Book Review: It’s My Life by Stacie Ramey

life

If she wants a future with him, she’ll have to make peace with her past.

Release Date: January 7, 2020

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Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Jenna’s never let her cerebral palsy get her down. But when she discovers that her condition was actually caused by an injury at birth, she’s furious with her parents, who withheld the truth. And as they push her to get yet another difficult procedure, Jenna feels her control over her life starting to slip.
Enter Julian, Jenna’s childhood crush. He’s just moved back to town, and he’s struggling in school, so Jenna reaches out to him―anonymously―to help. Soon, their conversations are about so much more than class. She’s falling for him all over again, hard and fast. But would Julian still be interested in her if he knew who she really was? And can she find a way to take back her own narrative before she pushes away everyone she loves?

Grade: B

Review:

I really appreciated this book in regard of enlightening teens on what it means to live with a chronic illness. The tone of the book, although it illustrates how it feels to live with cerebral palsy, is still a light one in the way any rom-com would be. In a way, this book is still a rom-com since the main focus of the book is how Jenna loves Julian (a childhood friend who moved away but has returned to town and is now in her English class). She’s trying to be a normal teen by getting to know him on a more intimate level through texting, but at the same time keeps her identity concealed because she feels that no boy could possibly fall in love with her damaged body.

I really liked Jenna, so reading the story from her perspective was fun, plus there were a lot of likable side characters as well, such as her best friend Ben and sister Rena. The flirting between Jenna and Julian was totally adorable and appropriate for their age.

I know that some of the premises in the book may seem unreasonable (such as Jenna wanting to legally emancipate herself from her family so that she could make her own decisions in regards to her health when it comes to surgeries and tests). But since the rest of the book was good I could overlook that minor lapse of judgment.

I recommend this book for anyone who’s wanting to learn more about living with a chronic illness and if you’re in the mood for a quick light romantic read.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: What Kind of Girl by Alyssa Sheinmel

whatkind

Girl in Pieces meets Moxie in this unflinching exploration of all the hurts young women endure.

Release Date: February 4, 2020

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Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Price: $17.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

The girls at North Bay Academy are taking sides. It all started when Mike Parker’s girlfriend showed up with a bruise on her face. Or, more specifically, when she walked into the principal’s office and said Mike hit her. But the students have questions: Why did she go to the principal and not the police? Why did she stay so long if he was hurting her? Obviously, if it’s true, Mike should be expelled. But is it true? Some girls want to rally for his expulsion – and some want to rally around Mike. The only thing that the entire student body can agree on? Someone is lying. And the truth has to come out.

Grade: B

Review

Full disclosure: I was ready to DNF this book at 25%, mostly due to the fact that it seemed to jump around a lot and that it was slow-moving. But since I enjoyed this author’s other book, A Danger To Herself and Others, at the beginning of the year, I decided to give it another try. I am SO GLAD I DID. Because Maya and Junie’s tale is a memorable one.

I think this book is important for teens because it explores a very timely topic: abuse within a relationship. Maya’s boyfriend Mike hits her, but she remains silent, like so many women do, because he’s the golden boy and somehow she feels like people would think she’s lying about the abuse or that she deserves it in some way. Apart from that, she also struggles with bulimia. I think the author explores these issues without glorifying or romanticizing them, but rather showing how someone truly struggles in those situations.

I also think this book sends out a very positive message for young readers as it shows the power of friendship and the importance of standing up for oneself even when you feel like the rest of the world would be against you. I recommend this book for all those that want to broach these difficult topics with their children but don’t know how. This could be a way to start the conversation.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Scars Like Wings by Erin Stewart

scars

Before, I was a million things. Now I’m only one. The Burned Girl.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

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Publisher: Delacorte Press

Price: $16.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary

Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn’t need a mirror to know what she looks like–she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be “normal” again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends–no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.

But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn’t have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn’t afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she’s going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

Grade: A+

Review:

Ava’s story is both heartbreaking and uplifting. After becoming severely disfigured by a house fire, she not only has lost both of her parents and cousin but also her face. Or at least what her face used to be. For months, Ava fights for her life as she undergoes surgery after surgery but once she’s deemed healthy enough to leave the hospital, her aunt and uncle think it’s time to transition back into high school. But Ava doesn’t think she can survive high school with the face she has. That is until she meets Piper, a fellow survivor with a spitfire personality.

It’s rare when the characters in a book feel so real to me. But Ava and Piper were incredibly real, and the situations they found themselves in were also real for their circumstances. There were so many heartbreaking moments in the book, but it was also very hopeful. It wasn’t all about despair, as it easily could have been considering the topic. Instead, Ava realized that she could either wallow in misery her whole life and not live or decide to live again and find purpose in her new life with her new friends and support group.

I loved how each character was their own person, and that even the so-called “mean girls” of the school ultimately had a soul and reached a growth of their own by the end.

I suppose this was the sort of book that I wish it hadn’t ended because I still wanted to read more about Ava and Piper. It’s probably why after completing the book I took a break from the novel-reading and instead focused on reading poetry books instead. Because a part of me still wanted to hold on to Ava and her strong spirit. This book is a must-read for readers of any age, but especially teenagers so that they can learn how you can overcome the worst in life if you have the right people standing by you.

 

Short Q & A With The Author

Why did you select fire as the source of Ava’s disfigurement?

SCARS LIKE WINGS was actually inspired by Marius, a friend of mine, was burned and severely scarred by a house fire as a child in Romania. Now 20, Marius’ story has always inspired and intrigued me, not only because of the power of his tragedy but because he chooses every single day not to let it define him. He has had children run screaming from him. He has had bullies call him Freddy Krueger. I wanted to write a story that would go to these dark, lonely parts of tragedies like his, but also to the beautiful, hopeful parts. As Marius has told me, the only way he survived was because every time he wanted to give up, someone was there, helping him choose to live. I hope Ava’s story can show readers that we all have a choice after a life-changing event: We can choose to be alone, isolated and angry that our normal is gone, or we can let people in and find a new normal, together.

Reading Scars Like Wings it looks like you did a lot of research in burn victims when it comes to the healing process and medical work needed. Did you speak to professionals that help burn victims or did you solely rely on books about the topic?

Oh, definitely! As I wrote this book, I felt heavily the burden of presenting an accurate, respectful representation of the burn survivor community. I spent a lot of time speaking with survivors, reading their stories, talking to doctors about wound care and recovery, and generally immersing myself in the terrible/wonderful/inspirational/reality of being a burn survivor. Learning about the physical and emotional pain of burns was gut-wrenching at times, but I wanted to preset a story that went beyond stereotypes and pity to the reality of what it’s like to live with physical and emotional scars like Ava’s.

I know that Ava hates seeing herself as a survivor, but she is a very inspiring character. The reader can’t help but want to root for her the whole time. When did Ava’s story first come to you (as in inspiration)?

Well, like I mentioned, Marius originally sparked the idea for this story, but the character of Ava took shape slowly as I started researching and drafting. She has some qualities just like Marius, like her thumbs on her hands instead of fingers, and then pieces of other stories that survivors have shared with me. The more I thought about her and wrote about her, the more she became a fully-formed character with interests like Broadway musicals and a personality all her own. I’d love for readers to see Ava this way by the end of the book, as a smart, funny, talented teenager who just happens to also have scars.

As much as Ava is wonderful, Piper is a true scene-stealer. I feel like everyone needs a Piper in their life. Was Piper inspired by someone in particular?

Not really, but I knew from the beginning that Ava needed someone like Piper to draw her out of her shell and remind her that she has a lot of living and loving left to do. Piper’s loud, out-there attitude is a great counterbalance to Ava’s initial belief that her life is over after the fire. Like a lot of people, though, Piper’s bravado is hiding her own pain and struggles. And when she starts to push Ava away, too, we start to see how deep her pain runs. Both girls finally realize that they can have full, happy lives after their trauma, but they can’t ignore the pain, either.

So many YA novels lately are being made into movies or TV series, which actress would you like to see bring Ava to life?

Oh, wouldn’t that be amazing! If I’m being honest, I’d love to see the role of Ava go to a burn survivor. I think it would be so wonderful to see someone who has actually lived a similar storyline portray this recovery journey!

(Editor’s note: I LOVE Erin’s idea of a burn survivor being the one to portray Ava, although if I had to choose an actress, I think Joey King would tackle Ava’s journey well.)

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Almost Home by Madisen Kuhn

almost home

A gorgeous poetry and prose collection that explores the meaning of “home” and the profound discovery of finding it within oneself.

Release Date: October 1, 2019

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Publisher: Gallery Books

Price: $14.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

In this stunning third collection from Madisen Kuhn, Madisen eloquently analyzes some of life’s universal themes within the framework of a house. Whether it’s the garden, the bedroom, or the front porch, Madisen takes you into her own “home,” sharing some of the most intimate parts of her life so that you might also, someday, feel free to share some of yours.

Filled with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations from Melody Hansen, this boldly intimate, preternaturally wise, and emotionally candid collection encourages you to consider what home means to you—whether it’s in the lush, green-lawned suburbs or a city apartment—and, more importantly, explores how you can find it even when home feels like it’s on the far-off horizon.

Grade: B+

Review:

For someone like me who has been on the move since I was born, reading a book that explores the meaning of home was very relatable. What’s the difference between a house and a home? And how do you know when one feels just like a house and what makes a home a home? The poetry is very heartfelt and emotional. For some home is a physical place or location, while for others the meaning of home is a person. What makes us feel at home? Ultimately, it’s the place where we feel safe.

One of the most poignant lines was, “I am jealous of what you have but not of who you are. Regardless it withers me.” I’m sure many people have often felt this way, feeling envious of what someone may have but not being particularly keen on the person in question.

Many of the poems explore the meaning of finding a home within a person. I think that we all yearn to feel at home with someone, although oftentimes that is merely a mirage and we’re far lonelier together than when we are alone.

This poetry collection really hits a nerve for me because of my incessant search to feel at home. If you’re a fan of Rupi Kaur or Amanda Lovelace, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

dead

Red Lady, Red Lady, Show us your face….

Release Date: December 10, 2019

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Publisher: Penguin Random House

Price: $26.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ll be honest, when I read the first chapter, I wasn’t too intrigued although it opened with a very disturbing admission, that the protagonist Heather had killed her best friend when she was a tween. It wasn’t until the following chapter reverted to the THEN portion of the story that I was hooked. The novel is sectioned in alternating chapters with a chapter in the present and the following chapter in the past. By far, the THEN chapters are way more interesting because it shows Heather as a twelve-year-old, and being best friends with Becca, and also with Rachel and Gia, whom like her and Becca also enjoy a fascination for the macabre. The girls are intrigued by deaths and serial killers so much that they decide to create the Dead Girls Club. A club made to share scary stories or true crime stories. The girls usually got together for these meetings at the basement of an abandoned house.

That summer though, Becca becomes obsessed with telling the story of the Red Lady, a witch who was killed in an atrocious manner. At first, the girls are intrigued by the stories, especially Heather, but she begins to resent the stories when she notices how it has begun to affect Becca. Because Becca is convinced that the Red Lady is real and the only one who can save her from her alcoholic, abusive mother.

In the present time, Heather receives a pendant that Becca was wearing the night of her death in the mail, which causes her to spiral in paranoia. Did somebody see her kill Becca? Is the Red Lady after her?

This book is so deliciously twisty that you find yourself questioning what’s real and what isn’t. I wouldn’t necessarily call Heather an unreliable narrator but more it’s an exploration of devout friendship and how often stories in our youth can begin to feel real if we allow ourselves to believe in them.

I honestly wish that we had gotten more chapters from the past or that we could’ve gotten a whole book about the Red Lady (the story was simply very fascinating as it was horrific). I suggest this novel to anyone who loves thrillers with a dash of supernatural spookiness into the mix.

dead2

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Life of the Party: Poems by Olivia Gatwood

life

I’m a good girl, bad girl, dream girl, sad girl

Release Date: August 20, 2019

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Publisher: Dial Press

Price: $11.90 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Lauded for the power of her writing and having attracted an online fan base of millions for her extraordinary spoken-word performances, Olivia Gatwood now weaves together her own coming-of-age with an investigation into our culture’s romanticization of violence against women. At times blistering and riotous, at times soulful and exuberant, Life of the Party explores the boundary between what is real and what is imagined in a life saturated with fear. Gatwood asks, How does a girl grow into a woman in a world racked by violence? Where is the line between perpetrator and victim? In precise, searing language, she illustrates how what happens to our bodies can make us who we are.

Grade: A

Review:

Gatewood’s poetry collection is part memoir and partly inspired by True Crime. In each poem, she explores the meaning of becoming a woman and how men react to this sudden change from girlhood to womanhood. She also has an obsession with mistrusting men and believing that a man is going to kill her. Although, to be honest, what woman hasn’t thought about being killed by a man before? With the way True Crime depicts young girls and women always being victims of rape and murder, it’s no wonder that we grow up with this incessant paranoia. Her fear is very relatable if you’re a woman living pretty much anywhere in the world. Men abusing and killing women is a worldwide crisis and one that has only worsened over the years.

“Maybe I am tired
of hearing people talk about the murder
of girls like it is both beautiful
and out of the ordinary.”
-My Grandmother Asks Why I Don’t Trust Men

Gatewood explores the dark realms of her fears and tries to give voice to them through her poignant poetry. These poems are honest, raw, and sometimes quite dark. I recommend this book for all you that prefer your poetry to have a certain edge to is, but if you’re easily triggered then this collection won’t be for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dial Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

olivia

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Book Review: She’s the Worst by Lauren Spieller

worst

One Day. Two Sisters. All the Feelings.

Release Date: September 3, 2019

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Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Price: $18.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Sisters April and Jenn haven’t been close in years. Jenn’s too busy with school, the family antique shop, and her boyfriend, and April would rather play soccer and hang out with the boy next door.

But when April notices her older sister is sad about staying home for college, she decides to do something about it. The girls set off to revive a pact they made as kids: spend an epic day exploring the greatest hits of their childhood and all that Los Angeles has to offer.

Then April learns that Jenn has been keeping a secret that could rip their family—and their feuding parents—apart. With only one day to set things right, the sisters must decide if their relationship is worth saving, or if the truth will tear them apart for good.

Grade: A

Review:

After weeks of reading very dark books, I decided that I needed something a little more light-hearted (meaning no deaths, destruction, gore, or overall chaos). Being an only child, I’ve always daydreamed about having siblings, and so I was very excited to read a book that focused on the relationship of these two very different sisters, overachiever Jenn, and sporty April.

Another reason why I was drawn to this book is that it takes place in Los Angeles, and it promised a road trip through the city so these sisters could reignite their bond. Living in the Los Angeles area myself, I liked to see what memorable places these girls would go to and if I had been to them myself. First off, I wasn’t aware that there were actual canals at Venice Beach, despite having been there many times (mostly at the boardwalk and beach area), so next time I’m there I’ll have to check that out.

What I enjoyed a lot about this book is that it did provide me the levity I needed, but that’s not to say that this book is fluff, cause it isn’t. This book very realistically portrays a family dynamics and the guilt you feel to try to keep your parents from killing each other when fighting (I probably related to Jenn’s referee role between her two parents a bit too much).

It was interesting to see how two sisters that used to be very close began to drift apart as they got older to the point that they no longer feel like they can even be friends. But the book explores ways how sometimes all you need is to find reasons why you loved that sibling in the first place and how it takes that first step to want to bridge the gap to have a good relationship again.

Everything and anything you can imagine does occur during this 24-hr. Span (the whole book takes place in just one day), and although it’s not a book that deals with mysteries, there are still several surprises that spring up that you didn’t imagine would. That’s to say that, this is a page-turner despite it not being a thriller. There are secrets that are kept hidden and revealed major life-changing decisions that take place.

I recommend this book if you’re into some light reading or love romantic comedies/sister bonding books. Because this novel has it all, especially a ton of feels.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé

monsters

They took my sister.
I’ll take her back.

Release Date: August 6, 2019

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Price: $10.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Skye is done playing the knight in shining armor for her insufferable younger sister, Deirdre. And moving across the country seems like the perfect chance to start over as someone different.

In their isolated new neighborhood, Skye manages to fit in, but Deirdre withdraws from everyone, becoming fixated on the swampy woods behind their house and building monstrous sculptures out of sticks and bones.

Then Deirdre disappears.

And when something awful comes scratching at Skye’s window in the middle of the night, claiming Skye’s the only one who can save Deirdre, Skye knows she will stop at nothing to bring her sister home.

Grade: A-

Review:

I’ve waited a week after reading this novel to decide to write a review because I wanted to wait and see if my feelings for this strange little book would remain the same or somehow change. Thing is, I walked into this book thinking that I was getting something like The Blair Witch Project (or at the very least some sort of witchcraft) since it was advertised that way, but instead what I got was a strange tale of childhood monsters and magical kingdoms that come to life in the woods and a missing girl case.

So I’m going to divide this review into two sections: Pros & Cons.

Pros:

I love the dark, atmospheric imagery woven throughout the whole story. It was mighty creepy and rocked in all its dark gothic glory.

The characters reacted to situations in realistic ways (meaning that the characters didn’t give the protagonist Skye a free pass when she shared a very dark secret about her past).

It kept me invested in the story and I really wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Cons:

It wasn’t until halfway through the book that we finally received confirmation that something supernatural was indeed happening.

All the characters were unlikeable, except for William. The protagonist Skye, not only was she unlikeable, but she was also manipulative and had a cruel streak that she justified endlessly and blamed a lot of her actions on her sister.

Dead pets and other animals.

The ending. While it was realistic, it seemed to just end leaving a lot of questions unanswered.

Overall, this was a unique story and I did enjoy it, but I don’t know if it’ll be something that a lot of people could get into unless you’re into dark tales and don’t mind the somewhat slow pacing.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

lock

The next heart-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author Riley Sager follows a young woman whose new job apartment sitting in one of New York’s oldest and most glamorous buildings may cost more than it pays.

Release Date: July 2, 2019

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Price: $17.10 (hardcover)

Publisher: Dutton

Plot Summary:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s sordid past and into the secrets kept within its walls. What she discovers pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Grade: A

Review:

Soon after reading The Last Time I Lied, I picked up Final Girls (I still need to read it) and of course requested a copy of Lock Every Door the second it was available on NetGalley. Luckily, I managed to snag a copy. There’s something about Riley Sager that I just LOVE. He always manages to incorporate some horror aspect into his thriller novels. For example, with Lock Every Door, Jules is a recently laid-off worker, and finds work as a housesitter in the exclusive Bartholomew Building (in which she and her sister used to obsess about since their favorite book was set there), and for some reason the book gave me some serious Rosemary’s Baby vibes. Maybe because of the uber-rich, yet creepy neighbors, or the fact that it’s alluded that the building is cursed and witches may be involved. However, this being a Sager novel means that although it may give you horror vibes, it never ventures off into supernatural.

I found Jules to be very relatable, as I think we can all identify with her. She was a hard worker in college, received a degree thinking she could better her social standing, instead, she ends up working a crummy office job in which she gets laid off from, and in her desperation to find a new living situation (her loser boyfriend cheated on her), she falls for an ad on Craigslist that is looking for a housesitter. Now, if Jules economic situation hadn’t been so fire, she would’ve bailed at the first inkling of something being amiss at the Bartholomew, but since beggars can’t be chooser’s, she sticks it out even when us readers are yelling, GET THE FUCK OUT!

Some aspects of the story seem kind of over the top, but I feel like it works, or at least Sager has enough thriller cred to make it work. This book is perfect any of you who love mysteries, thrillers, or horror (cause even though it’s not horror it DOES have a lot of horror vibes running throughout).

I really enjoyed this book a lot and have a feeling that Sager will become one of my fave new authors.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Dutton for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review & Author Interview: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small

bright

Would you die for the Prize?

Release Date: May 21, 2019

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Price: $12.29 (hardcover)

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they would go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition—for the Prize, for the Demigod—becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a stunning, propulsive story about girls at their physical and emotional extremes, the gutting power of first love, and what it means to fight for your dreams.

Grade: A

Review:

For some reason I find books or films about ballet to be utterly fascinating and alluring. Maybe because I took ballet classes for a year as a kid (before realizing that I should give up cause there was no way I’d ever be a ballerina with my lack of grace). I’m so obsessed with ballet that I even made my protagonist in CUT HERE, Lena one. This is to confirm that I was absolutely excited when I was finally given the ARC for Bright Burning Stars (I had requested it months ago and had only been given it a few weeks prior to publication date).

Things I loved about this novel:

Friendships: The two protagonists, Marine and Kate have a very strong friendship. It actually is the core of the novel and despite the fact that they’re both aiming for “The Prize” aka becoming the exclusive etoile at the Opera National de Paris. “Rats” as the studying ballerinas are referred to in the novel, are so focused on the prize that they’d do anything to obtain it, and Kate is even willing to die for it. Slowly, bestfriends Marine and Kate begin to grow apart as things get more competitive and each wanting to snag the prize title for their own.

Relationships: I love how the author explores various types of relationships, such as showing one romantic relationship as gradually growing into something much more passionate than it initially was, and another romantic relationship that becomes tragically toxic fast.

Setting: Ever since I was little (maybe because I was obsessed with Marie Antoinette & Versailles) I’ve been in love with Paris. So, I’ll automatically favor any novel that takes place in the City of Lights. I was just a bit sad that we, the readers never get a chance to experience the city because we’re always stuck in the dance studios with the two protagonists.

Minor gripe: I wasn’t a fan of how abortion was handled in this book. Not because one of the protagonists decides to go over and beyond to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but because of how simplistic it was written out to be. Sure, maybe drinking odd toxic herbal teas *can* induce an abortion, but I don’t like how easy it all was for the character. Since this is a YA and intended for teens, I don’t want teens thinking that if you’re pregnant that you can just forego a normal abortion AT A CLINIC and just drink herbal tea and wish everything will get taken care of, because in most cases that won’t work. Just putting that out there for the kids.

The Ending: There were only two ways the book could’ve ended and I assumed both possible endings. Ultimately, the author aimed for the safest one. Which is not to say that is was bad, but probably tragic loving me would’ve opted for the other much more unsettling ending. But seeing that it’s YA I can see why the novel would end on a much more hopeful note than not.

Overall, the novel had very lush and alluring elements to it and I was completely consumed by the story. If you love Paris, ballet, and strong friendships, then this book is for you.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Short Q & A With The Author:

I read that you were a ballet dancer. Did you study ballet in Paris, as the characters in Bright Burning Stars did or did you study it elsewhere?

When I was five-years-old, I began dancing in Paris with a famous teacher named Max Bozzoni who taught and danced at the Paris Opera. Then I danced with L’Académie Chaptal where the teachers also danced and taught at the Paris Opera. And in my teens, I danced with the Richmond Ballet Student Company and did a summer at Pacific Northwest Ballet on full scholarship.

Why did you decide to set the story in Paris? Is it because it’s where ballet first began or because Paris is the perfect setting for a book about passion (both for ballet and love)?

I chose Paris because I began my dance adventure there and because I grew up obsessed and in love with the Parisian rats who became principal dancers. I knew I wanted to render homage to them specifically.

Do you think that female friendships are very important to girls in their teenage years and that’s why it’s particularly devastating when they end?

I think female friendships are always important, but when you are a teen you experience love with a particular type of intensity. I feel like those friendships are almost always tattooed in your heart somehow, which do make them hard to reckon with when they unravel.

The ballet world can be very cutthroat and dealing with physical pain is an every day occurrence for a ballerina. Do you think that’s why it’s hard for dancers to relate to others who don’t dance or don’t have a similar passion as their own?

To me, the dance world is like a monastery. You give yourself over to that vocation physically and mentally. Dancers are artists, but also athletes. Imagine a painter who wrestles, or a cellist who plays basketball, or a sculptor who sprints. The complexity of fusing art and sport. Very few people, I believe, know the rigor of ballet and, yes, that keeps the dancers separate from others for sure.

What actresses can you see in the role of Kate & Marine if anyone ever decides to bring Bright Burning Stars on the big or TV screen?

If I had it my way I’d want to see real dancers portray my girls, like Ava Arbuckle and Audrey Freeman whom I follow on IG!

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