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Review: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Friday, May 29, 2015


Made You Up
Francesca Zappia

Genre: YA ContemporaryMystery
Hardback: 448 Pages
Publication: May 19, 2015
by Greenwillow



Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. Made You Up tells the story of Alex, a high school senior unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn't she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.


Review

I fell in love with Made You Up from the time lobsters were first mentioned. That first lobster scene is so cute, so precious, so full of feels. I never questioned if it was real or not. But then . . . .

Made You Up is a novel that will make you question everything that you see. I would think that Alex perceives reality only to later question it only to later question my doubts. Made You Up is a mind boggling read.

Alex's unreliable narration is both the charm and the major flaw of this novel. On the one hand, I love the complexity that Zappia creates by intertwining reality and delusions so that we, the readers, finds ourselves questioning everything that we're told. In the process, we come a little closer to understanding what it would be like to be unable to discern what's real and what isn't real. That said, I do want to acknowledge that Zappia wraps up the novel rather cleanly. By the end, we learn what's real and what existed only in Alex's mind down to the smallest details we wouldn't have thought to question. This means that Alex also learns the truth. While it's nice as a reader to get the closure, I doubt events will always wrap up so nicely in reality, and I encourage readers to keep this in mind while reading Made You Up.

The major flaw of having an unreliable narrator is that we cannot ever completely trust the narrator. Yes, we shouldn't ever completely trust the narrator of any book we read because any narrator is going to have his or her biases, and some narrators may even have a reason to lie. (Ever study Jane Eyre or The Marquise of O in a college class?) In the case of Made You Up, however, you can't trust that everything you see actually happens. For example, Tucker so rarely appears after Miles is introduced that, even though I saw him interact with people other than Alex, I began to doubt that he really existed. I began to think that maybe Alex made up those interactions. You can see what a headache I was beginning to develop by the time Zappia began to clear things up for me. (Yes, Tucker really exists . . . rather, this other thing you thought was real isn't real at all . . .  and so forth.) Though I began to question my sanity, I actually enjoyed the "big reveals" at the end (except for that one tragic one . . . how could "that" not be real???? Whhhyyyyyyyy?????). Made You Up is like a puzzle. Once the pieces begin to click into place, you begin to recognize the discrepancies that have taken place, and everything begins to make more sense. I believe that Made You Up is a novel that will be fun to reread for clues that you didn't pick up at first read.

Family is not entirely absent from the novel. Longtime readers of the blog know how much I value family. I believe that family is integral to our identities. Even if we're at a stage of our life where we don't particularly like certain members of our family, that's also a part of who we are. In Alex's case, her family influences her through how her parents react to her seeing things that exist only in her imagination and to her paranoia. While I don't particularly like how Alex treats her mom or how Miles talks to her mom in one scene, I can understand how she feels. Back in high school, there were many many times when I felt like my mom couldn't understand me, and those feelings led to resentment and feelings that I lacked control of my life. I appreciate how Alex comes to realize the love that her parents feel for her and decides to seek the treatment that her parents were considering. Her love for her sister is especially touching. While she does treat Charlie as The Annoying Younger Sibling at times, it's clear that she deeply cares for her young sister and treasures her existence.

What I really love about Made You Up is that, while Alex may have schizophrenia, Made You Up is not a story about schizophrenia. It is the story about a girl (and a boy) dealing with the insanity of high school life, and our narrator just so happens to have schizophrenia, which makes it just a little more difficult to work through the insanity of high school. I recommend this for readers who enjoy reading a (somewhat) lighthearted coming-of-age story with some crazy high school adventures and a little dose of mystery.

Literary Value:
I believe that it is important to have different kinds of books out there that show different people living different kinds of lives. Alex's story gives us a place where we can get a glimpse of what it may be like to live with paranoid schizophrenia. I do emphasize the "may" given that Zappia was never diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia or hay personal ties to schizophrenia. At the same time, she does try to portray the real deal. In an interview at Bettgeschichten, Zappia says, "I read books on it, I watched documentaries, and I went online to forums where people who have schizophrenia were discussing the illness." Most importantly, Made You Up shows how, while Alex may have schizophrenia, it doesn't take over her life. She is a normal high school girl who is just having a little more trouble than most working through the insanities of high school life.

Content (contains potential spoilers):
  • Language: There is a fair amount of cussing, especially of the f-word, including a scene where Miles cusses at Alex's parents. There is one line where Alex irreverently uses Jesus's name. Alex and Miles are called names that have negative connotations (Communist and Nazi).
  • Sexual content: At a party, Alex sees two people undressed and in the process of having sex in a bedroom. At the same party, she sees two people wrapped around each other and making out at the bonfire. She and a boy remove their clothing while making out in her room, but they do not have sex. There is also an instance where they break into someone's house and find a room with stalker material. An older man harasses a student (suggested but not shown).
  • Violence: There is some violence, mostly people throwing punches around, and it isn't explicit. The largest incidence of violence would be a brawl that takes place in Alex's workplace towards the end of the novel. We hear about and see things that suggest domestic violence in someone's home. There are also instances of bullying that involve breaking and entering and putting Icy Hot in someone's underwear.
  • Graphic images: Some of the things that Alex sees are graphic but not in super great detail. The scariest part would be the psychological factor, such as when and where she sees them.
  • Mental illness: This is a book in which mental illness plays a large role. 

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Series
  • N/A

Content
  • Language (cussing)
  • Kissing, making out (in one instance of making out, people remove their clothes but do not have sex)
  • Sex, not explicit
  • Some minor violence

Review: We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielson

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


We Are All Made of Molecules
Susin Nielsen

Genre: Contemporary
Hardback: 256 Pages
Publication: May 12, 2015
by Wendy Lamb Books



Thirteen-year-old Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless.

Fourteen-year-old Ashley is the undisputed “It” girl in her class, but her grades stink.

Their worlds are about to collide when Stewart and his dad move in with Ashley and her mom. Stewart is trying to be 89.9 percent happy about it, but Ashley is 110 percent horrified. She already has to hide the real reason her dad moved out; “Spewart” could further threaten her position at the top of the social ladder.

They are complete opposites. And yet, they have one thing in common: they—like everyone else—are made of molecules.


Review

We Are All Made of Molecules is a YA novel that I've been waiting for. The plot is focused and relatable, and the characters clearly mature over the course of the novel. Most importantly, We Are All Made of Molecules has a strong message for readers. While reading is something that I enjoy, I also want to learn something from the books that I read. It can be a moral lesson, or it can be something as simple as a character learning some truth about life and / or standing up to his or her fears. We get all of these in Susin Nielsen's latest novel.

The writing is simple, much more so than I would have expected in a novel that contains some mature content. While I generally like novels with more complexity, the simplistic language and straightforward narration are powerful tools that bare the characters' lives to the reader. There aren't any extraneous details that distract from the main plot points. Furthermore, We Are All Made of Molecules is a novel that can be easily finished in one sitting. Nothing should distract from the story except an emergency.

As you might have guessed from the synopsis, the story is told from the alternating POVs of Stewart and Ashley.While it was interesting to see their different opinions on certain topics and to see what goes on behind the scenes in each character's lives, I found much more depth overall in Stewart's perspective. For much of the novel, Ashley is a shallow, fashion-crazy, boy-obsessed girl who is overly concerned with the social ladder and where she stands on it. While we do learn things from her that we can't get with Stewart, who is bad at reading social cues, I enjoyed reading from Stewart's perspective so much more. He makes nerd jokes (something I love but rarely see in YA lit), he's funny, and he's interesting. Ashley's POV doesn't contribute enough that I feel like it is essential to the story's message. She does become more likable at the end; at the same time, it isn't until the end that I really appreciated her character. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver presents a more complex character in Samantha, who is also an "It" girl that matures into a more sensitive and caring person.

That said, what Ashley's POV does contribute to the plot is that her story intertwines with Stewart's story to show the different facets of high school life. Ashley may just be a girl who is concerned with the social hierarchy, but she is also a bully who has made fun of others and stepped on them in order to climb to the top of the social ladder. Stewart is a boy lacks social awareness and has been bullied as a result. While I wasn't particularly fond of Ashley's POV, I like how the alternating POVs weaves together the lives of the bullies and the bullied, the "haves" and the "have-nots," to reveal the absurdity of categorizing peoples' values based on where they stand on the social ladder. Whereas Ashley considered herself to be at the top of the ladder, her relationship with her "friends" is a facsimile built on what she imagines to be the prefect life. In the end, Stewart, who stays true to himself and presents himself as he is to others, proves that true happiness comes from making real connections with the people around you. In order to be happy, Ashley must become more like Stewart, and the two must work together to defeat the system that gives bullies the power to oppress others.

Literary Value: I find We Are All Made of Molecules to be a novel with literary value because of the growth that the characters exhibit. Stewart and Ashley enter the novel with preconceptions about how their lives will go, and after their first meeting, they form superficial opinions about each other that will later prove false. They learn about the complexity of life and about the fallacy of judging people by appearances and initial impressions. There are important messages about respect and tolerance, family and friendship, bullying and the social hierarchy, what is really important in life and what it means to be a decent human being. The plot has the complexity that I have been searching for in YA lit.

Mature Content: While the language is simple and more what I would expect from a middle-grade novel, I would not recommend this to younger readers because of the content. (Warning: potential spoilers follow.) Ashley belongs to the stereotypical "It" scene in high school. She and her friends lust after the hottest boy in their school, there is language and talk of girls' bodies in a boys' locker room scene, there is partying with alcohol involved, and there is an almost-rape scene. Stewart is bullied because of his brains and geeky appearance, and at several points he is afraid to go to school. There is also homophobia and discrimination against homosexuality by some persons.

Overall: We Are All Made of Molecules is a novel that I believe young adults should read. It has complexity: Stewart and Ashley show true character growth, family and friends play important roles in their lives, and their story shows us what is really important in life.

A copy was provided by Random House for review

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Series
  • N/A

Content
  • Some language
  • Alcohol
  • Bullying (some takes place in the guys' locker room)
  • Some homophobia (on the part of the "bad guys")
  • Kissing, making out, some explicit sexual content / talk about sexual activities
  • An almost-rape scene

Review: Find Momo Coast to Coast by Andrew Knapp

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Find Momo: Coast to Coast
Andrew Knapp

Genre: Photography
Hardback: 144 Pages
Publication: May 12, 2015
by Quirk Books



Momo loves to hide—and you’ll love looking for him! In this follow-up to Find Momo, the canine Instagram superstar (and his best buddy, Andrew Knapp) travel across the United States and Canada, visiting iconic landmarks and unique off-the-map marvels. Look for Momo hiding in Grand Central Station, in front of the White House, and in the French Quarter of New Orleans . . . as well as at diners, bookstores, museums, and other locales that only a seasoned road-tripper like Andrew could find. It’s part game, part photography book, and a whole lot of fun.


Review

Find Momo: Coast to Coast is an adorable book in which the border collie Momo and his buddy Andrew Knapp travel from coast to coast across the United States and Canada. There is a good mix of photos where it is easy to find Momo and ones that challenge the reader's imagination. I can envision this being a fun book to huddle over with the family in a race to find Momo.

Many of the photos are breathtaking and worth examining in their own right. I love how there is a mix of tourist attractions and everyday life of the people who in live the areas that Momo and Knapp visit. In the midst of it all, Knap captures photos that show Momo making himself right at home. The two's adventures remind us of the excitement to be found in travel—both in the major attractions and in the quietude of the everyday. Traveling isn't always about visiting the places well traveled. We also need to remind ourselves to look for adventure in the culture of the places that we visit, and we can't do that by following the tourist guidebook. Branch out; explore different sceneries.

That said, I do wish that we were given more specific details in the captions about the locations in the photos. If you're curious about where exactly each photo was taken, you have to flip back to the answer key. Otherwise, I have nothing to complain about!

Find Momo: Coast to Coast is a fun, unique travel book. I love the idea of sharing a road trip through the antics of a dog, and I had a lot of fun searching for Momo (though at times I did get pretty frustrated. Momo isn't always easy to find!). I would definitely recommend this book to readers, especially those who love furry four-legged creatures like Momo.

A copy was provided by Quirk Books for review

Rating: 4 stars

Series
  • N/A

Similar Books
  • I Spy Books
  • Where's Waldo
Content
  • N/A

DNF Review: The Prey by Tom Isbell

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


The Prey
Tom Isbell

Series: The Hatchery #1
Genre: YA Post Apocalyptic
Hardback: 416 Pages
Publication: January 20, 2015
by Harper Teen



Orphaned teens, soon to be hunted for sport, must flee their resettlement camps in their fight for survival and a better life. For in the Republic of the True America, it's always hunting season.

After a radiation blast burned most of the Earth to a crisp, the new government established settlement camps for the survivors. At one such camp, the sixteen-year-old "LTs" are eager to graduate as part of the Rite. Until they learn the dark truth: "LTs" doesn't stand for lieutenant but for Less Thans, feared by society and raised to be hunted for sport. They escape and join forces with the Sisters, twin girls who've suffered their own haunting fate. Together they seek the fabled New Territory, with sadistic hunters hot on their trail. Secrets are revealed, allegiances are made, and lives are at stake. As unlikely Book and fearless Hope lead their quest for freedom, these teens must find the best in themselves to fight the worst in their enemies.


Review

Book grows up in an all-boys government-run camp. When he meets an injured boy, Cat, in the desert, Book learns that the boys at the camp will become entertainment to be hunted by the rich after they graduate. The Sisters from the girl camp are raised for twisted medical experimentation. I love the concept of twin experiments, but a reason should have been provided. While the storyline is an exciting concept and the originality, the writing doesn’t flow well, and character motivations are missing. The plot may be unique for some readers, but it was lackluster for me.

The book is written in alternating perspectives from Book's first-person, past-tense narration and the third-person, present-tense of Hope, a Sister from the girls camp. It is confused. Although we have a second POV through Hope, her presence did not add to the plot for me. She seems to exist for the purpose of giving Book opportunities to perform heroic acts.

The characters fell flat. I feel no attachment to any of them. The plot focuses on their struggles in the camp and on the run. There is no character development. In addition, the world building is weak and lacking. There is no background information on why the world becomes this way or what the government seeks to achieve with the dual camps. Again, motivation is lacking.

10% into the novel, I began skimming. By the midway point, I still had no idea what is going on. Maybe in the next book the author will go into more details, but The Prey provides the bare minimum of information about the war before the kid’s time. I have no interest in reading further.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 1 Star

Series
  1. The Prey

Similar Books

Content
  • Violence
** Content warnings are from the parts of the novel that I read and may not reflect the entirety of the novel **

Review: The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


The Cost of
All Things

Maggie Lehrman


Genre: YA Contemporary, Magical RealismTragedy
Hardback: 416 Pages
Publication: May 12, 2015
by Balzer + Bray



What would you pay to cure your heartbreak? Banish your sadness? Transform your looks? The right spell can fix anything…. When Ari's boyfriend Win dies, she gets a spell to erase all memory of him. But spells come at a cost, and this one sets off a chain of events that reveal the hidden—and sometimes dangerous—connections between Ari, her friends, and the boyfriend she can no longer remember.

Told from four different points of view, this original and affecting novel weaves past and present in a suspenseful narrative that unveils the truth behind a terrible tragedy.


Review

Imagine a world where you can buy the solution to any problem you have. You want beauty, grace, friends, happiness. . . ? Just buy a spell. Of course, you have to be careful what you wish for because spells have a way of coming back to bite you. In a world where you never know when someone is spelling you, can you even trust yourself?

The Cost of All Things is a deeply thoughtful and provocative novel about the consequences of living in a world where people can get a quick and easy fix to their problems. The characters laugh about how the desperate resort to spells. However, most of them turn to spells for answers. In a world where spells can easily resolve their problems, it is easier to rely on them instead of trying to work through their problems themselves. For example, Ari chooses to forget Win instead of working through the grieving process. There are only two people in this novel of which I know that do not use a spell. Even so, they get entangled in the mess of spells bought by other people that both directly and indirectly influence their lives. Their experiences provide a great contrast to the experiences of those who rely on spells to fix their problems.

The general availability of spells raises some moral issues. Are you still the same person after a spell has been cast on you? Ari provides the strongest statement on this issue. After forgetting about Win, she begins referring to the Ari that knew Win as "Old Ari" because she has lost a whole year of her life and no longer remembers the person that she was then. She isn't the same person as the Ari who knew and loved Win. Then there is the question of hooks. Hooks will keep people close to someone. If you cannot leave a certain radius, can you be said to be the same person you would be without the hook? Or if you get a beauty spell. Or even a simple gravity-defying spell that has a time limit. Our identity is shaped by the experiences that we have. How life altering is it to have access to all of these spells?

I appreciate how the four narrators present us with different insights into the influence of living in a world with spells. The multiple POV adds more depth and breadth to the novel. Nevertheless, I did have some problems with the execution of the narration. First, the POV switches fairly often. Second, the POVs are all told in the first person. While I don't necessarily mind the constant change in POV—it was done better than others I have seen—I do mind that it was done in the first person. That said, this is a personal issue of mine. I generally prefer novels to be told in the third person. More so when there are multiple narrators. This next point isn't a huge issue but would have enriched the reading experience: the narrators' voices were not unique. Their narrations were indistinguishable outside of their different experiences.

Some other things that would have been nice to have: I would have liked for the novel to show us more of the before. For example, what about Win and Ari's relationship made it worthwhile for her to forget about Win? How was their relationship perfect? What made her so dependent on Win that she felt like she could not live with her memories of Win? Or was their another reason that she had to forget him? Also, how do the different characters blame themselves for Win's death? I could have done without the explanation for how spells work. I like the magical realism it adds to the novel. If a reason is going to be provided, however, I don't buy into the idea that the spells reorganize one's brain. It doesn't make sense to me.

Overall, The Cost of All Things is one of the best YA novels I have read thus far in 2015. I love how it explores the complexity of human relationships and that the primary characters are not two people with a romantic interest in each other. In addition, this novel presents a moral dilemma and examines it from multiple perspectives. I definitely recommend checking this one out!

A review copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4 stars

Series
  • N/A

Content
  • Kissing, making out
  • Alcohol
  • Language
  • Sex (not explicit)
  • Violence

Review: Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

Friday, May 1, 2015


Song of the Lioness Series
Tamora Pierce

Genre: YA FantasyMedieval Fantasy
Hardback: 568 Pages
Publication: November 1, 2002
by Science Fiction Book Club



"From now on I'm Alan of Trebond, the younger twin. I'll be a knight."

In a time when girls are forbidden to be warriors, Alanna of Trebond wants nothing more than to be knight of the realm of Tortall. So she finds a way to switch places with her brother, Thom. Disguised as a boy, Alanna begins her training as a page at the palace of King Roald. The road to knighthood, as she discovers, is not an easy one. Alanna must master weapons, combat, magic -- and also polite behavior, her temper, and even her own heart. With stubbornness, skill, and daring, she wins the admiration of all around her, and the friendship of Prince Jonathan of Tortall himself. But she also makes an enemy of the prince's uncle, the powerful and charming Duke Roger....


Review

Song of the Lioness is one of my all-time favorite series. It is one of my staple comfort reads, and I re-read it at least once or twice a year.

Out of all of the YA authors with whom I am familiar, Tamora Pierce is the best at writing real characters. For a while now, I've seen a trend in YA lit to write "kickass" heroines. These heroines tend to be super strong one moment and a weeping mess another moment, leaving me confused as to who is the real them. When I think about a truly strong and independent heroine with some vulnerabilities, Alanna is the first heroine to come to mind (followed by Daine and Kel from Tamora Pierce's The Immortals and The Protector of the Small). Alanna is strong, independent, and courageous. When she gets picked on for being small and weak, she doesn't break down. Instead, she suffers quietly while diligently training on her own so that she can prove her strength further down the road. She is also vulnerable in that she is scared of her magic, and she is scared of her womanhood. What makes her real is that these vulnerabilities are integral to her identity. She isn't strong one moment and then her vulnerabilities are exposed the next like many of today's YA heroines. Rather, her vulnerabilities are always with her, and they are important to the plot. Alanna cannot attain true knighthood without embracing her vulnerabilities.

Song of the Lioness is Tamora Pierce's first series, so the writing and character / plot development isn't as well done as her later series. Nevertheless, these are very solid for a debut author. In particular, I want to draw attention to the world building. I love when authors take the time to draw the maps for a fantasy world and when they understand the culture and history of their fantasy worlds so well that they can really develop the world. I felt like I was traveling the world with Alanna, and I could feel the distinct change in culture when Alanna brought me with her across the borders into another nation and even when a foreigner would arrive in Tortall. Few YA fantasy novels possess this power.

Tamora Pierce also writes unique characters. It is rare nowadays to find a novel where I love the supporting cast as much as I love the heroine. George and Faithful especially. George is a paragon for chivalrous thieves, and Faithful is one of the best literary cats ever written. What makes such characters special is that, while I may be able to place them under stock character lists, they are alive. They have their unique histories and character quirks. When they take action or say something, it doesn't feel like it is because the author thought that it would be cool if they did such and such or if such a scene took place. Even if she did, the scenes flow into one another. Again, Song of the Lioness is Tamora Pierce's debut series, so some of the dialogue and action does feel forced, but I can see a pattern in them. Everything that happens builds into the plot, a plot that I very much enjoyed.

The most important takeaway from the Song of the Lioness series is that we can do whatever we set our minds on. Alanna is small and not as strong as the other pages. Instead of giving up, she works harder than everything else. When she learns that she has no talent in swordplay, she drills herself in the basics so long and so hard that her body can respond instinctively to attacks. When she is bullied, she trains herself so that she can beat a bigger boy instead of relying on her friends, who would have gladly fought in her place. In a world that isn't accepting of female knights, she fights to make a place for herself. Alanna is a young woman who never quits until she has tried as hard as she can to overcome a situation.

The Song of the Lioness series has one of my favorite heroines of all time, an exciting world of adventure, and some of the most lovable characters in YA lit. It has romance, but the romance doesn't take over the greater plot. At its heart, Song of the Lioness is a coming-of-age story in which a girl who doesn't belong makes a place of her own through sheer determination and force of will. Alanna is someone with whom I could relate growing up, and her story is one that I will continue to love even as I grow older. I will for sure share this story with my future children and anyone looking for a good book to read.

Rating: 5 stars

Series
  1. Alanna: The First Adventure
  2. In the Hand of the Goddess
  3. The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
  4. Lioness Rampant

Similar Books
  • The Immortals series by Tamora Pierce
  • The Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce
Content
  • Kissing
  • Suggested sex
  • Some violence