Posted in book review

Review: How to Be Happy

9781925240344-how-to-be-happy-by-david-burtonHow to Be Happy: A memoir of love, sex, and teenage confusion by David Burton

Release Date: August 25, 2015

Publisher: Text Publishing

Themes: memoir, coming-of-age, sex, sexuality, growing up, mental health

My Rating: ★★

Goodreads Summary: A funny, sad and serious memoir, ‘How to Be Happy’ is David Burton’s story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first ‘date’ is a disaster. There’s the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival – David is not sporty – and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine. And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David. ‘How to Be Happy’ tackles depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion. It’s a brave and honest account of one young man’s search for a happy, true and meaningful life that will resonate with readers young and old.

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My Review

I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. I’m going to have a really hard time reviewing this one. But first, I want to say that this book has some  MAJOR Trigger Warnings for – depression, suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm. 

I don’t really feel like it’s my place to judge a person’s life, and I’m not going to review this as though it were fiction. I’m not going to talk about my opinions on how the author lived his life, and as this is a memoir, that means this review is going to be pretty short, and probably not like most of my other reviews.

I had a pretty hard time reading this book. It just wasn’t for me. I prefer my memoirs to be light, occasionally funny, and relatable. This is not that book. This is a relatively non-analytical re-telling of Burton’s life that relates some incredibly difficult and hard times in his life. While I don’t mind this in fiction, something about reading a really depressing memoir just made me ask, “Why am I doing this to myself?” Honestly, I have enough depression in my own life, and I felt myself re-hashing all of my own life choices as I was reading. Similar to More Happy Than Not, while this book discusses some very important things, it just wasn’t an enjoyable reading experience for me.

On top of that, I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style. Much of the memoir felt pretty choppy and disjointed, even though it followed a (mostly) chronological timeline. Plus, while this book definitely doesn’t claim in any way to actually be advice on “how to be happy”, I felt that a lot of Burton’s commentary got lost. There was a bunch of commentary right in the beginning and right at the end, and I wish it had been mixed a little bit more into the middle.

Overall, I can see how some people would enjoy this, and get a lot out of it, but I think I’m just not the right person. His story wasn’t relatable, and due to that it made it really hard to empathize with him and his writing.

-Sky

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Review: The Love Interest

31145148The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Release Date: May 16, 2017

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Themes: LGBTQIA+, dystopian, parody/literary commentary

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Summary: There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets. Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad? Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die. What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

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My Review

First of all, I’ve been excited about this book’s release since October of last year. The premise of the subversion of YA tropes was fascinating, and I was really happy that someone was finally going to point out all of the things wrong with Young Adult books that have been published in the past, and the harmful tropes that are often interlaced into some of our favorite books. However, around the release date, when I picked up my own copy, I started noticing that there were a lot of mixed reviews. I didn’t read ANY of them in order to avoid spoilers, but seeing all of the ratings started making me a little bit nervous, but I was hopeful. This book had the potential to be everything I had ever wanted in a YA novel. After finishing it, I find that I’ve come away with pretty complicated feelings about this book, especially after reading several reviews (both positive and negative).

The Love Interest is clearly meant to be a parody on the typical “love triangle” trope, and I think it needs to be treated as such. The main characters, Caden and Dylan, fit the “nice” and “bad” boy molds that they’ve been trained to fill, yet that isn’t entirely who they are. They both have their own ideas about who they want to be in life, and they have their own interests and personalities outside of the job they’ve been given of winning over “the love interest”. Honestly, that wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting sort of robotic characters who just spit out the answers that were expected of them, rather than actual human beings who had been trained into a profession. While I feel like there could have been a bit more character development (especially in the side characters), Dylan and Caden were a lot less one-dimensional than I was expecting.

I think this worked for a couple of reasons. One, it made the characters more interesting, and made it easier to become invested in their stories. Two, Dietrich used it to bring in a lot of pop culture references that I really liked. I love it when characters actually have hobbies, or like music and reading, because it makes them more relatable. Three, it gave Dietrich more room to play with his commentary on their roles in the love triangle. It allowed him to add in a lot more commentary on the problematic aspects of the male stereotypes that often accompany love triangles. One of my favorite lines in the book is a comment that Dylan makes to Caden, wherein he states that he has to be rude and mean to everyone to make himself look stronger, because “strong nowadays means being a total dick”. A tragic backstory and a hard outer shell (put up to protect oneself) do not excuse attitude towards others, and general unkindness. You can be a nice person and have had a hard life. On the flip side, there is also the idea that being the nice guy doesn’t mean you can’t stand up for yourself. Early on, Caden is walking with Juliet (the love interest) and they are mugged. Caden knows that as the “nice” guy, he isn’t supposed to fight or be confrontational, but he does anyway because he knows he should be able to protect himself and Juliet. He knows he doesn’t have to let everyone walk all over him. You can be nice and still stand up for what is right, and protect yourself and others from harm. This subtle commentary wouldn’t have been possible if Dylan and Caden were truly their characters, and not just acting the part. My biggest complaint in regards to the actual love triangle is that we only see Caden’s perspective, so a lot of Dylan’s role as the “bad” boy is never shown. I would have loved to see more of Juliet’s interactions with Dylan, and how the LIC sets up those characters to succeed in winning over the intended love interest.

Yet, in a way, I’m glad that there weren’t multiple perspectives/POVs in this book. This book was attempting to do A LOT, so I think having more than one point of view would have just over-complicated things to the point where the book would either feel too short, or everything would just get muddled. I’ll go into detail with this more later, but while I appreciate what this book was trying to do, I felt that rather than commenting on EVERY issue in YA lit, it may have been better to focus on just a few and develop a stronger argument about them. Sort of an issue with quality over quantity with the commentary. The commentary that was there was good, but because there was so many different topics addressed, I felt like there wasn’t enough room to go in-depth on any of them. There were a lot of details and aspects that got a bit pushed to the side, and I think they could have (and should have) been more thoroughly developed.

One piece of commentary that this book did really well was the commentary on queer characters in YA lit. Dietrich is pretty open about his opinions on the treatment of queer characters in books and I’m really glad he used his platform as an author to explore these issues and showcase them in the novel. Many LGBTQIA+ characters in books that are being published are either minor side characters, token characters, or they get killed off. There was a big point made in this book that Caden, a queer boy, is the protagonist. He is the main character in this story, and there is no room for debate.

Another thing that was done really well is the plot. The book moves quickly, but not too fast so that it gets confusing. There is never a dull moment, and the fight for Juliet always feels high-stakes. A life is at stake, and that aspect of Caden and Dylan’s story doesn’t get pushed under the rug. It’s always there, lingering at the back of their minds, fueling their desperation as they each try to get closer to Juliet. On top of that, Dietrich also managed to throw in plenty of twists and turns that I wasn’t at all expecting. This made the plot even more engaging, and I never wanted to put the book down. The only point where the plot got a bit confusing was toward the end, which felt a bit rushed,  but it wasn’t ever bad enough that I felt like I needed to reread a section.

The biggest complaint that I have was that the writing wasn’t particularly great. It definitely wasn’t terrible, but much of the dialogue felt a bit unrealistic and at times incredibly awkward. I can sort of see where this could have been intentional, as Caden and Dylan were raised without a lot of normal human interactions, so it makes sense that they wouldn’t be absolutely perfect conversationalists when they’re not following the scripts that have been written for them, but it felt a little bit overboard at times. Dialogue between teenagers can be awkward at times, but it isn’t always that way, and in order for readers to be able to relate to a book like this the dialogue has to be realistic, and at times it just wasn’t. 

One complaint that I saw pop up in many of the reviews I read was that the world building is lacking. My response to this is similar to the response that many people have towards Kiera Cass’s The Selection series, which is largely based around the drama and “Bachelor”-style of the royal hierarchy. The Love Interest is a parody/commentary on tropes. This book isn’t meant to be the greatest dystopian novel ever written, and I think it’s wrong to expect Hunger Games or Game of Thrones-level world-building going into it. There are some plot holes and issues with the world-building, but this book just wasn’t trying to accomplish anything miraculous on that front. I think it’s important to suspend disbelief where the book requires or asks us to, not where we want to.

Well. This review ended up being ridiculously long, and I’m really proud of you if you stuck with me all the way to this point. Congratulations! You get a gold star. I do actually have some more thoughts on two problematic aspects of this book, but they are SUPER spoilery, so I’m actually going to add a section down below all this containing those thoughts if you’re feeling brave and want to check that out. Overall, I can see where a lot of the negative reviews are coming from. This book definitely isn’t perfect, but that didn’t stop me from really enjoying it anyway.

-Sky

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SPOILER SECTION OF MY REVIEW

Ok, so I’ll start off with my less-aggravating issue that I had with this book. The relationship between Natalie and Trevor. I wasn’t super thrilled with the normalization of cheating in their relationship. I don’t approve of cheating (defined by me as engaging in a relationship with more than one person when one or more people did not consent to a polygamous/polyamorous relationship), in absolutely ANY circumstance. It just isn’t ok in my book, and I don’t approve of treating it as something that is normal and something that can be easily brushed aside. The only reason that I gave this particular situation a bit of a past is because Natalie and Trevor’s relationship was based in a lie to begin with (since Natalie is a love interest). However, both of them agreed that their love had moved beyond that “lie” stage, and Natalie’s original indifference toward him had indeed moved into love. I don’t really think it’s that easy to get over the love of your life cheating on you.

My larger issue with this book is Dylan’s queer-baiting. I despise it even more because it could have been fixed with just a bit more dialogue added for clarification. We do get some hint from Juliet that he is indeed gay, despite his rejection of the notion, but it would have been so easy for some dialogue to be added explaining exactly WHY Dylan wanted to lie about his sexuality after all that time. He isn’t gay up until the final battle, and then miraculously in the epilogue he’s come out completely and is in a full-on relationship with Caden. That’s a pretty big plot point in my opinion, and I definitely think it deserved more attention than it got. I also don’t really like that Dylan’s sudden retreat back into the closet is used as a “plot twist”, especially without the explanation as to why he made that choice.

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Book Review: The Pants Project

30095473The Pants Project by Cat Clarke

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Themes: middle grade, LGBTQIA+, contemporary

My Rating: ★★★★

Summary: “My name is Liv (Not Olivia)… I’m not technically a girl. I’m Transgender. Which is a bit like being a transformer. Only not quite as cool as cool because I probably won’t get to save the world one day.” A Transformer is a robot in disguise. Liv is a boy in disguise. It’s that simple. Liv knows he was always meant to be a boy, but with his new school’s terrible dress code, he can’t even wear pants. Only skirts. Operation: Pants Project begins! The only way for Live to get what he wants is to go after it himself. But to Liv, this isn’t just a mission to change the policy- it’s a mission to change his life. And that’s a pretty big deal.

My Review: I was sent this book as an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I don’t have too much to say about this book honestly, other than the fact that I really liked it. It was cute, sweet, and simple, and it made me really happy the entire time I was reading it. Tragic queer books are all too common these days, and this is not that kind of book. It’s happy, fluffy, and adorable, and everything we need in the middle grade genre.

What I loved about this book is that there is a transgender main character, but there’s also a lot of other diversity as well. One of the most important aspects in this book is that not everyone reacts the same way to this diversity. It shows accurately that not everyone has the same values and opinions, and not everyone is accepting. I believe this kind of exposure for younger kids is important because they can see how the characters react to these opinions, and teach them how to respond in their own lives to hatred and bigotry and closed-mindedness.

There wasn’t anything particularly special about the writing, but Liv’s narration was a lot of fun to read. He was, at least to me, a realistic kid who’s growing up in a typical middle school environment, not quite sure how to navigate the social hierarchy of hormonal teenagers. I liked seeing him develop his relationships with both friends and family, and watching him fight for the Pants Project throughout the school year.

Middle grade books can definitely learn something from this one, and I’m really excited to see more diverse books coming out all the time. We really need them.

-Sky

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Review: Insomniac City

9781620404959Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

Themes: LGBT, memoir, nonfiction

My Rating: ★★★★★

Summary: Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city’s incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera. And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose exuberance–“I don’t so much fear death as I do wasting life,” he tells Hayes early on–is captured in funny and touching vignettes throughout. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death (Sacks died of cancer in August 2015). Insomniac City is both a meditation on grief and a celebration of life. Filled with Hayes’s distinctive street photos of everyday New Yorkers, the book is a love song to the city and to all who have felt the particular magic and solace it offers.

My Review: I was sent this book as an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed a nonfiction book, let a lone a memoir. So bear with me as I figure out exactly what I want to say about this book. This book is beautiful in a lot of different ways. First of all, Bill Hayes’s life isn’t anything particularly extraordinary, but it’s precisely this that makes this book so incredible. Bill Hayes writes like he has the most extraordinary life, and he makes the reader believe it, too. Every word he writes exalts his simple, humble life in the most breathtaking way. As stated in the summary, this book truly is a “love song to the city” of New York, where he lived alongside his partner, Oliver Sacks, and the millions of other people moving through life in New York City.

Told mostly in short journal entries mixed with small anecdotes and commentaries, this book is a kind of stream-of-consciousness  window into not only Hayes’s everyday life, but also into the great mind of Oliver Sacks, an incredibly intelligent man and author. The way Hayes writes about Sacks is so incredibly endearing, and Sacks’s child-like curiosity and enthusiasm for the world around him is so sweet and infectious. Seeing this through the eyes of Hayes, someone who loved him dearly, was absolutely beautiful.

Hayes’s other true love that we get to see is the city of New York. As a person who has only been to NYC once, and didn’t find it to be particularly pleasant, I can now officially say that I am in love with New York City. All of Hayes’s interactions with the people he would meet and photograph around the city were so fascinating and surprising. I almost never talk to strangers on the street beyond the typical “nod and smile”, but this book made me want to stop and talk to every single person. It absolutely amazes me that Hayes could have had so many positive experiences with so many random strangers.

One of the most miraculous things about this book is how easily both Hayes and Sacks make what is honestly a pretty horrible situation into something simple, and completely normal. Neither of them have any trouble going about their lives, no matter what life throws their way. They’re just so happy in the simplest, sweetest way, and it was an absolute joy to read. Their uninhibited love for life and the world around them was so refreshing in this cynical, divisive world, and I’m so glad I got to read and review this book.

-Sky

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Review: Dreadnought

dreadnought_coverlargeDreadnought (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels

Release date: January 24, 2017

Publisher: Diversion

Themes: Superheroes, LGBTQIA+, urban fantasy, transgender main character, #ownvoices

My Rating: ★★★★★

Summary: Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl. It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

My Review: I was sent this book as an eARC by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I was so excited to receive this book, and it did not disappoint. A transgender superhero? This book is everything I always needed, without ever even realizing it. This kind of progress of representation in books (particularly books targeted towards a younger audience) is so important, and it makes me so happy to know that progress is indeed being made. Not only was the main character transgender, but several of the side characters were people of color, or members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This book has one of the most diverse casts I’ve ever read, and it was done beautifully.

This book wasn’t amazing just because it was diverse; it was good for so many more reasons. Daniels’s writing is spectacular. I was a little apprehensive about reading a book with so much action, because I feel like superhero stories tend to translate better through film or at least comics/graphic novels. I had no problem with that in this book. The action sequences were executed masterfully, and I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on, or who was doing what. 

I also loved this book because of the characters. Daniels did an amazing job of giving each set of character their own set of morals and ethical opinions that they believed in. Every single character knew exactly what they believed in, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with all (or even most) of their morals, I appreciated that Daniels was so thorough. I think it’s really important that not every character reacted the same way to Danny’s situation and story. Some people were completely accepting, others were not. Everyone has their own reasons for their opinions, and I really liked that no matter what my thoughts were on a character’s opinion, I knew exactly why they thought what they did. I also think this variety was a realistic representation of the real world (though as a disclaimer I will never feel qualified to even try to judge what is a “realistic” experience for someone who is transgender) . There are some pretty toxic opinions and people out there, but there are also people out there who don’t bat an eye, and are completely supportive and accepting. 

One of my favorite things about this book was the seamless fusion of Danny’s life as a superhero, and her life as a teenager. She saves the world (or tries to), but she also is a teenager who goes to school and does her homework and studies for tests. I was really happy to see that, despite all of the changes in her life, Danny didn’t just give up any semblance of a normal teenager’s life. As much as she wants to help people, she also has her own life to live, and she won’t give that up without a fight. 

I also appreciated that this book doesn’t glorify violence. While the battle scenes were epic, the casualties were acknowledged with dignity, and there was never an acceptance of violence simply for the sake of violence, even on the villainous side. Every step is taken to avoid unnecessary violence, and when it is required, it is done with a simple sense of duty, rather than an idea of vengeance or pleasure.

This book is the perfect blend of action, mystery, heroism, and contemporary life. It instantly became one of my all-time favorites, and I can’t wait to see where the next book takes our eclectic cast of characters.

-Sky

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Review: If This is Home

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If this is Home by Kristine Scarrow

Release Date: January 28, 2017

Publisher: Dundurn

Themes: YA contemporary, family, cancer, friendship

My Rating: ★★★★

 

Summary: Jayce Loewen has had to take on a lot of responsibility over the years. Her single mom works two jobs and long hours, leaving Jayce in charge of her four-year-old sister most of the time. When her mom is diagnosed with cancer, Jayce decides to track down her long-absent father in the hope that he will be able to make everything okay again. Looking for her dad was one thing, but when she actually finds him, Jayce is in for a real shock. When everything in her life seems to be going wrong, Jayce has to figure out who her family really is, and how to live with the possibility of losing the person she loves most.

My Review: I was sent this book as an eARC by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

To be honest, I was a little bit skeptical about this book going into it. Since this is the first eARC I’ve received for review, I wasn’t quite sure what kind of quality to expect, even though I asked for the book in the first place.

This book was definitely not what I was expecting, but I loved it all the more for that. This book has the premise of being a parent-with-cancer book, so I went into it fully expecting a heart-breaking, soul-crushing experience. I came out of this book happier than I would have ever thought possible. This book is powerful, and while at times it can be sad, this book is above all things: hopeful and strong. There is such a strong focus in this book on strong familial relationships and friendships, and it was just so refreshing. So many books these days are about families that fall apart during times of hardship, and this book was the exact opposite. Hardship brings this family together in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without it, and all of them are stronger as a result. While Jayce’s family has gone through the wringer, they love each other so much, and are so supportive through thick and thin.

The characters in this book try so hard, and Scarrow did an amazing job of developing them in a pretty short book. Every single character in this book has good intentions, despite the fact that most of them are deeply flawed. Something that I loved about this book is that all of the characters work so hard to be good people, and acknowledge when they make mistakes and try to atone for them. I also really appreciated that sometimes, no matter how much they try, it just isn’t enough. A lot of the time I feel like really horrible things are forgiven too easily in books, so I loved that it’s shown here that sometimes there just isn’t room for forgiveness. 

I didn’t really have any major problems with this book, but there also wasn’t anything in particular that made it stand out enough for me to give it a full five stars. I think this book could have benefitted from being a little longer, as I think it roughly translates to about 200 pages on paper. While the characters were really well developed, I felt that the plot of the story could have been a bit more engaging, or a bit more emotional. Knowing that this was a cancer book, I was expecting to feel a little bit more emotional at the end of it. Although I will acknowledge that then ending is clearly meant to be hopeful and is well executed, I think some added turmoil in the middle could have been helpful. My only other complaint is that occasionally the dialogue felt a little bit formal, but it wasn’t something that really bothered me enough to change my opinion of the book overall.

If you’re looking for a depressing, heavy contemporary, this is not that book. However, I think books like this are really refreshing and necessary in this cynical world. I’m glad that I read this book, because it restored some of my faith in humanity, and it was one of the most uplifting books I’ve read in a while.

-Sky

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Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Pages: 470

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Themes: YA contemporary, LGBTQIA+, coming-of-age, conversion therapy

My Rating: ★★★

Summary: When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.
But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both. Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultra-religious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

My Review: A friend loaned me this book, and her enthusiasm for the book was infectious, but I was also a little apprehensive because of things I had heard prior to her vehement recommendation (mainly that it was incredibly and unnecessarily long).  I ended up having about the exact feelings I was expecting.

This book is very important, and is not afraid to speak about the hard stuff. Emily M. Danforth does not shy away from the difficult things that can come along with being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This book tackles a lot of things that I feel like aren’t really talked about as much today, at least not in as much detail. It was really eye-opening to have this kind of exposure to things that happened in the past, and are still going on today. It can be sickening and horrific, but nonetheless it must be remembered and acknowledged, and this book ensures that it is.

Going along with this thread, I loved the way that Danforth explored the situation from almost every character’s point of view throughout the novel. Though we only ever read from the point-of-view of Cameron, we get to see a lot of the perspectives of the side characters as well. Not only did this give us multiple perspectives on Cameron’s situation, but it also showed that more people are affected than just those in the camp. I particularly liked the inclusion of characters like Adam Red Eagle, and the acknowledgement that sexuality and gender aren’t black and white. I also thought it was interesting to see the perspectives of those on the other side, the ones who have been brain-washed and corrupted by the toxic society that surrounds them. While I never sympathized with them, I could certainly understand and see why they made certain choices; I loved that Danforth never portrayed them as evil, but as people who were just trying to do the things they felt were right. 

Danforth’s writing is beautiful, poetic, and powerful. There was never really a “dull” moment in terms of the writing style; at times this book could feel a bit description-heavy, but the language was rich and overall the book was very well-written. I could see the setting and the characters very clearly in my head, and that’s something I really appreciate in a book. One thought that I had consistently while reading this book is “this would make an amazing movie, maybe (probably) even better than the book.” And it is! As of now it’s set to become a film starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Sasha Lane, and I can say that I am very excited to see how this story translates from page to screen.

My main problem with this book was the length. This book is 470 pages, which is a pretty significant chunk of pages for the typical YA contemporary. A lot of the information in the first 2 parts of the book felt important, but not really necessary to the overall point and focus of the novel. If the summary of the novel had been more of a focus on her coming-of-age and growing up, then the first two parts of the novel would have been a lot more relevant. However, the main focus of this novel (according to the summary) was supposed to be on the conversion camp that Cameron gets sent to, but this only comes up nearly 300 pages into the book. While everything leading up to this point in the novel was well-written and interesting, I found myself chewing at the reins, becoming more and more anxious to just get it over with already. I knew what was coming, but it just wasn’t happening, and I found myself starting to skim through bits to get to the action, and I wish there was more of a focus on the camp and the relationships she formed while there. I ended the book feeling like there just wasn’t quite enough resolution in regards to anyone other than Cameron, since we’d had so much focus on others’ stories as well.

I did enjoy this book, but I felt that there was too much focus on the “coming-of-age” aspect for too much of the book. If you’re going to pitch a book as depicting the horrors of conversion therapy, then put that plot point in more than 1/3 of the story. Much of this story, while entertaining and well-written, seemed irrelevant, and made the book feel too long. There was just too much build up, and not enough focus on the actual events.  Overall, I would recommend this book, because I definitely feel like it’s a very important book to read, but I feel like one should go into it expecting more about her life in general, particularly leading up to the camp.

-Sky