Category: Young Adult

One Small Thing by Erin Watt

One Small Thing by Erin WattOne Small Thing by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on 26th June 2018
Pages: 384
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three-stars

Beth’s life hasn’t been the same since her sister died. Her parents try to lock her down, believing they can keep her safe by monitoring her every move. When Beth sneaks out to a party one night and meets the new guy in town, Chase, she’s thrilled to make a secret friend. It seems a small thing, just for her.

Only Beth doesn’t know how big her secret really is…

Fresh out of juvie and determined to start his life over, Chase has demons to face and much to atone for, including his part in the night Beth’s sister died. Beth, who has more reason than anyone to despise him, is willing to give him a second chance. A forbidden romance is the last thing either of them planned for senior year, but the more time they spend together, the deeper their feelings get.

Now Beth has a choice to make—follow the rules, or risk tearing everything apart…again.

In some ways, going back to NA/YA can be frustrating no matter the author, only because it’s hard to step back into a teen’s POV when your older self wants nothing but to smack these characters…though not before wondering if your younger self were ever this way. Teenage angst galore is what ‘One Small Thing’ opens with—an act of rebellion that turns into a hookup (the start of a familiar downward spiral) that in turn reveals a whole slew of ugly emotions and self-destructive behaviour with generous helpings of hate, guilt, misery and selfishness.

We’re thrown in the deep end from the start, only because Erin Watt doesn’t shy away from wading into the aftermath of a death that happened 3 years ago…and how people the closest to this tragedy deal with it. Elizabeth Jones, who’s smack in the centre of the hurricane is a difficult one to like, for this reason. Hemmed in by her parents, her subsequent lashing out is understandable but still cringeworthy, since it’s admittedly hard to read about a protagonist who doesn’t know her own mind for a large part of the book, who wavers in doing what she clearly knows she should do and whose self-absorption and naïveté make it hard to be sympathetic to her plight.

But character growth has always been imperative in such books, and Watt certainly offers a ton of it, if you can get past the melodrama that tends to accompany the usual dose of teenage angst. In contrast to the negativity that permeates so much of the book, at some point in time, forgiveness and redemption need to come into the picture and they do, as the lessons are learned from the most unexpected source.

Objectively speaking, the characterisation is well done, even if the story ends on a note that can’t really be classified as a HEA or a HFN. The teens act exactly how I expected them to, amplified with the kind of existential angst they face along with their identity crisis and there’s always the sense of a fresh new start (though somewhat abruptly done in the conclusion) and nothing but a blank slate down the road. Watt’s storytelling is compelling nonetheless, though I wasn’t as moved by this as much as I thought I would be.

three-stars

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse on April 3rd 2018
Pages: 432
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four-stars

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

Sometimes it takes a lot more cajoling to get me on the side of NA/YA fiction and I’ll readily admit that much of it has to do with my increasing difficulty in connecting with characters that I probably would have vociferously sympathised with when I was younger but now itch to smack. Needless to say, ‘Starry Eyes’ started out rocky, unbearable almost because of the eye-rolling teenage angst and drama (the type that makes you want to pick up alcohol even if you don’t drink) and I seriously questioned if this was going to be a book that I was going to finish.

But once the teen shenanigans ended, it seemed as though ‘Starry Eyes’ took off, compelling enough in the whole backcountry adventure (aided loads by a cool, knowledgeable protagonist) and the dangers that awaited both Zorie and Lennon that I couldn’t put it down. There’s still the whole vibe of unresolved teenage angst via the stupidity of miscommunication, or rather, the lack thereof, but it’s entwined now with the mistakes of adults and the learning journey—the sort that you apparently take into adulthood—that’s inevitably always built into YA/NA books.

Thankfully though, there’s no heavy moralistic message that raises the hairs on the back of my neck and I could easily sail through the last and rather exciting half of the book as the pieces laid out early in it start to fall horribly into place in a climax and resolution that left me satisfied.

‘Starry Eyes’ isn’t quite what I expected—I’m quite happy to say this now—but it’s a read that I can’t forget, many hours later after finishing it despite the awful start I had.

four-stars

Love Between Enemies by Molly E. Lee

Love Between Enemies by Molly E. LeeLove Between Enemies by Molly E. Lee
Series: Grad Night #2
Published by Entangled: Crush on January 8th 2018
Pages: 221
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three-stars

Zoey Handler is ready to put an end to her decade-long rivalry with Gordon Meyers. They’ve traded top spot between valedictorian and salutatorian for years, but all that’s over now. Right? But after a crazy graduation speech prank gets out of hand, suddenly their rivalry turns into all-out war. Time to make peace with a little friendly payback.

Step one? Make him believe they’re now friends.

Step two? Show him the time of his life at an epic graduation party.

Step three? Don’t fall for his tricks.

Step four? Absolutely, positively, do not kiss him again.

So what if he’s cute? (Okay, hot.) So what if he’s charming? (Heaven help her, tempting.) So what if he apologizes? (That has to be fake.) She knows the real Gordon. And no matter how much her heart begs her to stop, there’s no turning back.

Ah…enemies to lovers. it’s a trope that I can’t ever resist and ‘Love between Enemies’—as formulaic as this trope is—delivered that rivalry in a high-school setting. Throw in a badly mis-timed speech done out of hurt and overreaction and a rather mischievous plot for revenge that has bigger repercussions than initially thought about, and something entirely different and unexpected comes out as the end product.

Molly E. Lee captures the teenage mindset rather well, as Gordon and Zoey battle it out, humiliate each other (whether intentional or not), then realise that they’re better together than against each other during the grad night party where they realise that beyond the rivalry is a chemistry they can’t deny.

There were scenes that made me wonder how much of the rich-girl, entitled bitch Zoey was going to be, which in contrast, made Gordon seem almost like the perfect, articulate, mature 18-year-old that I don’t see too often in fiction. Nonetheless, I definitely appreciated how Lee didn’t go overboard (not too much at least) with the drama that some YA/NA books tend to revolve around. All’s well that ends well in a HFN ending, albeit somewhat sweetly but abruptly, considering that the whole shift from shift from rivalry to something else took place over a mere 2-ish days. But for characters on their way to college, with their lives ahead of them, it’s probably the best we can ask for.

three-stars

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy

Pretty Dead Girls by Monica MurphyPretty Dead Girls by Monica Murphy
Published by Entangled: Teen on January 2nd 2018
Pages: 300
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three-stars

Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope—and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Imagine a group of privileged girls—all of whom sort of conform to the rich, aloof, snooty and somewhat mean stereotype—suddenly being swamped by a mysterious but vengeful serial killer who throws their ordered but small world into chaos. In the midst of them is the head cheerleader and a quiet, mysterious boy who find themselves in the centre of the maelstrom as the noose tightens around them while they play amateur detectives.

There aren’t too many of these sort of YA-thriller, high-school-centric books that I’ve read (or the kind of movies that I’ve watched) and it takes an adjustment every time I read a book like ‘Pretty Dead Girls’. Jumping into a YA book can be hard at times, not least because it’s a throwback into the mean, teenage girl mindset—where everything is exaggerated, pulled apart and then reacted to in an over-the-top fashion—but also because it’s one which I have the hardest time connecting with as well.

This is sort of a step outside my usual reading habits, but I still did have a good time in a way as a distant spectator would with teenage shenanigans, alternating between cringing at the sensibilities of the self-absorbed and petty girls (and wondering if I was as bad as them or worse?) and trying to do the whodunnit game that I normally do with the adult mystery-thrillers I sometimes read. If anything, Monica Murphy gets those behavioural traits pat down and pitches the story perfectly for teens, though it’s honestly difficult to like the characters you want to yell at to grow up before you realise they’re acting exactly their ages…and can’t be expected to do anything differently.

However, there are some questions that don’t seem to be satisfactorily answered, where secrets that you think are soul-destroying turn up to be mere storms in tea cups. Still, it was kind of a fun ride, given the unholy glee I felt when these girls had their comeuppance and almost wished the body count got higher just to up the thrill factor for my bloodthirsty and mean soul.

three-stars

Hello Forever by Sarina Bowen

Hello Forever by Sarina BowenHello Forever by Sarina Bowen
Series: Pay It Forward #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 14th 2017
Pages: 213
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four-stars

When they were only teenagers, Axel and Caxton were caught making out in the woods at church camp. And afterward, Cax had disappeared from all the youth group activities.

Six years later, Axel is astonished to spot his first love’s face in the crowd of a college basketball game he’s watching on TV—at a school which has just offered him a job. It’s a thousand miles away, in a tiny rural town. But suddenly, he can’t wait to get there.

Cax can’t believe his eyes when Axel appears in the same Massachusetts town where he now lives. And he’s still just as drawn to Axel as ever. But he can’t let himself go there again, because loving Axel will mean giving up everything else he holds dear.

Both men have so much to lose. But as far as their love is concerned, it's Hello Forever.

Sarina Bowen’s ‘Hello Forever’ is a memorable read and I’m starting to think that she’s got a particular talent for M/M stories even if a few of her other M/F romances have ranked as a few of my favourites.

In ‘Hello Forever’ Axel and Cax have their own journey to undertake here in what feels like a spinoff from the first book in the series, though it’s perfect as standalone. Bowen’s storytelling shines especially when it comes to her ability to forge intimate and sweet connections between her characters regardless of sexual orientation, and I found myself enjoying Axel/Cax’s second chance story a lot more than I usually do for this trope because it didn’t have the usual hysterics TSTL bits in which some characters ‘break character’ for the sake of creating conflict.

Yet ‘Hello Forever’ is also very much a book about young people taking responsibility and stepping up when their own parents fail them—almost as if it’s a defiant flip of the bird at the media wailing about rootless, millennial ingrates. Bowen sets up Axel and Cax as very relatable characters that struggle with their careers, adulthood and the heavy burden of caring for family, not least to mention their sexuality. The slight bit of angst does help drive the story forward, though mostly, it’s an easy read without the extreme highs and lows that allow you root wholeheartedly for yet another couple to get their HEA.

four-stars

Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee

Love in the Friend Zone by Molly E. LeeLove in the Friend Zone by Molly E. Lee
Published by Entangled Publishing, LLC (Crush) on August 14th 2017
Pages: 219
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two-stars

The only thing worse than not being able to tell your best friend you’re head over heels in love with him? Having to smile and nod when he enlists your help to ensnare the girl of his dreams.

Braylen didn’t even want to go to Lennon Pryor’s epic graduation-night party, but when Fynn begs her to be his “wingwoman,” she can’t deny him. Talking up her BFF—how he’s magic behind a camera, with a killer sense of humor and eyelashes that frame the most gorgeous blue eyes in the history of forever—is easy. Supporting his efforts to woo someone so completely wrong for him? Not so much.

Fynn knows that grad night is his last shot before leaving for college to find true love. And thanks to Bray, he gets his chance with the beautiful Katy Evans. But over the course of the coolest party of their high school careers, he starts to see that perhaps what he really wants has been in front of him all along. Bray’s been his best friend since kindergarten, though, and he’d rather have her in his life as a friend than not at all.

Reading about storms in teacups is how I approach YA stories, because I sort of remember that nothing seemed more important than a crush returning your feelings and the obsession over college choices.

‘Love in the Friend Zone’ all but practically takes place over the course of an evening during a graduation party, as you’re thrust straight into the climax of a story after being given a rushed run down of Braylen’s unrequited feelings and Fynn’s inability to see that she has always been in front of him.

Within this time period, Bray vacillates between wanting the best for Fynn and struggling with her own desires and jealousy, while Fynn remains oblivious which is the status quo for teenage boys as it seems. All this is well and fairly typical—it’s the hormonal teenage years after all—but I probably would have liked this better if the story focused less on Bray’s overwhelming angst and her inability to be convinced that Fynn would ever want her.

Fynn’s sudden realisation that he’d been in love with her all along was somewhat cringeworthy, since it had to take a confession from Bray to get his head out of his own arse.  Granted, I’m not someone who can easily accept sudden switch of the flip type epiphanies particularly when it comes to a party realising he/she had been in love with someone all along because it can, in some cases, get extremely hypocritical.

The events at this particular party did however, got more and more ridiculous, taking a rom-com’s blithe journey to a climax of mistaken identities, stunts and high drama. Expect juvenile jokes, and even more juvenile pranks and a huge load of emotional spikes and valleys…all before Fynn and Bray actually get it together.

If this review is sounding as though there’s some impatience on my part, it’s probably me having a hard time admitting I’m quite much older with different tastes now.

two-stars

When It’s Real by Erin Watt

When It’s Real by Erin WattWhen It's Real by Erin Watt
Published by Harlequin Teen on May 30th 2017
Pages: 416
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four-stars

Meet Oakley Ford-teen celebrity, renowned pop star, child of famous movie stars, hottie with millions of fangirls… and restless troublemaker. On the surface he has it all, but with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry, and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley's team decides it's time for an intervention. The result: an image overhaul, complete with a fake girlfriend meant to show the world he's settled down.
Enter seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett-devoted sister, part-time waitress, the definition of "normal." Under ordinary circumstances she'd never have taken this gig, but with her family strapped for cash, she doesn't have much of a choice. And for the money Oakley's team is paying her, she figures she can put up with outlandish Hollywood parties and a team of publicists watching her every move. So what if she thinks Oakley's a shallow, self-centered jerk? It's not like they're going to fall for each other in real life…right?

‘When it’s Real’ is an undoubtedly fun read and an absolute guilty pleasure…and I was entertained throughout, which is more than I can say for many books these days. But re-tune your inner voices for teenage drama and high-school antics because it’s a NA/YA book with teenage characters who well, behave in a way you completely expect them to.

I read this in one sitting because I did like the voices of both Vaughan and Oakley and it was interesting to see how Oakley became more and more likeable while the initially-grounded Vaughan became a little stupid in the middle.

There are also, so many echoes of the cynical world of showbiz written into this and I couldn’t help but grin wryly at the not-quite-blatant references to the type of tabloid headlines and social media feeds that construct a world that as fake or as real as you want it to be. The oblique pokes at how certain music celebrities (and their fans) behave these days is as obvious as daylight too, which thoroughly delighted me as I saw these parodied so well here.

‘When it’s real’ ends with the same euphoric high of the ending notes of the concert, which is mostly HFN bliss for the newly-minted couple in question, but in the fickle world of celebrity-happiness and coupledom, it’s probably for the best.

four-stars