500 Words or Less by Juleah de Rosario (384 pages)
Overview: Nic Chen is not whole. Starting senior year, she's a fragment of parts she doesn't know how to reconcile. She's at the top of her class. She's Kitty's best friend. But she's also the girl with "whore" written in bright orange lipstick across her locker. Who's missing her boyfriend. And her childhood best friend who's abandoned her. It isn't until she's tasted with writing everyone else's college essays that she starts to piece together who she really is. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 I loved Nic. She sees the world in an interesting and beautiful way. She's critical and analytical, but she is also full of longing and emotional connection. She challenges the double standard and inequality. She questions the people around her and how they've changed- how some have been allowed by the world to change more than others.
The parsing of the parental relationships is also interesting. She looks at people for who they are, or, at least, tries to. This means that there's no evil step-mom dynamic or veneration of her absent mom. She wants to know what went wrong, and she wonders what drew her step mother to her father, but she separates herself from them in a way that almost allows her room to grow closer.
Plot: 4.5 The story of her senior year, and all the character progression that affords, is so entertaining to read. I finished the book in a day. Through her writing everyone else's admissions essays, we get to see her prospective and how she impacts and interacts with those around her. She judges society's treatment of herself and her peers, and how that manifests, either in justice or inequity. The final plot twist, I thought, cheapened the book and lowered the stakes, but that can't take away from the absolutely stunning 88% of the book that comes before it.
Writing: 5 This is only the second novel in verse that I've read, but I love that it's starting to emerge in YA. Juleah's writing is poetic, but also approachable to those who aren't huge poetry fans. She uses quick lines and deep feelings to fill the page and flesh out the world, which allows us to grow closer to Nic. While the line breaks were sometimes awkward, and the novel didn't demand to be in verse, I loved how the form allowed the book's pacing to speed up so that I could race through Nic's beautiful words to get to the end- the final realization- quickly.