesting. Enjoy! - Lauren



We Are Okay by Nina LaCour (234 pages) https://www.amazon.com/We-Are-Okay-Nina-LaCour-ebook/dp/B01K1ATZ36/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491767397&sr=8-1&keywords=We+are+okay
Overview: We Are Okay follows protagonist Marin's story as she progressively works through her past to heal after her grandfather, her only living family, passes away. When her grandfather dies, Marin flees San Fransisco and heads to New York where she is set to start college in the fall. She doesn't say goodbye to anyone or even stop to get her cloths. After an uncomfortable stint in a motel, the dorms open and classes start and Marin is able to fall into the safety of a new schedule and life sans her old friends and everything she ever knew. And she is successful in ignoring the problems her old life left behind until her (ex?) best friend Mabel comes to stay with her for three days over winter break. That is the course of this story. Told in the three day space of Mabel's visit with nearly alternating chapters of flashback to fill in the gap, this simple yet complex story. Overall: 4.5

Characters: 4 I thought that LaCour did a beautiful job shaping the characters and giving them the strong feeling of reality. Each one seems like a person who could really exist; they are whole. Marin faces the ultimate highs as well as the ultimate lows leading up to the start of the novel. She handles this by shoving it away and shutting out some of the hobbies that used to define her. She's morphing and changing what she thought she knew about herself to cope.
As for the other characters, we see them through Marin's lens, which is how it should be in first person. But Marin knows these people. She doesn't really delve into them or discover them in a way that would give the readers a deep connection with them. And that is okay. They exist in Marin's life honestly and in this way. And we get to know them through actions and flashbacks. The tight, exclusive cast is well done and well balanced. I also have to note that exploring Marin Mabel's relationship was amazing. Like everything else, the flow and movement and the discovery is simple which invites an entirely new layer of complexity.The only reason they don't get a full five stars is because of the short, three day time span there's not quite the intimacy through time and surmountable growth in them that is purely breathtaking. But Marin is anything but a static character, and LaCour has simply chosen to only show the peak of her discovery which has its own merits.

Plot: 4.5 This story is simply the three days of Mabel's first time seeing or speaking to Marin since she fled San Fransisco. We see the tension and the uneasiness, and we see them have to work through it and face it. The story is simple, the plot points and the motions they go through. They have dinner, they wash dishes, they see shops, and they sit together. They do real things that real people do every day, and it grounds the story. It never feels like its filler or things you want to skip through. On the contrary, it makes the reader feel immersed in Marin's life.

Writing: 5 This is where We Are Okay both shines the brightest and steps back, and the first really allows the second. Reading it is effortless. I know what Marin feels and I feel it. I know what she sees and I see it. I know what she hears and I hear it. Simple as that. Frilly writing never gets in the way. But if you look at it to really see the writing and the tactics she's used to enhance the story, it is breathtaking, beautiful, and sweet. Really, it is open to the reader to just fall into the story or to marvel at LaCour's stunning technique. I did both, and her writing is now what sticks in my mind and fascinates me. And there are two main things she's done in the book that completely blew me away.
First, she has an amazing capability to make deeply complex things seem simple in the best way possible. It is sweet and effortless. She weaves quiet devices behind easy words to make the reader feel things and think things without ever directly mentioning things. The reader learns so much without ever feeling like they're been told a things. And her handling of growth and loss and change becomes a breathtaking piece one drop of water from shower or faucet at a time. She uses the simple and the ordinary things to create big, sturdy pictures in the readers mind. And that has left me in awe.
Second, she uses the most beautiful tactic to get us to understand Marin and her headspace. As Mabel describes and is evident in the way she references novels in her head, Marin loves to read, and she loves to analyze it for complexity and explore every way of seeing something. It is said that she is an English Major. But after all she has been to, she talks about maybe switching to Natural Sciences. She talks about the calming effect of Hannah reading about bees, honeycomb, the natural world and sciences. Facts. And while it is never stated explicitly, it gives the reader a beautiful understanding of her want and wish for the world to be black and white after what has happened to her despite loving the grey. She has to step back and reassess. And the comparison is something I found breathtaking

Random Final Notes: First, the cover art is just beautiful. I thought it was impressive when I first saw it, but having read the book you can see the elements and the nuances brought in which make it even better. Even the first two pages on the inside of the hardcover have beautiful art. So happy I will have it forever. Second, the title is amazing. It caught my eye and convinced me I had to read it before I even saw the summary. Third, I had the pleasure of briefly meeting Nina LaCour at Teen Book Con last Saturday, and she is so nice, helpful, and wonderful. Having heard her speak made reflecting on the story and my signed copy even more special.




Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan (410 pages) https://www.amazon.com/Piper-Perish-Kayla-Cagan-ebook/dp/B01LY1FXW0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491767431&sr=8-1&keywords=piper+perish
Overview: Piper Perish is the journal of, well, Piper Perish who goes from high school senior to graduate over the course of the story. The book covers the events of her spring semester of senior year into August after graduation. The main focus of the story is Piper, an artist's, desire to escape Houston where she has lived her entire life and go to New York, where is is convinced she belongs. The road to getting there, though, is much rockier than she imagined. Having to deal with friendship and relationship troubles, her crazy sister moving back in, and finical difficulties, the reader gets to watch as Piper faces and works to overcome each roadblock on the road to success. Overall: 4.5

Characters: 4 I thought that Cagan did a great job creating the cast of characters. Piper had an authentic voice and was a believable character. I guess I'm not gushing with things to say about her because, even though there were some aspects of her I identified with, I never said "Wow that's me." And that isn't anything against Piper, the book, or Cagan, and I know that she is a quality character that people will identify with because I know people like her. Also, I did enjoy reading Piper's journal very much and hearing her take on the world.
As for the other characters, they all suited their purposes very well. But as with any journal form (or even first person story really) where the focus is so heavily on the protagonist, we don't see much of the other characters. We only see where they effect the protagonist's life. So I cannot comment much on the other characters beyond saying that they were a well developed group that served their purposes wonderfully.

Plot: 4.5 The second I read the summary, I was sold. A girl trying to escape Houston, where she feels trapped, to follow her dreams? I felt like it was echoing my life. That was my "I completely identify and get this" moment with the book. And as I read it, already eager to see that plot unfold, I was taken by Cagan's various subplot that interwove with the main plot beautifully. The complicated and broken sibling relationship between Piper and Marli. The strain it puts on her relationship with her parents. The upheaval of her once solid friendships. A financial strain that turns into so much more. And that's not even all of it. After the first twenty pages or so, I got sucked into the story.

Writing: 4.5 Writing a story in journal form is hard. While it gives so much freedom for introspection, moving a story using true journal form is hard. And that is where most authors lose me with, if it's done well, my favorite form of fiction writing. But not Cagan. I give her all the praise in the world for executing such a true and loyal to this format book. While there was a few times where it strayed into a bit too much detail for an real journal, I cannot bring fault. Real scenes with quotations are just plain necessary in books, but she balanced them and grounded them with true journal accounts. Also, the attention to detail with the journal form was great. When I first started, I wondered why the emphasis words were underlined instead of italicized before I realized that italics are impossible with handwritten texts. Cagan did a beautiful job managing plenty of tricky technicalities.

Random Notes: First, reading a book that takes place in the city where you live is the coolest. The two other books that I read this week took place in the San Fransisco area, so I enjoyed recognizing the name and really understanding it. (I had to text my friend when it mentioned going to Texas Art Supply. "Like the good one in Montrose.") If you don't live here, none of that really matters, but it was the first book I've ever read that's been set here which made it extra special for me. And by the same token, there is a little section that kind of deals with the cowboy stereotype that I had to send to my friends because I tell her nearly the same thing all the time. Second, I also met Kayla Cagan at Teen Book Con, and she is so nice as well. And if she reads this, I appreciate her reInstagraming my post about Teen Book Con more than anyone can fathom. Hearing and getting to interact with amazing authors is one of the coolest things ever, in my opinion. Third, the hardcover copy is impressive. Not only do I love the cover, but it also has the nicest, thickest, smoothest pages I have ever encountered. It made reading it even more of a pleasure.

"Embrace the cliches"

Never Always Sometimes by Adi Alsaid (282 pages) https://www.amazon.com/Never-Always-Sometimes-coming-age-ebook/dp/B01EROMU7K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491767457&sr=8-1&keywords=never+always+sometimes
Overview: This is the story of Julia and Dave who have been best friends forever. As they reach the end of their senior year, they discover the "Never List" that they wrote at the end of high school of all the things they would never do because they were cliche. The book takes places as they move through each item on the never list. What starts as almost a joke actually turns into a beneficial and fun experiment for the two who had always sworn to be different and judged the people who went with the crowd. Overall: 4

Characters: 4 I really liked Julia a lot. She wants to be an original. She uses the entire dictionary of words and often has witty comments to make. She is intelligent but also free spirited and adventurous. Julia also follows an interesting character arch through the book that draws a nice contrast to the one that her friend Dave experiences, and in a way, it highlights the glaring difference between the two. Julia is entirely against the grain and set in doing whatever she pleases. Dave comes off as a follower.
Dave wasn't a bad character. He was actually an interesting one when you looked below the surface a bit. While he comes off to everyone as one of the unique people, an intentional outcast, per say, in reality, he has just clung on to Julia, who has a strong conviction to be an original. When they start to live out the cliches, the more he interacts with them, the more he becomes them. And there are plenty of people in the world like that, so I give Alsaid props for crafting near polar opposites Dave and Julia so convincingly.
As for the other characters, the only two that are heavily involved in the story line is Gretchen and Brett. Gretchen is the popular girl soccer player who is smart, nice to everyone, and has a whole legion of friends. Of course, Julia immediately dismisses her as a cardboard cut out, token high school popular girl. Then Dave meets her, and the trouble begins. Depending on how you want the storyline to go in your head, she waffles between protagonist and antagonist and seeming like a fine character and a flimsy one. Unlike Dave, I air more on the side of Julia, more skeptical of these so called layers and deeper facets that Dave claims she possesses, but that is up for personal interpretation. I liked Brett a lot more. He might actually be my second favorite character. As ex high school royalty and Dave's brother, Brett has fallen into being a cliche of his own, living at home and looking at high school as the "glory days." His relationship with Julia and his humor make him a fun character to read about even if he just shows up here and there.

Plot: 4 I thought that the concept for this book was fascinating. I've never seen such a direct approach to taking on the cliches in the world. Going through the Never List is the main point at the beginning before the list creates its own problems that take the lead. There's a love triangle, the oblivious boy, and the uncertain best friend. But I thought that the execution, which had plenty of room to turn cheesy, was actually quite good.

Writing: 4 This book is written in three parts. Part 1 is from Dave's point of view in third person limited. The second is Julia's point of view in third person limited, and the last is labeled Julia and Dave and uses semi alternating chapters from the two to finish narrating the story. Just from personal preference, I would have liked it better had it been in first person. The world through Dave's lens was a bit bland for my taste, but I think that it was effective because Dave is so go with the flow and doesn't invite much emotion into things. I enjoyed Julia's section much more, and Alsaid did a great job of bringing her unique voice into his third person prose, which is not an easy thing to do.
The strong point of this book from a writing standpoint is the dialogue. I loved reading the back and forth banter and the comments, and it felt very authentic for each character and realistic. I found the descriptions and narration a touch overwritten and over explaining, though. But overall, the book and the communications of the characters were well done. This was a fun and thought provoking read that I enjoyed very much.

Favorite Line: "When the sun started to bruise the sky..." Is that not the coolest, most unique way to describe a sunset?

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