YA Romance Reviews

MADE YOU UP by Francesca Zappia — Insanely Good YA Romance

made you up
Image from goodreads.com

I ❤ reality-benders.  As soon as I heard about MADE YOU UP, I couldn’t wait to read it!  As far as offbeat and bittersweet go–check and check.  If you’re stuck in the overflowing washing machine of YA tropes and are looking for something a little (or in this case, a lotta) different, pick this baby up.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s begin with the Amazon.com summary:

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you. For fans of Silver Linings Playbook and Liar, this thought-provoking debut tells the story of Alex, a high school senior—and the ultimate unreliable narrator—unable to tell the difference between real life and delusion.

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out what is real and what is not. 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 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. Can she trust herself? Can we trust her?

The first thing I want to talk about is something that I can’t discuss since it would mean spoilers, and IT’S KILLING ME!  I’d love to enter a goodreads discussion with other readers of this book just to talk about what is real and what is not.  Zappia does a beautiful job painting the world as Alex sees it, blending reality and delusion until it’s impossible to tell the difference.  As a reader, I felt I knew better than Alex as she takes pictures to try and straighten out what is real and what’s made up, but that false sense of security in judgement is turned on its head at the end of the second act.  Ultimately, the reader is left in an existential fix as Alex questions her entire reality…but that’s where the love story comes in.

Miles is the valedictorian terror of the school.  He’s just about the worst person Alex, or anyone else for that matter, could get mixed up with.  He’s a paid prank artist and does horrible things to the possessions of people who’ve done nothing more than make his acquaintance (including Alex).  Miles describes himself as being emotionally stunted and seems the last person to anchor Alex in reality.  That is until he discovers (rather dramatically) that Alex is schizophrenic.  This draws him to her, his complicated history unraveling as Alex digs deeper into what makes Miles…Miles.  His home life so dark, his intellect so impossibly high, and his pranks so unthinkable, that it is both easier and harder to see him as a made up character.  Of course, Miles is a made up character–Zappia’s character.  The English major inside me at this up!

But even if you aren’t compelled to gleefully over-analyze every piece of media you encounter that contains a narrative, plumbing its depths for hidden meanings, you will find reasons to enjoy this book.  The characters act, talk, and think like authentic high schoolers.  Zappia has a humorous, quirky writing style that zips along, and you can tell she had a lot of fun writing it.

Be sure to check out Francesca Zappia’s webpage and her DeviantArt page where she posts artwork that goes with her stories.  Happy reading!

Michelle Joyce Bond

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YA Romance Reviews

SECOND VERSE by Jennifer Walkup — YA Jersey Author

second
Image from amazon.com

Next in my series of New Jersey author’s, I’m pleased to present Jennifer Walkup whose romantic YA thriller SECOND VERSE will draw you into the shadows.

When Lange moves with her mom to a 200-year-old farmhouse, she has no clue what chilling history awaits her.  A séance puts Lange in touch with Ginny, a girl who was murdered.  Vaughn, a cute musician from her high school, was holding her hand during the séance.  He, too heard the whispered warning of the ghost, words that will haunt Lange through the rest of the book.

As Lange and Vaughn work to solve the mystery behind who killed Ginny, they draw closer and closer together.  But someone is watching them, a killer bent on using their love against them.  Is possible that the same person who murdered Ginny all those years ago is now after Lange?  Will she be able to outsmart him…or will history repeat itself?

I absolutely loved Walkup’s authentic teen voice which is clear from the banter between Lange and her friends in the very first scene and holds until the end of the book.  Walkup creates a fine web of tension as Lange discovers clue after grizzly clue.  One of the most intriguing things about the book was the title which I believe is a reference to the saying: “Second verse, same as the first.”  This theme ties in not only with the spiritual connection between Lange and Ginny’s characters but also blends in with the presence of music in the book as Vaughn is a talented songwriter.  Don’t miss this eerie YA romance!

Visit Jennifer Walkup’s site for more about SECOND VERSE and news on her new, upcoming title, THIS ORDINARY LIFE!

http://www.jenniferwalkup.com/#!

Michelle Joyce Bond

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

FangirlStrong, flawed, excessively introverted female protagonist + adorable, affectionate, extroverted male = I love this book! 

Top Five Things I Loved About This Book (in no particular order):

1. snappy, fun dialogue
2. self-aware narration including humorous jabs and writers and readers
3. cool parallels between the embedded fan fiction and the actual narrative
4. realistic problems that are pushed over the top to the point that the characters become parodies of themselves…extremes that they are aware of and even COMMENT about
5. Levi 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

Photo credit: goodreads.com

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: THROUGH TO YOU by Emily Hainsworth

Through to You HC_FinalIf you’re looking for a writer whose work typifies the phrase, “Leave space for the reader to inhabit,” Hainsworth is your girl.

It’s difficult for me to allow myself the luxury of reading for long, long stretches, but once I slipped into this book, it was difficult to escape.  The prose of this YA novel is so eloquently written, each detail so carefully selected as to–at times–be almost sparse, that I glided through it in just a few hours.  Everything from the protagonist’s voice to the description of the setting feels authentic, giving the reader just enough detail to enjoy, picture, and relate to what occurs in a given scene–allowing them plenty of latitude to fill in pieces for themselves.  It’s fitting that, in this novel which plays with the concept of moving through a portal to another reality, Hainsworth has left the perfect about of space for the reader to inhabit.  She draws us into her world by making room for us.

The story question, deceptively simple, raises all kinds of problems for Camden PIke: What if he were able to see his dead girlfriend, still alive in an alternate reality?  The setting, despite Camden’s ability to move between realities, is closed and simple, and the book’s cast of characters–limited.  By doing this, Hainsworth funnels the reader’s attention more toward the internal story–Cam’s struggle as he compares what he thought he knew about his girlfriend’s basic nature to her possessive, reckless behavior under the conditions of this alternate universe.  This is while Cam, at the same time, confronts another version of his own story where a positive attitude and different choices lead to greater success.  The blame for how his life turned out in his own reality rests squarely on his shoulders…with one small caveat.  Cam will learn that the people who enter his life–and those he makes an effort to keep close to him–ultimately help to make him a different person.

Hainsworth is one of those authors who makes it look easy but whose work, upon close examination, can be appreciated down tot he sentence level for exactly how much effort was put into it.  And this is only her first novel.  An immediate fan–I can’t wait to plunge into her next book.

Michelle Joyce Bond

 

 

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE By Laini Taylor

untitled          Readers crave the strange and unusual. Drop them into a setting that is beautiful–but in an odd way and dangerous–but in a subtle way. This is a powerful combination, and Taylor accomplishes it in her book twice over.

          First, she paints the gothic fairytale city of Prague as the backdrop for her unconventional teen protagonist that includes layers of history and modern/reinvented buildings that have seen their share of death. It’s a landscape dripping with sharp sensory details, dark humor, symbolism, foreshadowing, and–well–backshadowing. Writers, if you are lacking setting details in your manuscript, this is definitely a book you’ll want to pick up.

          Her scenes in Prague and other real-world cities, however, are only the warm-up act. Taylor later immerses us in the landscape, culture, and history of a parallel world. This place is populated by warring chimera and angels whose prejudices about one another come alive in origin stories—stories that offer us more than one lens through which to view their world.

          If you are writing a paranormal or fantasy in which your characters cross over into another universe, you should read this. The world Taylor creates is completely original, but at the same time, it serves as a dark mirror for our own earth.

           What other books have you read that include immersive settings?

           Michelle Joyce Bond

           Image Credit: goodreads.com

YA Romance Reviews

Read Like a Writer: EVERY DAY by David Levithan

If you are writing YA fiction, you need to read this book.

every dayEvery Day is a perfect example of how a powerful concept can drive the plot.  “A,” is a sixteen-year-old consciousness that changes bodies every day.  I’ll defer to the pronoun “he” to describe A, though lack of a consistent body means A has no permanent gender.  He also has no permanent race, religion, etc.–a concept which allows Levithan to test the parameters by which we define ourselves.

Teenagers are people at a very unique point in their lives as they are working to define exactly who they are.  That makes the concept of A all the more powerful—this teenager who defines himself not by the above mentioned categories but by his own moral code.  He tries as much as possible not to disturb the lives of the teenagers whose bodies he’s borrowing, but in doing so, he sacrifices his own ability to “find himself.”  His character can have no arc—no development and, as a result, no life.

That is…until he falls in love.  A meets Rhiannon, an aptly named girl who exhibits the same open, excepting qualities he values in himself.  And of course it doesn’t hurt that she has the same taste in music.  She takes him out of his comfort zone because–suddenly–he wants nothing more than to see this same person every day.  This is regardless of what body he happens to be wearing.  He wants, against all odds, to develop a relationship with this girl—a happenstance that will, in turn, develop A as a character.

Writers, this is how to do it.  Begin with a strong concept that challenges genre, structure, archetypes, etc. and built around it.  Levithan’s book is not just about an unlikely romance.  It’s not just about a kid with an unwanted power, and it isn’t just about the unique challenges and choices faced by teenagers.  It’s all of the above and more.  It’s the incredibly powerful intersection of those things and the conclusions Levithan comes to when playing with those narrative layers.  It’s art as art is meant to be—a mirror to life.

This book is an excellent read for any YA writer because its high concept mechanism challenges the genre, but that’s not the only reason you should pick up this book.

A side effect of A constantly being thrown into a new body is Levithan’s need to quickly and vividly paint new characters.  Granted, some of these characters are walking stereotypes, ostensibly created so that A can mentally berate them for their behavior, but for the most part, this book is an excellent study on how to introduce a character and show a measure of depth with only a few lines.

Levithan also strives to show many different teenagers facing a range of problems from normal teenage woes to incredible strife.  This makes the book an interesting read for those of us who have a tendency to write the same characters over and over.  Perhaps, like A, you will fall in love with this book, and it will draw you out of your comfort zone.  You will keep coming back, each time discovering more possibilities that will add realism to your writing.  Perhaps you will finally develop. 🙂

Michelle Joyce Bond

photo credit and author site: www.davidlevithan.com

YA Romance Reviews

When You Read TIME BETWEEN US by Tamara Ireland Stone

time between usAll Anna’s ever wanted in her comfortable little life is to travel beyond her hometown of Evanston, Illinois.  All Bennett’s ever wanted is stability.  Normalcy.  He has the power to move through space and time but has grounded himself momentarily in Anna’s town for personal reasons.  As soon as he hears Anna’s name, he recognizes her.  He’s seen the older Anna…a woman who gave him a warning.

Now, what Bennett’s tried to prevent is happening anyway.  Their lives are becoming entwined.  But Bennett is from the future–sixteen years later in San Fransisco, California.  It would be much easier if there were only distance between them…but there is all this time.  Bennett can’t always control his power.  What if he couldn’t get back?

When you read Time Between Us, you will be reminded of what makes an otherwise good young adult paranormal romance great.  Bennett’s power serves as a vehicle to explore deeper themes of love and attachment.  The title itself points this out and is echoed through the book as both the time spent between the characters (tense or enjoyable) and the time that literally separates them.  There are other strong themes–questions of morality and consequence–but the heart of the book is in the developing relationship between Anna and Bennett.  Tamara Ireland Stone does a beautiful job of reminding us of what ties us to one another.  Our simple, close moments.

Michelle Joyce Bond