Thanks to partners NetGalley and Macmillan Usa for the digital ARC of Tasha Suri’s What Souls Are Made Of. The book is out today!
I’m a long-time fan of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights—I first read it in high school and fell in love with the Gothic setting, with the brilliant frame structure as housekeeper Nelly tells the multi-generational story to a random traveler, with the doomed love stories that plague the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.
I’m also always in for a retelling, so Tasha Suri’s What Souls Are Made Of, a YA retelling, was an easy sell for me.
I can’t share a full review of the book since I want to avoid spoilers, but here are some thoughts:
Suri zooms in here on the time after Heathcliff has overheard Cathy saying that she couldn’t be with him because, essentially, he’s beneath her. In Wuthering Heights, he leaves without hearing the end of her declaration or giving her the chance to explain, and he doesn’t come back (to Wuthering Heights or the narrative itself) until years later. I love the idea that we find out what is happening with Heathcliff during their separation, filling in that narrative gap.
I enjoyed Suri’s decision to alternate points of view so that we see both characters’ self-discovery through this period of time. Suri also brings in some clever revelations about Cathy and her older brother Hindley that illuminate some elements of the story. Overall, though, I found Heathcliff’s half of the book to be more engaging, a real addition to the original, and I thought the new characters who Heathcliff meets in Liverpool were great. Since Brontë’s original novel centers on Nelly’s storytelling, the shift to two, first-person points of view that reveal Cathy and Heathcliff’s inner thoughts is a big change.
Suri makes clear from the beginning that, while Heathcliff doesn’t know all of the details of his background, he does know that he’s the child of immigrants, and that heritage is a large reason why Hindley—and Hindley and Cathy’s mother—treats him poorly. His growing knowledge of his heritage also informs the coming of age story centered on his time in Liverpool, offering insights into colonialism and into the prejudice that he faced. (These decisions echoed, for me, another Wuthering Heights retelling, Maryse Condé's Windward Heights, set in Guadeloupe.) As Heathcliff learns more about his past, some childhood memories become clearer, as does his understanding of who he is now.
Cathy’s sections hewed more closely, of course, to the original narrative, and Suri doesn’t truly depart from her original arc until later in the novel. (Many reviews/synopses I’ve seen give away a lot of Cathy’s revelations, so I recommend picking up the book without too much background reading.)
While What Souls Are Made Of didn’t quite capture the magic of Wuthering Heights for me, I do think that it’s a thoughtful and compelling book that is perfect for its YA audience.
Thanks to PartnerS NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the digital ARC of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
I love a time loop story. Groundhog Day. Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Russian Doll. And now? Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday takes its place among my favorites.
I’m regrettably late to Solomon’s work, but I’m so excited to read more—she excels at both YA and adult romance. In See You Yesterday, Solomon uses the time loop premise to explore exactly what a fresh start can mean.
Barrett Bloom has been convinced that college will be the best time in her life, a new beginning after the wretchedness of her high school experience. She’s entering college a loner whose best friend is her mother, but she’s determined that she’ll pursue a career in journalism, bond with her roommate, and generally just get her life together
Then, she finds out that her high school nemesis is her roommate, she blows her interview for the school newspaper, and she has a horrible experience in physics, a class she doesn’t even want to take. Add in a tragic ending to a sorority party, and Barrett has had a worse day than she could have imagined. She goes to bed, ready for a second chance.
And she wakes up in the same day.
Solomon makes great use of the pop culture references we all know as Barrett tries to figure out how to escape her loop. Eventually, she discovers that she’s not alone, that an uptight guy named Miles is looping with her. So they—grudgingly—join forces to figure out how to escape September 21.
I could not have loved this book more. Barrett is such a phenomenal character: she’s smart and somehow both optimistic AND cynical. She wants to believe that people are good, even though they’ve shown her, again and again, that they aren’t. As she and Miles try different ways of conquering the time loop (conducting research, doing good deeds, seeking vengeance, conducting more research), she starts to view both her past and her future through a new lens.
This is a brilliant novel that makes me even more eager to read absolutely everything Rachel Lynn Solomon has written. Do yourself a favor and pick up See You Yesterday right away!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Ashley Schumacher’s Full Flight in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on February 22!
I absolutely loved Schumacher’s debut, Amelia Unabridged, sobbing my way through that gorgeous YA romance, so I was eager to read her second book, Full Flight. This one did not disappoint! This tale of young love and marching band set in small-town Texas made my heart happy.
Weston Ryan is an outcast in Enfield, set apart by his divorced parents, his leather jacket, and his disdain for everything but music. He’s also so, so lonely.
Anna James seems to be his opposite: she has a lot of friends, a close-knit family and protective parents, and an unrelentingly sunny personality represented by the Christmas socks she wears year-round. But really, she’s lonely too.
When Anna and Weston are assigned to play a duet in the marching band’s competition show, Anna is way outmatched. So, she asks Weston to help her learn the music, a simple question that ends up drawing them together and bridging their loneliness.
Schumacher has such a brilliant touch with characters: I could feel Weston’s reluctance to take a chance at trusting someone new, afraid that he might be left behind once again. And for Anna, keeping on that cheerful, overachieving mask has covered up years of never feeling as if she’s quite good enough. Their emotions are so real and so authentic—about each other, about the role of marching band in teenagers’ lives, about the power of music—that I just loved watching both characters work through their vulnerability to come to trust the other.
I actually hope that you haven’t read the synopsis of Full Flight yet because I think it gives away too much. I’ll just say that this is another book by Ashley Schumacher that I didn’t want to stop reading.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Emma Lord's When You Get the Chance in exchange for an honest review. The book is out Tuesday, January 4!
When You Get the Chance is my second book by Emma Lord. (I loved You Have a Match and have Tweet Cute on my shelf to read ASAP.) Yes, she’s now an auto-read author for me.
This one focuses on Millie Cooper, a super-extroverted, self-described way-too-much actress who has big dreams of Broadway and has put in the work to make that a real possibility. After she learns that she’s gotten into an amazing pre-college program for her senior year, she’s ecstatic . . . until she shares the news with her dad and he’s decidedly NOT as ecstatic.
What ensues is Millie’s desperate attempt to actualize her dream into existence. First, she gets the help of her best friend and next door neighbor Teddy, an expert at geocaching and (as he says) human caching. Teddy does some research and, after the two delve into Millie’s dad’s LiveJournal from college (hello, the 90s!), begins unraveling the central secret of Millie’s life: her mother’s identity. When her dad was 20, Millie’s mother dropped her off with her dad, and that was the end of her mother’s involvement in her life. But Millie hopes that if she can find her birth mother, she’ll be on Team Millie and help convince her dad that moving across the country to this pre-college program is the right move.
The search for Millie’s mom leads to three likely candidates and the second part of Millie’s plan. She happens upon an internship with a Broadway management company where one potential mom candidate works. The only problem? Millie is vying for the internship with her nemesis: Oliver. Oliver is the manager of their fine arts school’s musical theater department, and he and Millie are *always* at odds with completely different visions for what the program should look like. So, when Georgie, the woman in charge of the internship, gives Millie and Oliver two weeks to compete and prove themselves before choosing a winner, it means that the mortal enemies have two weeks of forced collaboration, as well.
The setup is worthy of any Broadway musical, and references to shows—and especially Mamma Mia!—abound. For anyone who’s a fan of musicals, there are plenty of allusions here to feed your Broadway-loving soul. Sometimes, I have to work to get past premises like the “meeting-three-candidates-who-might-be-my-mom” kind of story, but when cast in the light of Broadway, I suspended my disbelief and just gave into the ride. Because Emma Lord has such a fabulous sense of character and because, in Millie, she created such an empathetic, realistic character, that ride is a great one. Though the plot here is so much fun, it’s watching Millie go through some pretty rough self-reflection that is the real strength of this book. Yes, there are beautiful friendships (seriously: this author REALLY understands friendship), some fun romance, and compellingly complex family dynamics (Millie’s relationships with her dad and her aunt Heather are strong anchors for the plot), but it’s Millie’s coming of age story that made me love this book so much.
Now, on to Tweet Cute.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Clarion Books for the digital ARC of Akshaya Raman's The Ivory Key in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 4!
Akshaya Raman’s The Ivory Key is part family drama, part fantasy, part adventure. It centers on four siblings in the kingdom of Ashoka who have been driven apart by the pressures of ruling their country. Riya fled her family’s control after a horrible fight with her mother and now lives with a group of thieves called the Ravens who try to move magic, the true wealth within Ashoka, from the hands of those with privilege to those in need. Riya’s twin Ronak has vowed to gain freedom for himself and for his brother Kaleb, to leave Ashoka by any means necessary, even if it means betraying his family. Vira became the maharani after their mother’s murder and bears the great burden of that responsibility. One of her actions was to allow Kaleb, their half-brother, to be accused of conspiring in their mother’s death; he’s been imprisoned ever since.
Raman alternates between each sibling’s point of view, and she does some excellent character- and world-building early in the book, so readers have a rich sense of each sibling’s motivation and of the intricacies of their realm. In Ashoka, magic is mined from the ground, and there are legends that drive the way magic is venerated. Magic was first found by the family’s ancestor, and she gave it away to neighboring countries as a way to build connections and protect their society. That action forestalled any need from other kingdoms to invade or to try to grab the magic for themselves. As magic has dwindled, however, threats from within and outside of the kingdom have weakened every part of Ashoka, including the royal family.
Though it seems their conflicts can’t be overcome, the four siblings are drawn together by their dead father’s search for the Ivory Key, which their family legend says could unlock other mines, thus resurrecting their access to magic, their protection from invaders, and their ability to keep peace for the kingdom both inside and out.
I loved the sense of a team here, one in which each member has different skills, and I appreciated what those skills reveal about each sibling’s relationship with their parents. Their father created challenges for them constantly, which nurtured each ability (one wields magic, one is most adept physically, and so on). There’s also a vivid look at what the power of their position can do to teenagers: Riya fled; Vira denies her own personality and emulates their mother to her own detriment; Ronak considers betrayal; and Kaleb gives in completely to the unfairness of the ruler’s—his sister’s—decisions, surrendering all hope.
The Ivory Key is quite complex and is the first in a duology, so it lays out their situation patiently and spends time on details of the world. I love the backstory and the way that we see how close the siblings were before power drove them apart. I’ve seen it compared to The Gilded Wolves, which makes sense to me, though there’s less of a focus on heists through the early parts of the novel, and I also thought more than once of the siblings in Succession who are both beneficiaries and victims of power and greed. This is a confident, compelling debut. Now I just have to settle in to wait for book two!
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich's If This Gets Out in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!!
I’m a big fan of author collaborations—I almost always really like them. (I’m not sure why, but maybe, just as in my life, collaborating pushes authors to be better?) Since I was already a fan of both Sophie Gonzales, author of Perfect on Paper, and Cale Dietrich, author of The Love Interest, requesting If This Gets Out seemed like a good choice. I was so, so right.
At the center of If This Gets Out is a boy band, Saturday, made up of four kids who met at a summer camp, threw together a fun performance for the end-of-camp concert, and have never looked back. The four teenagers—Ruben, a classically trained singer who grew up on Broadway; Zach, a fan of punk and emo who is painfully shy; Angel, an outgoing, fun-loving partier; and Jon, a Type A, conservative heart throb whose dad manages the group—have remained close friends and have enjoyed their meteoric success, even as they strain against the roles in which they’ve been cast. Their carefully curated image presents all of them as straight (Ruben is not) and each of them somehow playing against type. Angel’s role, for example, is the sweet, conservative, shy boy, which he is *definitely* not.
The story centers on Ruben and Zach and is told in their alternating points of view. Though all four are friends, Ruben and Zach are best friends, so Ruben has kept his attraction to Zach a secret. And then something happens that makes Ruben think Zach may return his feelings. Their relationship changes, at first bringing tension to the group and highlighting the tight control their management wields over their lives, and then causing each of them to understand new things about themselves.
I loved so much about this book. First, it is propulsive: I had a hard time putting it down. The romance at its heart is lovely, and I appreciated the way Gonzales and Dietrich worked through its complications, both early on—when Zach is exploring his understanding of his sexuality—and later, when Ruben and Zach are contending with what they each need from the other. Dietrich and Gonzales create fully realized characters here who are dealing with fame but also with their relationships with their parents and friendships and all the drama that happens with teenagers.
I also enjoyed the consideration of the boy band phenomenon. While I’m no student of the music industry, and boy bands aren’t really a part of my current listening, I was a HUGE fan of New Kids on the Block back in the day. So much of the novel here rang true, from the desperate need to have one type of boy for each fan to the denial that fans can handle the truths that all four band members want to share with their public. (I will say that the way the book employs social media certainly adds an angle that would not have been possible in the early NKOTB days!)
If This Gets Out will work for so many readers, and I would definitely be in for further collaborations between Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich (though I do plan to explore the rest of their individual backlists regardless!). This fabulous YA novel is emotional and thought provoking and sweet. I absolutely loved it.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Estelle Laure’s Remember Me in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on March 22!
I was really intrigued by the premise of Estelle Laure’s Remember Me: I got total Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind vibes, and I absolutely love that movie.
The book starts when Blue Owens wakes up one day with the sense that her world doesn’t make sense. She goes through her normal morning routine and, in the course of getting ready for school, finds a note that says “Meet me on the Little Blue Bus, 7:45 5/19/32.” She has no idea what it means.
Everyone is acting weird—her grandmother, her best friend Turtle and her partner Jack, even her art teacher Mrs. Duran—and Blue becomes convinced that the reason will reveal itself on that bus. And she’s right.
Here’s where things get spoilery, so proceed with caution. (This part is in the synopsis, but I wish I hadn’t known.)
Blue gets on that bus and meets Adam Mendoza, and it quickly becomes clear that they know each other. Ultimately, Blue figures out that she’s had her memories erased, including her memories of Adam. Now, she just has to figure out why.
The book comes in at only 272 pages, and it’s ambitious, mixing romance and sci fi and mystery. For me, the mystery parts were the strongest. I was intrigued by just what caused Blue to have her memories erased. While I didn’t think the book quite lived up to its ambitions, I did enjoy it, and I was rooting for Blue the whole time. I just think it needed to be a bit longer to fully realize its potential.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, St. Martin's Press, and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Lauren Blackwood’s Within These Wicked Walls in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on October 19!
Those of you who follow me know that I love a new version of a classic, and I’m particularly a sucker for a Jane Eyre retelling, so when I saw that there was a Jane Eyre retelling set in Ethiopia with a fantasy twist, I requested immediately. Wow, did Lauren Blackwood’s Within These Wicked Walls satisfy my every hope and expectation!
This book does what the best retellings do: it takes its source material as inspiration and then spins out a new story and a new world. Here, the Jane character is Andromeda, a debtera—a type of exorcist—who can cleanse homes of the Evil Eye. In desperate straits after her mentor cast her out, Andromeda takes on a job at which ten other debteras have failed. She’s employed by the mysterious Magnus Rochester who lives in near-solitude at the far end of a desolate desert. All but a few servants and the nanny who raised him have abandoned him, apparently scared away by the curse no one can defeat.
We experience the story through Andromeda’s eyes, and what a fabulous protagonist she is. Like Jane, she’s been raised in unusual circumstances, and her values differ from those of her world. She calls herself plain but cares little about her appearance. Instead, she values her strength and skills in her profession and communicates with a blunt honesty that shocks Magnus. He, in turn, is lacking social graces after having grown up as an outsider from his family and from society, so for a while, their bluntness seems to put them at odds. And then, of course, things change.
I loved SO much about this story. Andromeda’s narrative voice is so much fun—I love her strength and her defiance of convention. Watching Magnus meet his match in Andromeda is so satisfying, and their chemistry is great. I also, however, appreciated the secondary characters: Saba, the silent and mysterious woman who takes joy in helping others; Jember, the debtera who raised Andromeda, whose complexity I found to be appealing; and even Kelela, the beautiful young woman who is Andromeda’s rival for Magnus’s affections.
Most of all, I reveled in Blackwood’s development of the magic behind the curse that Andromeda is fighting. The way it manifests throughout Magnus’s estate is haunting and imaginative and creepy: it preys on characters’ compassion for others and on their unique weaknesses, and watching Andromeda strategize the best way to fight each new Manifestation shows her intelligence, her perseverance, and her strength.
I was shocked to find out that Within These Wicked Walls is Blackwood’s debut, and it is certainly a confident, brilliant first novel. I can’t wait to see what she tackles next.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Roaring Brook Press for the digital ARC of Jennifer Mathieu’s Bad Girls Never Say Die in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on October 19!
I’m a huge fan of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, which is a fabulous feminist YA novel—we had a great discussion about that one on Unabridged Podcast!—and of S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (though it’s been a while since I read it! Stay gold, Ponyboy). So, when I saw that Mathieu had a new book coming out that flipped The Outsiders to a female perspective, I was All. In.
Did it work? Well, here’s what I loved. As in Moxie, Mathieu builds a compelling protagonist, a fifteen-year-old named Evie who struggles with the limited expectations of her 1964 Houston, Texas, society and of her mother and grandmother. They are thrilled that Evie’s sister is married, even though it means that she moved far away and is so, so lonely. They make it clear to Evie that she should aspire to do the same.
But Evie wants more from her life. She wants choices. She wants to have friends who are tuff. She wants to think there’s a possibility that she can leave Houston.
With her best friends—Connie, who is the toughest of them all; Juanita, Evie’s sweet neighbor; and Sunny, whose sweet sincerity has led her into a controlling relationship with her boyfriend—Evie has started skipping school and wearing makeup and defying anyone to challenge her group.
I loved this part of the book, where we see exactly why Evie loves her friends so much, how much she wishes she could regain the close relationship with her mom and grandmother without limiting herself again, and the way Evie yearns for more without always being able to articulate exactly what “more” is.
Then, everything changes. And Evie is caught up in a situation that being tough can’t get her out of.
Mathieu beautifully depicts this world. There’s a huge disparity between the “tea sippers” of upper-class Houston and Evie’s own, lower socio-economic realm. Evie is a fabulously complex character, and we feel her connection to her friends, who step up to support her as much as they can.
But at a certain point (and I can’t say much more without spoilers), I felt like the book became focused on unfurling certain plot elements—often connected to its origin story—to the detriment of its rich characters. While the book certainly shares some elements with The Outsiders, it was most successful for me when it stepped out on its own, exploring Evie’s life and the limitations she defied, again and again.
Overall, though, this book is worth reading, and I would recommend it to students—this could be a foundation for many important discussions.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Crown Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on August 10, 2021.
Like his earlier, brilliant The Serpent King (like this book, a five-star read for me!), Jeff Zentner’s In the Wild Light begins with a strong sense of place, set firmly in the Appalachian town of Sawyer, Tennessee. Cash Pruitt is sixteen and, above all else, loves his Mamaw and Papaw, who raised him after his mother’s death, and his best friend Delaney Doyle, a genius. Cash and Delaney were first drawn together as the children of addicts, and now each offers a safe place for the other.
Delaney has gained some moderate fame in the scientific community after discovering a mold that kills bacteria and that shows great promise for the healthcare industry. When she’s offered a full ride to a private boarding school, she’s desperate to escape her circumstances, but she doesn’t want to do so alone. So, she convinces the school to also provide a full scholarship for Cash.
Cash is torn between his friendship and his loyalty to his grandparents, particularly Papaw, who is dying slowly of emphysema. Ultimately, though, they convince him to grab this opportunity, and so he and Delaney move to Connecticut and become students at Middleford Academy.
Those are the bare outlines of the plot, but they don’t reveal what makes this book special.
First, Zentner is an absolutely beautiful writer, and the book is filled with gorgeous prose as Cash works through who he is and who he wants to be and how to stay true both to himself and to those whom he loves.
Beyond the writing are the characters. The tenderness between Cash and Papaw is one of my favorite things—they love each other so much, and that love is beautiful and heartbreaking and present on every page of the novel. Delaney is brilliant and strong and also fragile, someone who has survived abuse and neglect and is now ready to step into her full potential, but not alone. Watching the way the all support and challenge each other is a lovely, moving reading experience.
Cash is so smart and so sensitive, but he’s also a teenager, one who has left his family and his hometown to step into another world filled with rich people who’ve lived lives he can hardly imagine. He’s not naive, just inexperienced, and so he’s fully aware of the risks that he’s taking while also hoping to make those he loves proud.
I can’t recommend In the Wild Light enough. Just be sure to have a box of tissues by your side. This book earns every tear.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.