Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review: What I Thought Was True by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Most people picking up What I Thought Was True have already read Huntley Fitzpatrick's debut novel, My Life Next Door. The deciding factor in picking this one up first was that the Contemporary Lovers Read-a-long group was reading it this month and I hoped to participate in the liveshow. As it turns out, I can't participate anyways. I guess none of this seems to have any value yet, but if this post goes as planned, it should later!

What I Thought Was True is one of those books that I know I read at the right time. For personal reasons... but also because I came out of City of Heavenly Fire a while ago and didn't think I could find another book where I'd be able to sit down and actually read it without thinking about another book or getting bored and wanting to put it down.

I'm happy to report that this got me out of a book hangover just fine. It also managed to tell me a couple of things I needed to hear at this point in my life.

This Young Adult novel is told in Gwen Castle's POV in the summer before her senior year; the summer after her year of a few mistakes boys. She's the daughter of Mike, the restaurant owner, and Lucia, the house-cleaner. She lives with her mom, little brother, grandpa, and cousin in a one-story, two-bedroom house on Seashell island. The biggest divide on the island is of the people that live on the island, and those who own big summer houses on the island. Gwen has lived her whole life on the island, working almost everyday of her life to try and help her mother pay the bills.

Cass Somers has never worked a day in his life until this summer.

This summer, Gwen is trying to get over Cass Somers.

At first I didn't really understand the title, but there are many secrets to be uncovered throughout this book, and Gwen is just trying to understand what is true and false; so the title is actually quite fitting.

Despite most of the characters being a year younger than me, I could relate to them pretty well in terms of wanting something more for their future. You see this theme a lot in YA novels, but I've never seen it executed in a Chick Lit book. That's where this novel really stands out.

Huntley Fitzpatrick has a particular way of writing that took some getting used to. When I first started reading this novel, all I could think was "what is with all the commas?" I eventually got used to the lack of conjunctions once I was about 30% in.

Something about this novel was very slow. I felt like there was too much time pondering and not enough time actually doing anything. I guess this is what contemporaries are like, but it just felt super slow to me at the beginning. Especially because it takes forever to find out what Gwen's problem is and figure out who each character is. I found it really slow at the end as well; too drawn out and full of unneeded road blocks. I felt like some of the conflict was unnecessary to the theme and just made me want the book to end.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed What I Thought Was True (hence the four stars), and I'd recommend it to anyone who loves a good, fluffy romance/contemporary. However, I'll be going into My Life Next Door with high expectations. As you read earlier, most people have read Fitzpatrick's first novel already and enjoyed that one much more, so I hope to be more satisfied with it.

What do I plan on reading/reviewing next? We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. (I was happy to find out that E actually stands for Emily and I finally have an author with the same name as me on my shelf.) As for that review (depending on how my expectations are met), it will most likely go on my YouTube channel!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dual Review: Memoirs & Love Letters

When I first finished Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac, I put it on my favourites shelf. But since, I've taken it off simply because this novel reminded me of Love Letters to the Dead, which I also gave 5 stars but does not sit on my favourites shelf. So now, I'm trying to figure out if I loved one more or if I loved them equally, and whether or not they belong on my favourites shelf.
The consensus is that I loved them both and they really reminded me of each other. Their plots aren't exactly the same - I mean, our main character of Memoirs, Naomi, is a couple years older than the main character of Love Letters, Laurel. Naomi seems to be more mature, and I don't exactly remember if Zevin mentioned Naomi's age but she seemed a little less naive to me. Anyways, the two books reminded me of each other because both characters are trying to find themselves after losing something important.

In Naomi's case, she's lost her memory. The last thing she can remember is the trip she took with her parents in the summer of when she was twelve. Four years of her life are lost; memories that include important world and personal events. I'm not going to reveal those because I personally went into this book based off one recommendation and the back of the book, and I liked that everything was a surprise to me, so I'm not going to "spoil" you.
I loved this book because while it was a "typical YA book" in that Naomi is a young girl trying to find herself, it was then unique because Zevin expressed this journey through memory loss. Naomi finds that she has no clue who her past self was. Now, she finds her self confused as to who she was before the accident and attempts to remake herself. Something I learned through this novel is that if I find something about myself that I don't like, I don't need to lose four years of my past an re-invent myself, I can just fix it.
I'm not sure how to put this without spoiling you, but eventually Naomi is able to put her past self aside in order to move on with her life.

In Laurel's case, she's lost her older sister. I sort of adored this book because of the sister relationship. I've read many books where the older sister is constantly watching her younger sister and trying to protect her - but as a younger sister, I've always wanted to read from a younger sister's point of view and the way we are protective of our older sisters. Love Letters to the Dead illustrated exactly this. Although I found Laurel a little immature since I am three years older than her and past the point of trying to find myself, I still found her role as a younger sister very relatable.
Laurel is going through a pretty hard time since her sister died, and although the book eventually reveals how she died, it remains a mystery throughout most of the book. The only thing that's really hinted is that Laurel feels like her sister's death is her fault. Through letters to famous people who died young and tragically, we watch Laurel try to find herself after her sister's death. An older sister is like a guiding light - someone who tells you what you should do before you get there - and I can't imagine what it would be like to lose that. Actually, I can imagine being very lost and confused about where to go from there; exactly the way Laurel reacts.
Eventually, like Naomi, Laurel finds her way past the tragedy and finds her true self in the process. I think the two would get a long pretty well.

I still haven't decided whether or not they belong on my favourites shelf, but if one day I decide to re-read them, I suppose I'll decide then. All in all, you should read both of them because I loved and learned something from both.

Find them on Goodreads:
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac
Love Letters to the Dead

Friday, June 6, 2014

YA Literature “Lacking in Substance?”

The following is a piece I wrote for my Writer's Craft class at school I thought would be appropriate to post here. I used Read Now Sleep Later's article on YA Shame for the quotes and to inspire myself, you can read that article here. 

A friend once asked me if I had read Catch 22 - a popular work of Classic, Adult fiction. I replied, no, I hadn’t, and that I mainly read Young Adult fiction. Then she said to me, “oh, I stopped reading that when I was fourteen.”
It had me wondering why YA fiction is devalued by people of every age group. Adults of all categories and even teenagers label YA as “easy to digest” and “lacking in substance.”
I feel as though I’ve read enough Young Adult literature in my life to argue against this. YA books mean a lot more to me than just words scrawled across pages to complete a story, my life has been influenced by many Young Adult books.
The Fault in Our Stars, The Book Thief, The Hunger Games, Twilight; all books that have been/are in the process of being turned into a successful movie franchise because of a successful YA book. It seems that the only way a movie can do as well as Twilight, is if the built-in fan base is large, and strong. Twilight made it to the New York Times Bestseller list before it was ever made into a movie. People read the book and watched the movies because they felt a connection towards them. While I could easily argue that Twilight tends to “lack in substance,” I still read those books, felt a connection towards them, and loved them all the same.
Isaac Marion, author of Warm Bodies, whose book was also turned into a successful movie, seems to have a problem with his own book being categorized into YA and made it very clear on his Facebook page in late 2012. "The only function the YA label can really serve is to warn adult readers, 'Stay away from this if you want substance.' Which is really unfortunate, because no doubt a lot of substantial books get buried by this label."
Growing up, I had a difficult time originally transitioning into Young Adult. I stayed in the middle grade genre and eventually gave up on reading until I discovered Twilight when I was thirteen. I find it hard to believe that a child could go from something as harmless as The Spiderwick Chronicles to an adult novel like Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons without being terrified. The Young Adult genre introduced me to things I didn’t even know were allowed to be in novels. Things like leaving your parents, and sex, and big decisions you’re not aware of as a twelve year-old. Twilight gave me the transition I was looking for, and I’m proud to say that I’ve been actively reading Young Adult literature ever since.
"I just think it's a ridiculous, pointless category," Marion says in regards to YA. He goes on to say that a child should simply read Children's literature and an adult should simply read Adult literature. "I don't see the purpose of this vague middle category."
So I wonder if possibly Marion is stuck in the 19th century when 'teenagers' didn't really exist, back when kids had to become adults in no time at all. Now that we’re given a period of time in our lives to find ourselves and grow, it’s appropriate that the fiction on the shelves in stores reflect that. If there is a genre for children and adults, why can’t there be one for teenagers too? And if YA novels can’t have “substance” then does that mean Children’s novels don’t either?
No, of course not. All novels have substance. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be published, or read, or turned into movies.
Young Adult literature does have substance, especially to the reader.
If there is one thing I can assure you of, it’s that Young Adult literature gives teenagers something to relate to. It’s something they can read and think “yeah, that happens to me too.”
          Today, adolescents are dealing with more problems than ever; self harm, mental illness, eating disorders, peer pressure, and more. Young Adult literature addresses these issues and reminds readers that they're not the only ones; they are not alone. If people insist on devaluing a novel that may help a teen get through a rough time, then I insist they pick up Michael L. Printz Award winners - an award dedicated to YA novels that have achieved literary excellence. Among them are cult favourites like John Green's Looking For Alaska, John Corey Whaley's Where Things Come Back, or, recent Printz Honour Award winner, Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor and Park.

In the end, reading is reading, and many people, especially young adults, just aren’t reading anymore. You could blame many things, but you have to believe that loving to read is about connecting with the characters written into the pages. The importance of YA isn't just for readers themselves, but for non-readers to love as well. Isaac Marion's comments towards YA literature have let the world discover the genre and while some might agree with his comments, YA novels continue to climb on the New York Times Bestseller list.