ARC Review: This Side of Home by Renée Watson

22392935Title: This Side of Home

Author: Renée Watson

Publication date: February 3, 2015

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

Pages: 336

Source: ARC from publisher via Netgalley (Thank you, Bloomsbury!)

Purchase the book: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository / Fully Booked

Synopsis:

Identical twins Nikki and Maya have been on the same page for everything—friends, school, boys and starting off their adult lives at a historically African-American college. But as their neighborhood goes from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming, suddenly filled with pretty coffee shops and boutiques, Nikki is thrilled while Maya feels like their home is slipping away. Suddenly, the sisters who had always shared everything must confront their dissenting feelings on the importance of their ethnic and cultural identities and, in the process, learn to separate themselves from the long shadow of their identity as twins.

In her inspired YA debut, Renée Watson explores the experience of young African-American women navigating the traditions and expectations of their culture.

*Photo and synopsis from Goodreads 

My review:

This Side of Home explores the issue about race in a plausible, inspiring way, leaving a mark on readers that will never be erased. It teaches them to embrace their roots, be proud of who they are, and at the same time, welcome change. Amazing characters would definitely stimulate readers to contemplate on how they view themselves and the world around them.

Maya, the protagonist, is a strong-willed individual. Her compelling voice brought out her smart and fearless personality that bounces off on every page. Maya’s great passion for her ethnicity is highly notable! But it was when she opened herself to change that I appreciated her more. At first, Maya was not in favor of the changes happening in their community. Nevertheless, she adapted to it eventually when she fell in love and became friends with people who are not of the same ethnicity. Moreover, the supporting characters added depth to the story that leaves valuable insights to readers. One of the elements that grabbed my attention was the romance. The feelings that blossomed between Maya and Tony are so natural, effecting to a slow, authentic transition from friends to boyfriend-girlfriend status.

Change helps us grow as a person. I love how This Side of Home shows Maya’s evolution—how she embraced diversity, how she accepted the people around her regardless of race. We are people of the world whose uniqueness makes it an extraordinary place. No matter what color or race we belong to, we are all significant in this world.

The story is beautiful. Important. I couldn’t stress this enough through words because you have to experience it for yourself. All I can say is it has to be read. Author Renée Watson is a remarkable writer. Her words breathe exceptional creativity, spreading brilliance all throughout the book.

A debut novel that speaks to the heart, This Side of Home opens our eyes to the beauty of diverse cultures and the wonderful possibilities that change brings.

 

Rating:

4/5 stars

 

 

ARC Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

Playlist for the DeadTitle: Playlist for the Dead

Author: Michelle Falkoff

Publication date: January 27, 2015

Publisher: Harper Teen

Pages: 288

Source: ARC from publisher (Thank you, HarperCollins)

Purchase the book: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository / Fully Booked / National Book Store

Synopsis:

A teenage boy tries to understand his best friend’s suicide by listening to the playlist of songs he left behind in this smart, voice-driven debut novel.

Here’s what Sam knows: There was a party. There was a fight. The next morning, his best friend, Hayden, was dead. And all he left Sam was a playlist of songs, and a suicide note: For Sam—listen and you’ll understand.

As he listens to song after song, Sam tries to face up to what happened the night Hayden killed himself. But it’s only by taking out his earbuds and opening his eyes to the people around him that he will finally be able to piece together his best friend’s story. And maybe have a chance to change his own.

Part mystery, part love story, and part coming-of-age tale in the vein of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Tim Tharp’s The Spectacular Now, Playlist for the Dead is an honest and gut-wrenching first novel about loss, rage, what it feels like to outgrow a friendship that’s always defined you—and the struggle to redefine yourself. But above all, it’s about finding hope when hope seems like the hardest thing to find.

*Photo and synopsis from Goodreads

My review:

For someone like me who has a huge fetish for playlists, this debut novel is a surefire attention grabber.

Mysterious and intriguing, Playlist for the Dead is a story that explores the after effects of losing someone because of suicide. Not only that, it’s also concerned with seeking answers to questions surrounding the tragedy. Books that deal with sensitive issues such as suicide are heavy but Playlist for the Dead does not feel as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders. I like that it has a bit of a light tone, effecting to a less serious and bearable reading experience. Playlist for the Dead has raw, emotional parts that bring out the grief and anger of Sam (the protagonist) and others affected by his best friend Hayden’s suicide. There is so much to learn about coping with loss from the authentic characters.

Aside from echoing the feel of the story, the featured playlist encapsulates the book’s essence. The music amplifies its emotional sound, creating a relatable ambiance for readers to genuinely become familiar with the fictional environment.

Playlist for the Dead is fast and thoughtful. It has engaging writing that will keep you reading until past midnight. Although the ending fell a bit flat for me, I liked that it concluded with questions answered, full of optimism for better days ahead after everything that happened.

 

Rating:

3/5 stars

ARC Review: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright PlacesTitle: All the Bright Places

Author: Jennifer Niven

Publication date: January 6, 2015

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Pages: 384

Source: e-ARC from author via Netgalley (Thank you, Jennifer Niven!)

Purchase the book: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository / Fully Booked / National Book Store

Synopsis: 

The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor and Park in this compelling, exhilarating, and beautiful story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

*Photo and synopsis from Goodreads

My review:

Written in alternate POVs, All the Bright Places follows the story of Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two complex and flawed teenagers going through dark times in their separate lives. They meet at the ledge of their school bell tower one day and from then on, they became a significant part of each other’s life.

Author Jennifer Niven’s writing has a distinct rhythm and a fresh, resounding YA perspective that blows you away. She breathed life to unique characters that are definitely going to create a huge mark in the YA world. Finch and Violet have beautiful voices that captivate readers through thought-provoking insights. Both characters are dear to me but throughout the reading process, I have developed a greater fondness for Finch. How could I not? He is funny, bold, loving, and highly fascinating. He plays the guitar and writes songs! SWOON! ❤ Finch also has a way of speaking that draws anyone to listen. His words are like fairy dust scattered in the wind, spreading magic all over the place. But what I adore most about Finch is that he inspired Violet to break free from the cell of grief and guilt she imprisoned herself in. He gave her light to see reasons to live.

Finch and Violet’s romance is sweet and heartfelt! Their interactions will set off euphoric flutters in your stomach that could make you burp rainbows and the brightest sunshine ever. You know the feeling when you’re with someone you like and want to be something more? THAT!!! I melted at the little gestures such as exchanging smiles and holding each other’s hand. Oh. My. Heart! *happy sigh* And even after reading a swoon-worthy scene, the blissful electric feeling still lingers. 🙂 Finch and Violet’s relationship impressively displays the magnificence of discovering that person who reflects your soul.

After all the delightful moments, something devastating happens. Honestly, I’m still in denial until now. The emotions are very raw and painful. I didn’t react at first because I had faith that it’s not what I thought it was, that there’s still a chance for *insert name of character* to be in good condition. I held on to the hope that things would be fine but when I turned the page to the next chapter, that’s when I felt the finality of the incident, the gravity of its aftermath. Everything crumbled to dust. Tears started to fall uncontrollably. It’s the kind of moment where you need someone to hold you and say that things will be okay. But how can you move on when you feel like your heart is crushed, drained of blood and all the energy that’s keeping you alive? What hurts the most is the thought that you can’t do anything about it. What’s done is done. There’s no way to rewind time to stop it from happening. The weight is too much to bear but it’s an eye-opener to the reality that people do such a thing. When it happens, it affects everyone. I know this is fiction but it felt so real.

When you love a book that broke your heart in a spectacular way, it’s difficult to stitch your thoughts and emotions into articulate sentences. It took me two weeks to write this review because I had to gather enough courage and strength to keep myself together. Pouring out my feelings is like tending to a fresh wound as I cry recalling the sorrow, and then smile eventually when the happy memories take over. Having said that, I believe this book wants to tell readers that there’s hope in finding something bright in a world that seems so dark. Darkness will always be part of our life but when we think about the lovely things that put a smile on our face, brightness will shine through.

Thank you so much Jennifer Niven for writing this remarkable story!

Brimming with the brightest of hopes and the darkest of heartaches, All the Bright Places is a memorable tale of love, loss, and the beauty of being alive.

Rating:

5/5 stars