Posted in book review

Book Review: Girls Burn Brighter

Girls Burn Brighter

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Genres/Descriptors: contemporary; literary fiction

Publication: 2018

Pages: 309

Trigger/Content Warnings: sexual violence; human trafficking; physical assault & abuse

Check it out on Goodreads


What’s it about?

This book follows two young women (Poornima and Savitha) from India to the US. The girls first meet when Savitha is hired by Poornima’s father to work one of his sari looms, and they quickly develop a close bond. Both girls are very poor, but Savitha is even less well off than Poornima. Despite that, she helps Poornima find hope, beauty, and joy as they work and think about what their lives could be like.

After something horrible happens to Savitha and she leaves their village, Poornima resolves to find her, no matter what. Her journey to find her friend takes her from their small village, through awful ordeals of her own, and finally halfway across the world to the United States.

The book alternates between both points of view, and tackles of a lot of issues women face today all over the world.


Review:

This is not an easy book, and I strongly advise anyone who has experienced sexual trauma and/or domestic abuse to steer clear of it. Or at least read a lot of reviews that go in depth about what happens in this book. Find spoilers and prepare yourself, because this one is tough.

There aren’t any very graphic descriptions of the acts of violence inflicted on the characters, but a clear enough picture is painted. While I know that things like this are happening countless times to women every day, that didn’t make it any easier to read about, and I spent the majority of this novel vacillating between rage, nausea, and something like sorrow or depression.

I won an ARC of this over a year ago in a Goodreads giveaway, and at the time, I didn’t know much about it. Thankfully, I ended up in a terrible reading slump around the time the book arrived, and then I lost it for a few months (along with a couple other books I’d gotten from giveaway, because I’m a moron and didn’t pay attention to where I put them when I was reorganizing my shelves). I’m glad it took me so long to get to this, because I’ve had time to read a lot of reviews and prepare myself for it. If I’d gone into this before that, I’m not sure I could have finished it.

This store really feels pretty hopeless, but at the same time, there’s this shred of hope that stubbornly holds on, if that makes sense. Through rape and abuse, disfigurement, prostitution, human trafficking, an arranged marriage, and more, both women still hold out hope for getting back to each other, and escaping their circumstances and abusers. The bond between Savitha and Poornima was the one bright spot of hope and beauty in this tragic story.

I really don’t know what else to say about this book, because I could honestly talk about it for a very long time, but I think I’m going to wrap this up because I don’t think I can accurately convey my feelings without this getting horribly long.

The one thing that irked me a little was the ending. I wanted a little more from it. Yes, I can totally imagine what happened seconds after the last line, but I really wish that was actually on the page. It was a bit disappointing, and I know I’m not the only person who felt that way.

Overall, I think this is an important and powerful book, with strong writing and character development, but it’s definitely not for everyone, and it can be quite difficult to read.

I gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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Posted in book review

Book Review: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Genres/Descriptors: contemporary; YA; poetry (a novel in verse)

Why I read it:  A novel about poetry/a poet, written in verse? How could I not pick it up?

Who I’d recommend it to: If you’re into poetry at all or have enjoyed verse novels in the past, and/or if you enjoy YA contemporary stories, I highly recommend this one. Even if you’re not sure if a novel in verse is for you, I’d still recommend checking it out.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Books a Million | IndieBound


What it’s about (from Goodreads):

A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.

But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems.

Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.


Review:

Are you screeching in excitement yet? Folks, I don’t know how this evaded me for so long (ok, I do know, it’s because I intentionally pulled back from the bookish world because I knew I couldn’t buy books for a long time, and I didn’t want to be sad). I didn’t hear anything about this until….well, actually until I happened across it on Over Drive and looked it up on Good Reads. Seriously, did I just miss all the buzz because I was getting my hermit on, or was there just basically none?

First up, let’s talk about that cover. So pretty, right?! That caught my eye first, followed quickly by the word “poet” in the title. The artist was Gabriel Moreno and I’m kind of obsessed. It’s just so gorgeous and perfect and I feel like it really goes with the book. Check out more of Gabriel’s art here, if you’re interested (I was, and I’m really loving it).

Ok, onward to the book itself!

As most novels in verse are, this was a pretty quick read. It’s a little over 350 pages, but I could have easily read it in one afternoon if I’d been able to sit long enough. (Don’t  you hate it when you’re really loving a book but things like laundry keep interrupting?) I tore through this book and I’m really thinking about buying a copy. I feel like I could re-read this one a few times.

Xiomara…oh gods, where do I start? This girl is a fighter, in more ways than one, and I feel like this book is very timely. I think teenagers today need more books like this in their lives, and I wish I’d had this book when I was 10-12 years younger, because it would have hit me even harder and inspired me even more. I can honestly see this making it onto reading lists at some point (I’m really not sure how that works, but I know it’s going to be on my kid’s reading list in a few years).

The home life Xiomara had really hit close to home for me in some ways. She grew up with a Catholic family, while I grew up in a Protestant home, but her relationship with her mother reminded me of my life a bit. I didn’t actually expect to relate a lot to anyone in this book, because their life experiences are very different than mine in pretty much every way, but it happened anyway and broke my heart. But Xiomara, wow. She handled things so well (I can’t think of a better way she could have handled anything, really), definitely better than I would have, and I felt so proud of her. There was this one scene with her mother that made me go cold all over because it brought back memories, and my heart ached for her. I had to take a break for a while after reading that bit.

I had so many feelings while reading this. I seriously laughed and cried, I cringed a little, I whispered “oh no,” I cheered internally (and might have had a little fist pumping at some point). So many feelings. It was a journey, and it was wonderful and so real. I felt inspired by Xiomara, and I feel like this book would have been amazing for teenage me. (It was amazing for adult me, but it would have been more amazing for teenage me.)

I enjoy more flowery writing with novels in verse sometimes (or poetry, or novels, in general, honestly), but the contemporary and sometimes very blunt writing in this novel, mixed with metaphors and imagery was refreshing and very well done. Which I guess shouldn’t be surprising considering Elizabeth Acevedo is an award-winning slam poet herself. This book was kind of a diary, and I feel like it read like that, if that makes sense. Like, this could have been a real diary, just written in verse. It felt very personal and raw a lot of the time, and it definitely (as I’ve said) gave me feelings

This book was just so good and I think I’ll be recommending it a lot.

Posted in book review

Book Review: Everything Must Go by Jenny Fran Davis

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Genres: YA; contemporary

Why I read it: The cover. I saw it while browsing goodreads giveaways, entered on a whim, and won an ARC.

Who I’d recommend it to: A lot of different people, honestly. If you like smart, funny, compulsively readable books in interesting formats (like epistolary novels, things like Illuminae, etc.) with feminist themes, I would recommend this.

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

 

Goodreads | Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Book Depository 


What it’s about:

Flora Goldwasser has fallen in love. She won’t admit it to anyone, but something about Elijah Huck has pulled her under. When he tells her about the hippie Quaker school he attended in the Hudson Valley called Quare Academy, where he’ll be teaching next year, Flora gives up her tony upper east side prep school for a life on a farm, hoping to woo him. A fish out of water, Flora stands out like a sore thumb in her vintage suits among the tattered tunics and ripped jeans of the rest of the student body. When Elijah doesn’t show up, Flora must make the most of the situation and will ultimately learn more about herself than she ever thought possible.

Told in a series of letters, emails, journal entries and various ephemera, Flora’s dramatic first year is laid out for all to see, embarrassing moments and all.


Review:

I’m not really sure what I expected, going into this, but it’s not what I got. I think I was expecting a possibly humorous, but otherwise generic, contemporary YA story. What I got was different. It was still funny, but it was way deeper than I’d expected.

Flora is like the very best of Blair Waldorf (Gossip Girl) and Cher Horowitz (Clueless). She was a privileged, upper east side, vintage-fashion-loving, private school girl, but she was also aware of and passionate about things like feminism, the environment, etc. I really thought this book and Flora, in particular, were going to make me mad, because she left her home and school to go to the Quare Academy (which actually sounded like a place I would have loved to have gone) all because of some slightly older guy she barely knew. But then amazing things happened.

During Flora’s first year, she makes some mistakes and things are generally not so great for her, at least at first. I loved how real this book felt. I had to keep reminding myself the letters and stuff were fiction, because Jenny Fran Davis did such a good job creating a realistic world and cast of characters. She didn’t shy away from difficult topics, and I think she handled all of them so well in this book.

I don’t want to say much about the plot, partly because it’s really hard to describe, but mostly because I think this is a book you should start without really knowing too much about it. While this book does cover some very serious topics, I enjoyed how it never felt like it took itself too serious.

The characters were great. Flora, of course, but also the people in her life at Quare and back home in Manhattan. She really learned a lot from many of them, and watching her grow as a character throughout the book was really nice. I hate when a book takes a character through really rapid changes (in a chapter or two, for example) because it feels too rushed. Or, on the opposite side of things, a character doesn’t grow and change at all throughout the book. Both are usually unbelievable. But with Flora, her change was gradual and never felt forced, rushed, or otherwise unrealistic.

I particularly liked Juna and Dean, and wouldn’t have minded getting to know both of them even more. Especially Dean, I think. Then there was the kind of mysterious Sinclaire, who had one of my favorite lines in the whole book (in an e-mail to Flora). I had to put the book down until I stopped laughing and could get the visual out of my head. Sam was kind of an ass, but I liked him and his relationship with Flora. Elijah, though. Ugh. I wanted to kick him in the shins repeatedly. Basically, I really liked most of the characters, even the ones we didn’t get to know very well.

The Miss Tulip subplot was fun to read about. I don’t want to say a lot about it because I don’t want to give away any potential spoilers, but the way Flora’s friends from Manhattan factored in was kind of amusing. (Also, that’s totally a blog I would probably read.) There was also the Nymphette Magazine side story that I enjoyed. (Also a magazine I would have loved, probably, back when I was a teenager.) The way the two were tied in together was funny, heartwarming, and just generally a good time.


This has been one of the hardest book reviews I’ve ever written. I have so many feelings about it, and the characters, but it’s hard to talk about it without giving things away :/ There are a lot of things I really want to talk about, but I’m afraid it would be spoiler-y. Sigh. 

To summarize: I definitely recommend it, and I will almost certainly be keeping an eye out for more books from Jenny Fran Davis in the future.

Posted in book tags/memes

Must Read Mondays: August 14th

must-read-mondays

Must Read Monday is a weekly thing I do here to recommend books I’ve read and enjoyed. I might sometimes throw in something I gave 3 stars to, but for the most part they’re books I gave a 4-5 star rating to. That doesn’t mean they’re necessarily amazing literature, but it does mean I liked them enough to recommend them to other people.


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cover; links to goodreads

When I read it: July 2014 and June 2016

Genres: YA; contemporary; romance

Recommended for: This is probably  the only contemporary I’ve liked enough to recommend to lots of people. I’d suggest it for older high school/early college students, especially if you have anxiety and/or are into things like fan fiction.

Trigger warnings: alcoholism/alcohol abuse (I think); mental illness. Let me know if I should add to this, please!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository


What it’s about:

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


Eeeek, I’m so late posting this!

I’m not a great lover of contemporaries, so finding one that I actually adored was kind of a surprise for me. I got the Kindle edition of this back in ’14 because it was on sale and I’d never read any of Rainbow Rowell’s books before, and ended up loving it so much I bought the special edition hardcover.

Even though I don’t have a twin and I didn’t have the typical college experience, I related to this book (especially Cath) so much, and I wish this book had been out when I was younger.

Now, I recommend this a lot to people, even people who–like me–don’t really get into contemporary novels ever/very often.

Posted in book review

Book Review: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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cover; links to goodreads

Genres: literary fiction; magical realism; contemporary

Why I read it: The description. I’m a sucker for magical realism, and this sounded like something very relevant right now.

Who I’d recommend it to: I think this is one that I would recommend on a case by case basis, after getting an idea of the kinds of books a person usually like or dislikes. I don’t think it’s something everyone will enjoy.

 

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ (actual rating more like 3.75/5 stars)

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble


What it’s about:

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet—sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors—doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through.

Exit West follows these characters as they emerge into an alien and uncertain future, struggling to hold on to each other, to their past, to the very sense of who they are. Profoundly intimate and powerfully inventive, it tells an unforgettable story of love, loyalty, and courage that is both completely of our time and for all time.


Review:

I think the description was a little deceiving for this one, but I’m not entirely unhappy about that. The idea of the doors appearing transported people to other places sounded fascinating to me, but I wasn’t thrilled by the idea of reading a love story. **Possible spoiler alert** It wasn’t really a love story, though, or at least not for most of the book. Or, possibly more accurately, this wasn’t a love story the way The Notebook, or something like that, is a love story.

My feelings are still so conflicted about this book. I loved a lot of it, but at the same time, I had a difficult time getting through it. Overall, it was a very well told, beautifully written, story, so I think my issue with struggling to finish it goes back to the description and my expectations. I spent a lot of the book just feeling a little confused. The description isn’t inaccurate, but it was a bit misleading. It might also have been the writing, which I enjoyed, but it just didn’t work for me as much as I would have liked.

This story was brutal at times, and very timely with the social commentary. It’s a dystopian, in a way, but not the kind you’re probably used to. Instead of some mythic, possible future (however distant or near), this book is much closer to the harsh realities real people are living in today. Though the country Saeed and Nadia are from isn’t named, it’s easy to draw parallels between their lives and the current Syrian refugees situation.

The refugee and immigration aspect of this was heartbreaking, mostly (although not entirely), and that alone would be enough for me to recommend this book to a lot of people. You want to see things from another perspective? Read this. I too often hear people talk about immigrants like they’re all less than human, and lump them together in some awful category (terrorists, etc.), and I think, or hope, that books like this might help people like that to see things differently. The world needs a lot more compassion, and hopefully things like Exit West will inspire more people to look beyond their prejudices and hate and be more sympathetic and kind.

Following Nadia and Saeed was kind of an emotional roller coaster. There were highs and lows, intense moments, quiet moments, and everything in between. I never had any idea what would happen next, or how things would turn out in the end. I liked both characters, and they both seemed so realistic. These were probably two of the most human characters I’ve ever read about, now that I think about it, and I was rooting for them throughout the entire book. I didn’t care much, either way, if their romantic relationship worked out or not, I just wanted them to find peace, safety, and happiness.

 

I thought this book was going to try to pack too much into too little space (the book is just a little under 250 pages), but that fear was unnecessary. I never felt like too little attention was given to any feeling or situation, even the little snippets we got of what other doors were like for other people from other places. Those bits were a little strange at first, but still enjoyable, and I actually kind of wish there had been a bit more to them.

I’m afraid to say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I’ll just conclude by saying that, yes, I would probably recommend this.


If you’ve read Exit West, what did you think of it?