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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Wait for Me


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Scottish writer Caroline Leech pens a debut young adult love story in Wait for Me, set in the countryside of Scotland during World War II. It’s 1945, and 17-year-old Lorna Anderson’s daily life consists of farming, going to school, knitting Red Cross scarves and praying every day for an Allied victory. When Paul Vogel, a German prisoner of war is sent to help her father with the farm, Lorna is repulsed and angry. But as she gets to know the boy behind the soldier—including learning the backstory to the horrible injury on his face—Lorna finds herself conflicted over what society expects of her, and her own heart.

The premise of this story had a lot of potential, but the pacing was a bit slow for me. The attraction between Lorna and Paul is almost immediate, but their romance stays innocent throughout the novel, consisting of a few kisses, hand-holding and minor flirtation. Nothing major happens between them until the last third of the book.

Outside of the romance, there was minor characterization and plot development. Although the characters were likable, Leech does very little to help readers empathize with them. Lorna is the typical storybook heroine: hardworking, brave and kind. It was a pleasure to see her mature—if only slightly. She realizes that war is not always black and white, and the horrors her brothers experienced in the trenches can be matched by Paul’s own experiences fighting on the side of the Germans. Leech does add in a few other storylines involving Lorna’s friends, father and older brothers, but they lacked substance. Despite a few conflicts with villagers who were prejudiced against Paul, and an unexpected aerial bomb on the farm, the stakes were not high or realistic enough to hold my interest. 

This book is perfect for middle-grade/the younger range of YA readers who enjoy slow romances, female friendships and whimsical historical fiction. It’s similar to Michael Morpurgo’s An Elephant in the Garden, which features a young German girl and Canadian navigator who cross paths after the bombing of Dresden in World War II. Like Wait for Me, this book illustrates the importance of love, forgiveness and hope, but with slightly more nuanced characters.

Rating 2.5/5

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

It's Time to Let Go Of What is Not Yours


*This article was originally published on Thought Catalog.*

We all hold on to that person who changed our lives in every way - the one we didn't expect to meet when we were out exploring the world, discovering ourselves, learning about the people around us.

It's not every day you come across one of those individuals. The ones who you're drawn to, whether by a physical attraction or a spiritual force seemingly beyond your control. The ones who take you on late night adventures in Italian streets, getting lost at 4am amidst the smell of fresh bread and the sounds of drunken laugher. The ones who you stay up all night talking to, discussing music and philosophy, relationships and life goals. The ones who lie in bed with you until 2pm because your bodies fit together like a finished puzzle; all you had to do was walk into an apartment in Italy in order to find the missing piece.

The ones who make time stop.

You feel as though you've struck gold. How can you be so lucky to have found someone you connect with on all levels - spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually? How is it possible for someone like this to exist in real life? What are the chances of running into this person halfway across the world?

Of course, life is not that simple, and you both know that time doesn't stop for anyone. When it's finally time to part ways, you hug goodbye, kiss one last time and promise to let each other know if you're ever in the same city. You don't know when you'll ever see each other again. You pack your bags with a heavy heart, because you’re not only leaving a place you may never return to, but a place you will always remember as the Italian city where you met him.

Time has flown by, and you've moved on with your life. You've accepted that although there was nothing wrong with your relationship, timing really is everything, and it's not often that time is on your side.

But sometimes you still find yourself wondering. He travels across your mind when you least expect it, like reading a quote you know he'd appreciate, or running your fingers along the lining of a beanie you know he'd wear. Sometimes, you hear a song that reveals forgotten memories of red wine and dancing. If only you could hold him again, whisper in his ear that you still love him - despite all the time that's passed.

On bad days, you fantasize about what could have been if only you were not leading separate lives, running in opposites directions instead of running together. You wonder what would happen if your paths crossed again, if the world wrapped into itself and two paths merged into one. What if you were given a second chance at a love truer than any love you've ever experienced before?

Perhaps you should have made different decisions when the time came to part. Maybe you should have kept in touch, gave him a call, admitted that "I still love you" despite all the time that's passed. Maybe it was a mistake to let him go in the first place. But this person is not yours.

He was never yours to begin with. 

We often romanticize the people we can't have. We romanticize the good memories, the stirring in our stomach at the sight of the one we love, the sleepless nights in European cities, the spontaneity of falling in love in a foreign country. We never consider what would happen if we fall too hard. 

In the end, he's the one who got away. No matter how much you loved and danced, explored and transformed, he was never yours to begin with. Whether he walked away or you ran, whether he stopped talking or you stopped responding, time doesn't stop for anyone. Timing is everything, and in that moment, the timing just wasn't right.

This doesn't mean you should forget that person, or the parts of you that have changed because of him. This doesn't mean that he didn't love you or that you didn't love him. Don't waste away the hours wondering whether or not you should have ended up together. "What ifs" and what "could have beens" do not matter. 

Let yourself remember that he was never yours to begin with. Let yourself think about him, to look back on all those memories fondly; what you had together is an irreplaceable experience. But understand that he got away for a reason. Don't let your life fly by for someone who was never yours.

Perhaps time is on your side and you're with him now. Perhaps you're not.

In the end, you can't change the fact that he became a part of who you are today. Even if the relationship didn't work out, you've changed because of that person.

Let him go, but never let go of who you are because of him. 

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Replica


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Lauren Oliver, the bestselling author of the Delirium series, returns with an explosive and unique sci-fi novel about crossing the line between science and humanity. Set in Florida, and told from the perspectives of a human and a genetic clone with mirror-inverted covers, one can read Lyra’s story first and then Gemma’s, or alternate between the two. With its original layout, Replica is an exciting and one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Lyra, better known as #24, has lived in Haven all her life. She’s a replica—a clone, and all she knows about the world around her is that she was created by a scientist in a research facility. While growing up, a kind nurse gave her the name Lyra—but a name is all she has. One day, an explosion destroys Haven and Lyra escapes with a boy known as #72. In the midst of hiding away, she runs into a girl who calls herself Gemma.

Gemma has been sick for as long as she can remember. Growing up with overprotective parents, she lives a lonely life. But after she is almost kidnapped by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma begins to look into her family’s past. She discovers her father was involved with Haven, and she is determined to find out what really goes on in the research facility. While trying to sneak in, she stumbles upon something even more mysterious…

I really enjoyed the setting of Replica. Half of the story takes place at the institute, and Oliver describes the blank white walls, meager food and tests that are run on the clones. Haven is downright creepy, and its eeriness drew me in. I found that it was hard for me to put down the book, and I kept reading in hopes of discovering more about Haven. However, I was disappointed that not all of my questions were answered in this first novel.

Although the secondary love story is a bit forced in Lyra’s perspective, Replica is masterful in the way that it explores the themes of individuality, humanity and free will. Both girls are trapped in their own prisons, with Lyra being a clone at the institute and Gemma with her overprotective parents. I started with Lyra’s side for no particular reason, but found that reading Lyra’s story first gave me insight on Gemma’s story that I would not have known without reading both perspectives. The theme of genetic cloning is a little overdone, but the story still felt original. There were plenty of twists that I didn’t see coming and I was pleasantly surprised by its fast pace. A mix between sci-fi and thriller, this quick and easy YA read is perfect for Halloween and the fall season.

Rating: 3/5

Monday, August 29, 2016

A Torch Against the Night


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Sabaa Tahir returns with the highly anticipated sequel to her best-selling debut, An Ember in the Ashes. Picking up where the first book left off, A Torch Against the Night takes readers on a dangerous and thrilling adventure north to Kauf prison, where Laia—accompanied by the Empire’s most wanted fugitive, Elias—must save her brother before it’s too late. His knowledge of Serric steel is the key to the Scholar’s future and the Martial Empire’s demise. Meanwhile, Helene must choose between her childhood best friend and her duty as the Empire’s newest Blood Shrike.

Tahir’s latest novel did not disappoint. In this follow-up, we get three alternating points of view from Laia, Elias and Helene, broken up into four sections. The short chapters and constant switch between perspectives helped me better understand the inner-workings of each character. Since reading the first book a year ago, I had forgotten most of the storyline. (I would suggest rereading the first book before diving into this one.) However, about 50 pages in, I found that I was able to reconnect with the characters and their struggles. Tahir’s intricate world-building just added another layer of intensity to the story. Filled with cliffhangers and massive plot twists, Tahir’s clever storytelling creates an air of suspense that kept me on my toes; I was dying to learn what happened next!

Unlike the first book, this story focused less on romance and more on character development. Both Laia and Elias have matured since the Fourth Trial and although they escaped Blackcliff, they are battling their own inner demons. Elias—wracked with guilt and the knowledge of his dark fate—must learn to forgive himself for the atrocities he committed during the trials. With enemies chasing them at every direction, Laia knows that freeing her brother from prison is the Scholars’ last hope for survival, but can she trust those who have offered their help, and those whom she loves? People are not who they seem, and Laia and Elias are consistently forced to make conflicting and impossible choices that have terrifying consequences. In A Torch Against the Night, the stakes are higher, and every decision could affect the future of thousands of lives.

The best part of the book, hands down, was Helene Aquilla. Although she was a difficult character to understand and relate to in An Ember in the Ashes, we are finally able to see the world from her point of view, and Tahir creates an incredibly brave and resilient girl-boss. A Torch Against the Night is ultimately a book about power: the power one group of people has over the other and the power men have over women. I cringed whenever Marcus tried to dominate, torture or manipulate Helene, Tahir’s brilliant representation of misogyny in a society. The intimate struggle of power between the new Emperor and his second-in-command was harrowing, but every time he tried to destroy, or rather “unmake” her, Helene would rise again, stronger and brighter than before. She is a torch against the night, and Tahir’s portrayal absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for the next book in the series!

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, July 11, 2016

Life After Juliet


*This review was originally posted on Teenreads.com*

Life After Juliet is the companion novel to Shannon Lee Alexander’s Love and Other Unknown Variables. It’s a heartfelt young adult story about first love, stepping out of one’s comfort zone and learning to live with loss.

Ever since Charlotte passed away from cancer, Becca Hanson has been measuring time in pages. It’s been 3,718 pages since her Dad dropped her off for her first day of school. It’s been 150 pages since she stepped on the bus this morning. And it’s been 108,023 pages since Charlotte died. Grieving the death of her best and only friend, Becca spends every minute she can with her head in a book, living through fictional characters whose stories and endings have already been written. People don’t bother her and she prefers it that way. But after accidentally face-planting in her classmate Max Herrera’s lap one day, things take a turn for the better.

Suddenly, Becca finds herself doing things she’s always wanted to do, but was too afraid. She attends callbacks for the school play, "Romeo and Juliet." She finally dances on a table. She even builds a catwalk with power tools. As Becca gets to know Max better, she starts connecting with other people from school, as well. She befriends the Techies who help produce and create the set for the play, and makes a pact with the school’s drama queen and star actress, Darby. Max, the Drammies and the Techies show Becca that perhaps the real world isn’t so bad. Although life is uncontrollable, maybe certain things are worth living for. Perhaps letting people in can heal.

Alexander’s novel is a touching and delightful exploration of friendship, loss and hope. It’s about acknowledging that the grief never really goes away, but forgiving oneself for moving on. It’s about remembering how to laugh again, and that letting go is not the same as forgetting. Becca’s healing process was a journey I thoroughly enjoyed taking and reading about. With witty references and homages to major literary works such as Shakespeare, The Velveteen Rabbit and A Wrinkle in Time, this book makes for a wonderful and unforgettable read, perfect for book lovers and drama fanatics alike.

Rating: 4.5/5