Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A.E. Kaplan (312 pages)
Overview: Tom Grendel lives in a retirement community with his father, an army vet who suffers from PTSD after serving in Iraq. His sister, Zip, has graduated college recently and lives in New York, and his mother passed away when he was nine. Tom likes living in this quiet, geriatric filled community and planned on spending his summer mowing lawns to save for college and collecting the stories of his neighbors. But everything changes when his lovely, old neighbors move to a retirement home making way for their grand niece and her high school aged children to move in. Left unsupervised when their mother is called away on an assignment reporting on a hurricane, siblings Willow, who Tom happens to have a crush on, and her menacing older brother, Rex are left to their own devices. Rex's crazy, and somehow unstoppable parties, are only made worse when their twenty-one year old cousin Wolf comes to "watch" them. As the parties get worse, Tom is determined to rid the neighborhood of them for the sake of his neighbors and his father before he returns from a two week long business trip. Having to get creative to shut down the parties, the unlikely squad of Willow, Ed, Tom's best friend, Zip, and Tom try to create schemes that will end the parties once and for all. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 Tom is a great character and narrator. He is determined to help his father who has struggled with PTSD. He also wants to piece back together the memories of his mother through her art. Having so many questions about his own deceased loved one leads him to want to gather the stories of his neighbors before they die so that their memories don't have to die with them. While everyone else tells Tom this is stupid, he is determined to continue with his project.
Willow, the sister and cousin of the demon spawn next door, also presents an interesting character. She is grappling with the world and her feelings about it, often times closing herself off due to her mother's overexposure. The rest of the supporting cast is also well rounded and three dimensional with their own hopes, dreams, and fears.
Plot: 5 While the main story revolves around the elaborate schemes to rid the neighborhood of parties, there are many other subplots that deal with the major theme of loss whether it be loss of a neighbor who Tom felt partially responsible for, still grieving the loss of his mom, or trying to reconcile the part of his father he lost to war. This makes a very interesting and profound story with plenty of levity and action as well.
Writing: 5 When I picked up this book from the library, I honestly couldn't remember how it had made it onto my hundred book long TBR list, but I needed books, so I went for it anyway. The writing had me hooked the second I read the first page. The strong first person voice grabbed me and pulled me in, and I stopped caring what the book was even about. And it did not disappoint. I loved Tom's voice as well as his story. A.E. Kaplan pulled together a beautiful and complex story, emotionally and structurally, and presented it in a straight forward manner through the mouth of an awesome character. This truly carries all the components of a five star book. Now I wish I remembered how I stumbled upon it.
History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera (292 pages)
Overview: Griffin has lost the love of his life; don't try to undermine that because he's only seventeen. When Theo drowns in California at the beach with his new boyfriend, Griffin doesn't know how to handle it. Theo and Griffin were always supposed to wind up together no matter what detours they took on the way there. His death changes everything sending Griffin who struggled with his OCD and other personal problems beforehand into a tailspin. He works to sort through his relationships with the people who knew Theo best, forcing himself to reevaluate his preconceived notions. The present day aftermath paired with Griffin and Theo's story creates an interesting and compelling novel full of twists and turns, some you might see coming and others that are total surprises, though it never really hit the point of deep emotional resonance for me. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Each of the main characters in the story carry great complexity. Watching them, especially Griffin, try to reevaluate what the world means and how they fit into it is the most compelling part of the novel. Silvera does a great job of showing the depth in the characters. I applaud him most for showcasing the darker side of Theo even though the point of view character of the story holds him on a pedestal.
Plot: 4 There are plenty of interesting twists and turns between the two intersecting storylines (Today and History) which build on one another. There are some surprises that are easily anticipated, and others that come out of left field, though not in a bad way. Despite finding the plot interesting, at times I felt I was walking through peanut butter. In total it took me 7 hours and 57 minutes to read which is a long time for me, especially with a novel on the shorter side.
Writing: 4 I found the writing style to be very true to the voice of Griffin. It was unassuming but still a presence. This book actually made it onto my TBR list because I found the Adam Silvera's Twitter profile so interesting and hilarious I had to give his books a read.
While I never had a wow moment with this book, and it did not bring me to tears, it was a worthwhile read. The subtle complexities which really wound into a moment where I had to put down the book and appreciate what the author had done came around page 250. Based on this book, I will likely read more of Silvera's books.