Review – Every Heart a Doorway

What happens when children come back through the door from a magical world to this one? Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (5/5)

I took a bit of a hiatus from blogging and doing reviews because I was dreading doing them. It made the reading less fun, and that’s always going to be a priority.

That should also tell how much I loved this book that I am breaking my break to write about it. Be warned that this is going to be a semi-spoilery review so if you haven’t read this or have an interest in reading it, gimme a like and get outta here!

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire was published in 2016 – I read it on the night of November 4, 2017 in about 2 hours. 1) I read very quickly, and 2) it is very compelling. It was the way I gave my brain a break after finishing Stephen King’s 11/22/63 both of which are sort of portal fantasies, ha! (I would argue that going down a staircase that leads to the past and the possibility of an alternate time stream is both portal and time travel)

A summary, from Amazon:
“Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations
No Visitors
No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere… else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced… they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of things.

No matter the cost.”


I’m just going to tell you that this book is a murder mystery. And it’s a good one. One of the biggest struggles I have with murder mysteries, especially the whole – it’s one of us in this isolated group murder mysteries – is that they take too damn long. It’s not that hard! There’s obvious things everywhere! This book is so small but you get so much out of it, and part of it is that once you are fully introduced to the existential horror of these young people’s lives, you are then smacked in the face with the fact that there are still real horrors on this side of the doorway, and that people are selfish dickwads and just because they are chosen does not mean they are good.

The book lays out the concepts of the worlds on the other sides of the door, and it leaves you with a lot of questions (is each world unique to each child? why do some children go to the same world and some never do?) but at the same time the labels for the worlds are so much more helpful than coming up with names – Nonsense v. Logic, Wicked v. Virtue, etc. I loved the idea of identifying the worlds by “directions” versus trying to figure out what they were like based on names, or having to hear too much description. It’s not really the worlds that matter in the story, it’s what the worlds did to the children.

Also, I am in love with Kade as a character that exists. If Seanan does not write his story at some point in the fullness that it deserves, we’re gonna have words. And she’s one of my favorite people this year because 1) this book is very good and 2) a post of hers that I saw got me to read In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan which is the last book I broke hiatus for and one of my favorite reads of the year.

Back to the story.

Nancy is a good character because she’s different, and not easily labelled. Nancy likes people and she’s good and kind and wants to do the right things, she just needs stillness. Sometimes we all do. I also loved that in Nancy’s world, compared to some of the other kids especially, she’s not the savior or the princess or whatever. She’s working to earn her spot, and she has to make choices. There’s no Nancy the Chosen, there’s Nancy the person who belongs in the world that she found through the door. It was important to follow a character in that position rather than one of the “special” kids because her choices were what mattered – it wasn’t about understanding her position in the world, it was about understanding herself. Which is the coming of age aspect of the novel.

I cannot say enough about the efficiency of story in this novel. It’s short but it is PACKED, and I felt like I understood things quickly. Some books rely on the reader to take leaps of understanding, or rely on prior knowledge the reader may have, and I think EHaD does that in the best way. There is shorthand to understand the worlds that allows the reader to take the leap to understand why each character is the way they are and why they were meant for that world.

I did not know much about this book going in, and had vaguely heard that there were more books connected to this one. About halfway through I paused and looked that up. I am hoping to acquire the next book as soon as possible because I have so many questions, and I am excited that this time we are going to be on the other side of the door. The third book comes out in January 2018 and I am sure I’ll end up pre-ordering.

This was a five star read for me on both a plot and technical execution level. It’s not a happy book for the most part, and it’s hella violent and gory in some parts, as well as a reminder that people are shitty. Definitely read it.

 

In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan

Sarcastic Elliot crosses the wall to the Borderlands, but it’s not like the stories he’s heard before. IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5)

You don’t even need to read this review, you can stop right now and get your hands on IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan as soon as possible.

IN OTHER LANDS was published on August 15, 2017 and I read it August 23-24, 2017 after reading a Twitter thread posted by Seanan McGuire that fully convinced me I needed to read this book.

Tell me you wouldn’t be totally curious – and the rest of the thread further justifies my feelings. I bought the book based on the thread and tried to put off reading it until I was done with my library books, but I was too intrigued and I totally disappeared into the book. I stayed up until almost midnight on the 23rd to finish it, and actually got up when my alarm went off on the 24th so I could read for a bit before work. I would have picked reading this book over eating food. Luckily, I could do both at the same time.


From Amazon, another (modified) summary:

Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands. 
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world. 

Random things I liked:

-I laughed. A lot. Loudly, awkwardly. I disconcerted people. Elliot is so fantastically sarcastic and snarky, so you definitely laugh with him. However, being inside Elliot’s head you know what he’s not seeing or realizing as he goes through his life that sometimes, you are definitely laughing AT him. IOL also handles the way some portal fantasy ignores technology and the advancement beyond it’s borders to hilarity and explosiveness (literally) – but the native Borderlanders trying to understand Elliot is hilarious. When you get to the scene when Luke tries to describe what computers are, it’s somehow the most incorrect and most accurate description of the internet, possibly ever.

-I pretty much could not stop myself from reacting out loud in general. There was gasping and “oh no!” and some annoyed snorting because in both patriarchal and matriarchal societies, people can be extremely stupid. Xenophobia and cultural difference are the big, obvious themes of this novel right from the beginning. It provides a gentle reminder in the safer context of a fantasy world that it is okay to challenge norms and prejudices, and that it is easier than you think to stand up to them. The kids in this book aren’t just brave because they fight in battle. They are brave because they refuse to let prejudice define their relationships.

-But the relationships and interactions between the teenagers are the most real I’ve ever read, that were tense and emotional without being melodramatic. The tangled webs and impulsive decisions felt so true to high school. Sometimes you kiss someone because you like them. Sometimes you kiss someone because the person you want to kiss does not want to kiss you. Sometimes you kiss people because you know it will hurt someone else. I was simultaneously annoyed with Elliot and also completely sympathetic to some of the decisions he made.

-The world of the Borderlands is big enough to be dangerous, but not so big as to be confusing. And I like that there’s history to the creation of the Border Guard but not a million pages spent trying to explain the existence of the Borderlands. The point of this story is that there is not one Big Bad, one chosen kid who will fix the whole world to exist in peace forever; so ultimately, how the Borderlands were created is irrelevant. The story is about how then got them to NOW, and dealing with the bad things that are happening in the now. I also appreciate the message that peace is delicate, and it takes constant upkeep.

-I was genuinely surprised that someone as verbally brutal as Elliot was a pacifist, but I also think his reasons for being so are clear without him actually explaining how he came to that stance on things. We are given the pieces and can put them together.

-Nothing is perfect. This sometimes gritty world felt more real than some contemporaries I’ve read because even in the best circumstances there are failures, stupid things said, people who don’t care or don’t love, people who do worship violence and do not want peace. People lie and cheat and take things they have not earned. And it questions the most irritating of all occurrences in novels where kids are whisked away to magic school: WHY DOES NO ONE USE PENS?!!?!?! Because honestly, Harry Potter was too damn lazy to be that excited about quills, color-changing ink be damned, and Ron would have adopted that Muggle tool in a hot minute. I defy you that anyone as bookish as Hermione didn’t have a freaking pen and stationery collection. In this instance, Elliot is better than Hermione by a long shot. You heard me.

-This is definitely a book for the people who found themselves agreeing a little bit with Eustace Scrubb. Who found his “WTH?!” reaction perfectly rational. We want to believe we’d be a Lucy, but face it – more of us are Eustaces.

There are so many more things that I liked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll just say…Sisters, the first Break Up, Being that Person that Is Oblivious to Others Crushing on Them So Often Its Embarrassing.

Anyway, IN OTHER LANDS is absolutely a 5/5 read for me. Get this book, fall in love with it, buy it for everyone you know.

Back to back 5/5 reads for me recently, as I started reading it right after finishing The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. These were excellent books to read back to back as both deal extensively with cultural differences and basically not being a disrespectful boob.

 

Book Talk – the Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee came out on April 1, 2016 and I read it August 15-16, 2017.

A synopsis, from Amazon:

In a house built on truth something lays hidden. Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed. Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something. As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known. The darkness is watching.


This book is part ghost/haunted house, part demonic threat, and part vampire stories. It makes for a satisfying read because if you like the horror genre, a lot of boxes are ticked by this novel. I have still been itching for a good haunted house story and the almost haunted houseness of this book made that itch even worse.

But it brings me to one of my favorite things about this book: the setting. Setting is one of my own biggest weaknesses, so I pay close attention to the people who do it well. Lee does it very well. It starts with the Davenport house, but it’s also capturing the spirit of the village, of the shape of the roads, and the distance between neighbors. The real success is the Manor though; the house is a character in itself as much as it is a setting – the house itself is almost as possessed, as manipulated, and as broken as any of the people who inhabit it during the course of the story. Houses, dwellings, are always safer than we think they are, and the Manor learns that it is not invulnerable, and that secrets rarely stay buried. The Manor is also part of the character of Edward Carver, and the secrets the house reveals are either Carver’s own, or hurt him the most. This is definitely a story about secrets – the real and the supernatural kind – and the consequences for thinking keeping them is the best course of action.

The other thing I loved about this book was the eponymous Gabriel Davenport. He is a perfect depiction of that liminal space between child and young adult – he believes that he is ready to know the truth about what happened when he was a baby and that he can handle it, while simultaneously being terrified that he cannot. He’s also young enough and has lived such a life that he is aware of his emotions, aware of his fear, and sometimes he even finds the strength to overcome it and do the right thing. I enjoyed the chapters that were in his perspective the most because he was the least damaged in traditional ways (the damage we acquire upon growing up, and the loss of innocence) – Gabriel is ultimately still innocent, but has also been carrying an enormous burden and sense of blame his entire life which is a unique kind of damage. It made him easy to care for, and easy to empathize with.

The only character that ultimately frustrated me was Noah Isaacs, but I wonder what will be resolved with him in the next book, A Shining in the Shadows. One of the subtle questions that Making asks is what power faith has – and not just the religious kind, but the faith we place in other people. Noah’s religious faith is tested, even fails, and that effects the faith the other characters have in him. It’s about the faith the Gabriel has in Carver and Noah to “solve the problem” and save him, and when he begins to doubt that they can, he trusts someone that maybe he shouldn’t.

It’s a book with a very unique family unit, and it is both their strength and their vulnerability. It’s hard to see anything coming in this story, and I liked that a lot. I am definitely curious about what happens next.

If you like moody, scary, semi-violent horror novels then the Making of Gabriel Davenport is definitely for you.

 

Review – Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. Allegedly. And that’s just the beginning. Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson (4/5)

I read Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson was released on January 24, 2017 and I read it on July 8, 2017 – in a single day. I stayed up late to finish it, and it’s taken me a week and a half to try and review/react.

The number one thing I need you to remember when reading this book is the evergreen wisdom of Dr. Gregory House:

EVERYBODY LIES.

Every person in this story is broken and/or jaded and/or unwell and no one is honest about anything, either with others or with themselves.

A synopsis from Amazon:

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Part of what drives the tension of this novel is that you don’t know the truth, and you gradually become aware that Mary is not a reliable narrator; even less reliable than your average teenager due to both who she is as a person and the trauma that she has experienced. This book is full of awkward, painful encounters and conversations, and relationship dynamics that are more about the benefit to the parties rather than actual emotion or connection. It’s hard because you want Mary to connect or have the opportunity to connect so badly, but at the same time her walls are justifiable. Mary has lived a ridiculous life – and I don’t mean that in the pejorative, I mean absurd. Darkly, darkly absurd. Like a clown car of terrible things and sometimes you’re not sure which parts are true.

The thing I want you to believe is true: this is the worst case of how the system works, but it is in fact accurate to the system. Jackson mentions in her acknowledgments the young women that she interviewed – please remember that when you read this book. This is not an example of the extremes used for drama in a novel – it’s part and parcel normal. The craziness is the individual case, not that the system has so catastrophically failed the young men and women in this novel – it’s the most realistic piece. Also, next time there’s a wild story I want you to consider how media affects court cases and the opportunity to have a fair trial. None of Mary’s experience with the system surprised me, and almost further justified her behavior while I was reading.

I saw some of the twists coming, and I’m not sure how intentional that was for some of them. However, it didn’t effect my engagement with the story because it made me wonder more how the revelations or changes would change the course of events, or if Mary would get what she wanted. It also makes you question if you want Mary to get what she wants. I’d be curious to talk to people who have a positive impression of literally any character by the end of this book. You don’t hate all of the characters by any means, but if you finish the book and aren’t upset, uncomfortable, or full of pity or empathy for these characters you need to read it again.

There is a pretty big revelation in the last pages of the novel. This is not surprising. What was surprising is that the reader spends the entire novel inside Mary’s head – some of the things revealed feel totally out of nowhere, or not setup as much as I would like them to be earlier in the story. However, given that Mary is unreliable and we are simply another audience that Mary is performing to, maybe I am just struggling with being caught off guard so currently it’s not a negative comment so much as my brain is still going “WTF?!?!?!” It felt like there were two Mary’s at the end, and I am still sorting through the pieces of the story in my brain and resolving them into a coherent picture.

I had some really fun conversations with my mother-in-law when I finished as well – she’s a court reporter so she’s definitely seen some shit, and I work in Title IX so I’ve seen plenty myself.

In conclusion, this book will scare the shit out of you and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Mary’s voice as well as the tension and frustration I felt while reading. It was a new emotional experience for me – I think a lot of books lean toward heartbreak and make me cry – and this was not that kind of emotional experience. I was definitely emotional, but I was almost…furious? exhausted? I’m not sure, but I wish more books would do this. 4/5 stars for me, and definitely adding Tiffany D. Jackson as someone to track their next release.

 

Review – The Archived/The Unbound by Victoria Schwab

A review of The Archived and the Unbound by Victoria Schwab (4/5)

So. I read the Archived on May 14, 2017, and the Unbound on May 14-15, 2017.

According to GoodReads there is a third book, the Returned, but I know that sometimes what’s planned doesn’t happen and Google hasn’t revealed to me the status of this third book (as in, going to happen, or been cancelled.)

Regardless, read these books. Particularly if you are already a fan of Victoria/V.E. Schwab because her imagination and ability to create internally consistent worlds is awesome, and just to see how her writing style and approach have changed and not that much time has passed.

From Amazon with some small edits from me:

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books. Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive. Mackenzie Bishop is a Keeper tasked with stopping violent Histories from escaping the Archive.  Mackenzie and her family have just moved into the city into an old hotel-turned-apartments the Coronado to run away from their past and the death of Mackenzie’s younger brother. Mackenzie has a new territory to learn, and soon, a mystery to unravel that puts both the world of the Archive and the world of the Outer, our world, at risk.


I’ll admit that in the last year I’ve developed a tendency to be triggered by deaths or incidents that involve car accidents after my friend died in one. It took me a few deep breaths when I first encountered that detail, but I made it through. The loss of Ben, the youngest Bishop, is central to the plot of the Archived, and I appreciate so much the way Schwab writes about the different kinds of grief we experience, and the different ways they can affect us. By the start of the story Mackenzie’s grandfather (Da), who she inherited her Keeper duties from, is also gone. Both those losses were traumatic for Mackenzie and for her family, and watching her process those things and figure out when to let go and when to hold on was really cathartic. The way each member of the Bishop family grieves is also varied, and also, irritating. It’s not hard to side with Mackenzie against her mom, even when you don’t like what Mackenzie is doing either.

The aura of spookiness in both books was a definite favorite feature. Between our world, the Outer, and the Archive, is a realm called the Narrows. Remember that creepy hallway in Beetlejuice with all the doors to the different places and houses? I imagine that it’s kind of like that only maybe less weird shapes to things and less weird glowing green light. Just a dark, dusty hallway full of doors. Where small, violent, reawakened dead children are slowly losing their minds and you have to find them before they do. If that doesn’t give you the creeps, I don’t know what will.

If Schwab needs to brainstorm an idea for another project, I would love for her to write a straight up horror novel. She throws in bits of horror/thriller/morbid/macabre in everything I’ve read by her so far, but I would read the fuck out of a haunted house story written by her. My struggle with a lot of contemporary horror is that it’s gotten gory, and plays a lot more on violence. I want a psychological thriller that’s also firmly a horror story…that’s a lot to ask, but I also think Schwab would totally blow my mind.

I have a weakness for characters named Owen. Ever since Maureen Johnson’s Devilish. It can’t be helped. This Owen is…delicious, on many levels. I can say without spoilers that he is very dynamic, and that dreams are very, very different from reality.

The jury is out on my feelings about Wesley, and will likely stay that way unless there’s a third book. I will say though that summer Wesley, of the spikes, guyliner, and black nails, sounds like my cup of tea. Actually because two things meshed in my brain at once he kind of looks like Dan Howell in my head (danisnotonfire on YouTube. My new crush.) Also soccer player. I mean, Wesley ticks a lot of boxes for me, but I don’t like how secretive he is while also being mad at Mackenzie for being secretive. Like, bro, that’s hella controlling. But given everything Mackenzie has been through, he’s also awesome for her healing process and I know what that’s like. Some people fix what’s broken, even if it’s not forever. Their effect is.

Another recurring Schwab theme that is also present here is younger people “sticking it to the Man” so to speak. There’s a rebellion. A revolution, maybe? And that’s something that comes up in all of her novels – the way things are isn’t good enough, and the individual character is always asking what they can do to change it. Sometimes for selfish reasons, sometimes for altruistic ones, and sometimes killing two birds with one stone. All I will say to that plot in these books is GIVE ‘EM HELL KENZIE.

I rated both of these books a 4/5 on GoodReads – I was totally hooked, loved the main character, loved the concept and the specificity of the rules, and um, good kissing scenes? Haha. Even the most awkward kiss I’ve ever read in a book but also the most realistic to actual teenagers ever.

Review – This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab came out in July 2016. I bought it because her anxiety on Twitter about people buying its sequel overwhelmed me so I bought it and it’s imminently releasing sequel. I read it May 8-13, 2017. It’s good preparation for when Our Dark Duet comes out June 13, 2017.

I think if I keep reading Victoria Schwab, all my top favorite female characters will have been created by her. Because Kate is awesome, and I’ve already pretty much given my entire heart to Lila Bard.

From Amazon:

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.


One of the things that sets Schwab apart from anyone else I read is the depth of emotions her characters experience, and how dynamic they are. Her characters always have the power to surprise me but not in ways that seem out of step with the plot, or with everything you already know about them. They are as real as people, and that’s such a unique talent. Kate and August, as well as some of the more periphery characters like Ilsa, Leo, Callum, and Henry all have more to them, and more to understand. Even some of the smallest characters, like Emily Flynn, have these tiny touches of detail that tell you more than just their name and their relationship to the main characters.

Kate Harker is awesome. I love that she begins the story thinking there’s only one way to be tough, or one way to take control, and learns that there’s more than that. Kate isn’t as cold as she likes to pretend, and ultimately that will prove to be a positive thing for her. Still, I might be more afraid to meet Kate in a dark alley than any Corsai or Malchai.

I will admit it took me a bit to get into this book – it’s a very different world, and there is a lot of history and rules that are alluded to that you have to try and parse out. I was only reading 1-2 chapters a night which is unusual for me, but once the friendship between Kate and August is established I was hooked in. It’s definitely the kind of story that needs to do some exposition before it gets to the main action of the story, and even if it’s interesting it doesn’t always make the story move quickly. Still, it was break-neck pace once things really got going and I was so concerned for those two and the people in their lives. I read the majority of the book today, in my hammock. It was wonderful.

I’m totally obsessed with the mythology of Verity. I think I’m just obsessed with Schwab’s brain and the mythology she creates in general. Back to the point – the Corsai, Malchai, and Sunai are a symptom, not the problem. We learn a little bit about where they came from and how they were created, but there are more questions than answers. There are more things to be discovered about what role they really have to play, and what direction the world is heading in. War has happened, war is inevitable, and there’s no guarantees that everyone will survive. There’s no guarantee that humanity is even supposed to. Because ultimately this is a story about what makes us human, and what happens when we forget what those things are. What happens when we fail to see the humanity in others. Let’s think about humanity like this: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

You know why YA dystopian is a thing? Because teenagers see the world in black and white, they see NOW, and when you’re fighting the system that’s what you need to be able to do. This is another series that makes clear how little the adults see the landscape of their world. How much easier they find it to sacrifice people, and kids don’t see things that way. I cannot wait to see what Kate and August make of the mess the adults have made, and how they might find a way to save the people that can be saved.

Overall I give this a 4/5 because it took me a bit to get into it, but once it hooked me I was all in. If you like supernatural mythology, ridiculously well-written characters, then you should absolutely read this. I am really ready for Our Dark Duet!

Review: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

You’ve Got Mail modernized, with badass teenagers. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett (5/5)

The stars really aligned for me to read this book on Saturday (April 15), as there was a Doctor Who reference about midway through, and it was also an excellent distraction as I waited for the 10th series premiere. I have not been excited about a companion in quite some time as I am about Bill – she’s going to be amazeballs.

Anyway. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett was released April 4, 2017 – I purchased it on April 3,2017 because someone (and I can’t figure out who) retweeted it or responded to Jenn’s tweet, and I was like – You’ve Got Mail retelling? I AM IN FOR THIS. I love that movie so much, and I still cry all the tears.

From Amazon:

Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.


As always, summaries do so little justice to the books they represent, because good books cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. This book, while hilarious and delightful, is not light or even fluffy. This isn’t about romance as much as it’s about figuring out how to still connect with people despite pain, trauma, and responsibilities. It’s about how complicated our family ties really are, and that your family makes you into an adult – for better or worse. This book was great.

One of the things I struggle with in contemporary YA is that the teens often jump to conclusions about the adults, or misinterpret events in such a way that even the reader is like – what is wrong with you? I love that this book doesn’t do that, even a little bit. There’s no ambiguity to the adults – if they aren’t direct, someone around the characters comes out and clears things up in some way. It doesn’t mean all the adults are good and good parents and like the teenagers, just that you don’t jump to conclusions.

Recently, I read an article about the Hate U Give and about how Angie Thomas brought family back to YA – I think this is another example of that. Family and familial relationships are integral to this story, and to Bailey’s journey. It also clearly demonstrates that some people just fail at being a parent, and sometimes it’s because they have to take care of themselves as an individual human when they have the space to do so.

This next thing I’m going to try and talk about without spoilers. Bad stuff has happened to both Bailey and Porter. What happened to Bailey is probably my greatest fear, as someone who often holds people accountable for their actions and is part of separating them from their education, that’s the shit I have nightmares about. And I’ll be honest, when the storyline was first hinted at I thought it was going to be too over the top, or too much for a teen contemporary romance. But it wasn’t. It was impactful and delivered well and at the exact right moments in the story. It’s also sadly realistic for our world and it’s much easier to deny that than accept that it’s not such a crazy thing to include in a novel. It’s not even an extreme example. So yeah, some dark stuff happens but we get to see a teenage girl successfully working through her response to trauma. We also get to see her help someone else deal with their own, and it’s such a REAL moment. Like a punch in the feels kind of moment, but you’re okay with the bruise.

Believe me, this book is not light, and I’m going to keep saying that and I mean it as a compliment. The highest of compliments. It has very cute moments and Porter sounds very sexy, but some romance feels that it’s a slight shift away from reality because love is the center of the world. That’s not the case in Alex, Approximately – there’s so much more going on for both of these characters. You see them struggle, adapt, change, and realize things about themselves. Bailey is a great character to follow because you can both empathize with her, and want her to stretch and be more, or be who she wishes she was.

The best way I can sum up this novel is REAL. The characters and their experiences are such an accurate and sharp slice of real life. There’s teenagers doing sexy things and talking about it and being smart and figuring out what they want, and how to explore becoming a sexual being. Without being pornographic or exploitative. There’s teenagers falling in love and making mistakes and being scared and truly, deeply loving the nerd thing they are into. It’s teenagers thinking about the future without the cliche version of the “pressure from parents” plot. It’s people losing things and changing dreams and trying to protect the people they love. It’s people recognizing that we all have darkness inside, but we have light, too.

I give Alex, Approximately a 5/5 because I was hooked the entire time and read the book in one sitting. After the Doctor Who premiere I was going to go to bed, but I didn’t. I stayed up and finished this book. I was expecting a fun, romantic teen version of a fairly light film, and got something that was fun and romantic, but deep in scope. Definitely read this.