Dear Edward

Finished Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Inspired by a true story of one child’s incredible survival–riveting, uplifting, unforgettable.

After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett.

In the face of tragedy, what does it take to find joy?

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery–one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.”

This was such a heartbreaking book. It’s not constantly devastating, but it’s definitely not a light read.

Reading this made me question a lot of things but the one I kept returning to was how would you be able to go on if you were the only survivor of a tragedy? Do you have any sort of responsibility to do something amazing with your life because almost 200 people died and you didn’t? Do you have the responsibility to be a public figure because the whole country prayed for you? And if you were a child when it happened, does that change any of the answers?

It was impossible not to love Edward and to not feel his grief. It was especially hard in the early pages because he’s 12 and everything is too big to deal with. It would be too much for me, as someone who’s almost 40, and how would you even begin if you weren’t even a teenager?

This book is an amazing experience. It’s heartbreaking but also very human in the best way. Highly recommended.

Infinity Son

Finished Infinity Son by Adam Silvera. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Growing up in New York, brothers Emil and Brighton always idolized the Spell Walkers—a vigilante group sworn to rid the world of specters. While the Spell Walkers and other celestials are born with powers, specters take them, violently stealing the essence of endangered magical creatures.

Brighton wishes he had a power so he could join the fray. Emil just wants the fighting to stop. The cycle of violence has taken a toll, making it harder for anyone with a power to live peacefully and openly. In this climate of fear, a gang of specters has been growing bolder by the day.

Then, in a brawl after a protest, Emil manifests a power of his own—one that puts him right at the heart of the conflict and sets him up to be the heroic Spell Walker Brighton always wanted to be.

Brotherhood, love, and loyalty will be put to the test, and no one will escape the fight unscathed.

Balancing epic and intensely personal stakes, bestselling author Adam Silvera’s Infinity Son is a gritty, fast-paced adventure about two brothers caught up in a magical war generations in the making.”

I am not a huge fan of fantasy, so I was a little hesitant about picking this up. As it happens, though, this is obviously an Adam Silvera story: great characters and story, excellent writing. (Most of the negative reviews mention that he’s maybe not the best at world-building, which is fair. I’m not sure I fully understand the rules of the story. But I’m absolutely along for the ride, and I wasn’t so confused that it impacted my enjoyment of Infinity Son.)

And I did enjoy Infinity Son. I love Emil and Brighton, and basically every character (even the ones I didn’t like at all). It’s a smart, fun story and I’m excited to see where it goes next.

Be aware though that you will want the sequel immediately, and that it currently doesn’t have (a) a name or (b) a release date beyond “2021.”

Followers

Finished Followers by Megan Angelo. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“An electrifying story of two ambitious friends, the dark choices they make and the profound moment that changes the meaning of privacy forever.

Orla Cadden dreams of literary success, but she’s stuck writing about movie-star hookups and influencer yoga moves. Orla has no idea how to change her life until her new roommate, Floss―a striving, wannabe A-lister―comes up with a plan for launching them both into the high-profile lives they so desperately crave. But it’s only when Orla and Floss abandon all pretense of ethics that social media responds with the most terrifying feedback of all: overwhelming success.

Thirty-five years later, in a closed California village where government-appointed celebrities live every moment of the day on camera, a woman named Marlow discovers a shattering secret about her past. Despite her massive popularity―twelve million loyal followers―Marlow dreams of fleeing the corporate sponsors who would do anything, even horrible things, to keep her on-screen. When she learns that her whole family history is a lie, Marlow finally summons the courage to run in search of the truth, no matter the risks.

Followers traces the paths of Orla, Floss and Marlow as they wind through time toward each other, and toward a cataclysmic event that sends America into lasting upheaval. At turns wry and tender, bleak and hopeful, this darkly funny story reminds us that even if we obsess over famous people we’ll never meet, what we really crave is genuine human connection.”

This is an absolutely fascinating (and creepily plausible) book. At first, I preferred the 2016 timeline (with Orla and Floss) but it didn’t take long for me to love Marlowe and want to stay with her timeline.

You’re going to want to be patient because it takes a while for things to make sense (especially the parts in the future) but this is a great and thought-provoking story. If you’ve ever thought, “Hey, social media may be becoming too addictive/prevalent/whatever,” you need to read this book. (Or maybe you don’t; it could push you over the edge.)

But more than that, this is just a really fun read. Think about the implications of this book or don’t, but definitely don’t miss this one.

Highly recommended.

#2020 Pop Culture Resolutions

So my friend Kathy came up with an idea for 2020: do 12 things in various pop culture categories, one a month. (The link takes you to hers, and I’m going to be joining her on some of hers.)

But I’ve also never been one to not poach a great idea, so here are mine:

1) Watch 12 AFI/Oscar movies that I haven’t seen. (My 12, in no particular order): On the Waterfront (Best Picture, 100 Best), Marty (Best Picture; one of the AFI’s 100 Passions), The Lost Weekend (Best Picture), The Sting (Best Picture), Ordinary People (Best Picture), Amadeus (Best Picture; one of AFI’s original 100 best), Do the Right Thing (AFI’s 100 best), Dirty Harry (100 Thrills), Now Voyager (AFI 100 Passions), Goodbye Girl (100 Passions), The Farewell (one of the AFI’s 10 best for 2019) and Capote (one of the AFI’s best for 2005).

2) Read 12 nonfiction books about race, class or religion. (My 12, in no particular order and focusing heavily on race: White Fragility, Eloquent Rage, I Am Not Your Negro, Strangers in Their Own Land, Tears We Cannot Stop, They Can’t Kill Us All, Why? Explaining the Holocaust, The Meaning of Michelle, White Trash, Across That Bridge, Just Mercy and A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing.)

3) Watch 12 horror or horror-adjacent movies I’ve been meaning to see. (My 12, in no particular order: Countdown, One Cut of the Dead, Zombieland 2, Daniel Isn’t Real, The Dark, Ruin Me, The Witch in the Window, The House on Haunted Hill (original), Crawl, 30 Days of Night, Greta and The Prodigy.

4) Read 12 books that are out of my usual comfort zone. I’m picking four true crime (The Stranger Beside Me, Ghettoside, The Fact of a Body and Kitty Genovese), four graphic novels (Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy; Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me; Stargazing and Awkward) and four romance novels (One Day in December, The Bromance Book Club, The Bride Test and The Friend Zone).

5) Six books and six movies that I really wanted to see and that fell through the cracks somehow. (Mary Queen of Scots, Anna and the Apocalypse, Widows, Hustlers, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood and Logan Lucky; There There, Come Closer, City of Girls, All This Could Be Yours, Before We Were Yours and This is How it Always Is)

American Dirt

Finished American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy–two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a page-turner; it is a literary achievement; it is filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.”

This book is intense and devastating. I know a bit about the cartels but not much in the way of specifics (the first grade education equivalent, probably—they control Mexico, people die, they do what they want) and this book has a lot of specifics. To paraphrase the movie Absence of Malice, this may not be true but it’s accurate.

This was easily one of the most tense reading experiences I’ve ever had. Lydia and her son are in danger constantly. There is never a time where they’re safe. Granted, there are times that are more perilous than others, but they are never 100% out of harm’s way. It’s impossible to trust anyone because anyone they see could be working for a cartel. And it’s obviously bad if the specific cartel that’s hunting for them finds them, but they also can’t trust any other cartels, because they could become bargaining chips.

But as I said, it’s also a devastating read. My heart broke repeatedly while I was reading this book and it made me even more certain that we need to improve the way we treat immigrants and migrants. I don’t know what the answer is, but it’s certainly not what we’re doing now.

Highly recommended.

Three Things I Know Are True

Finished Three Things I Know Are True by Betty Culley. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

This moving debut novel in verse about a teenage girl dealing with the aftermath of an accident that nearly takes her brother’s life is a stunning exploration of grief and the power of forgiveness.

The reminder is always there—a dent on the right side of Jonah’s forehead. The spot you’d press when you felt a headache coming on. The bullet tore away bone, the way dynamite blasts rock—leaving a soft crater.

Life changes forever for Liv when her older brother, Jonah, accidentally shoots himself with his best friend Clay’s father’s gun. Now Jonah needs round-the-clock care just to stay alive, and Liv seems to be the only person who can see that her brother is still there inside his broken body.

With Liv’s mom suing Clay’s family, there are divisions in the community that Liv knows she’s not supposed to cross. But Clay is her friend, too, and she refuses to turn away from him—just like she refuses to give up on Jonah.”

You should know going in that this is a novel in verse. It would’ve worked as prose, too, but the fact that it’s also poems gives a sort of sense of unreality to what’s going on (this isn’t quite right phrase, but it’s closest to what I mean). It’s perfect for Liv, who keeps losing the ability to hear since her brother shot himself. When I say that, I don’t mean that she’s ever deaf. But when people talk, it’s sort of like in the Peanuts cartoons where adults talk but they don’t really make any sense and it’s like “wah wah wah wah wah” in varying inflections. She’s not doing it on purpose usually; it just happens.

She’s also the person who can communicate with Jonah the best. Her mom’s not coping very well (her dad has died) and the nurses start to rely on Liv because she’s there and because she can understand him and calm him down when no one else can.

I love the way Liv works to keep her family together but also to get back some semblance of her own life. She doesn’t resent Jonah, but she also doesn’t hate Clay, his best friend.

There’s a part later on where she thinks about how tornadoes can completely destroy one house while leaving the one next to it unharmed, and how random it all is. It’s not like the person who owned one house deserved it or that the other owner is better. It’s just a matter of luck. That’s a hard thing to accept (as proof, look at basically any comments section after a woman is assaulted or murdered).

This is a debut novel but doesn’t read like one. I hope Betty Culley has a lot more books to write; I’m reading then all. Highly recommended.

We Used to Be Friends

Finished We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Two best friends grow up—and grow apart—in this innovative contemporary YA novel

Told in dual timelines—half of the chapters moving forward in time and half moving backward—We Used to Be Friends explores the most traumatic breakup of all: that of childhood besties. At the start of their senior year in high school, James (a girl with a boy’s name) and Kat are inseparable, but by graduation, they’re no longer friends. James prepares to head off to college as she reflects on the dissolution of her friendship with Kat while, in alternating chapters, Kat thinks about being newly in love with her first girlfriend and having a future that feels wide open. Over the course of senior year, Kat wants nothing more than James to continue to be her steady rock, as James worries that everything she believes about love and her future is a lie when her high-school sweetheart parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Funny, honest, and full of heart, We Used to Be Friends tells of the pains of growing up and growing apart.”

This book absolutely broke my heart.

I think it’s not a particularly original thought to point out that we don’t really consider friendships ending as a breakup, but they actually really are. We tell our friends everything, and James and Kat have been friends for so long that their friendship is basically the defining one of their lives. James knew Kat’s mom (who has since died) and that’s such an important and actually kind of precious thing.

One of my best friends from back home mentioned that one of the best things about us is that we know the other person’s backstory and context, and that’s what I kept thinking of here. James and Kat know the entire backstory. There’s no real explanation that needs to happen for anything because they know; they were there. So the fracturing of that relationship was really painful for me to read.

It’s almost worse because it’s so senseless. It’s not like there was one thing that happened. Like real life, it’s a ton of little things. And while I definitely am on one side, I could also see the other side, too. One side is more right, but both have valid points.

Highly recommended but be aware that you’ll want to call your own best friend after.

Loveboat, Taipei

Finished Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For fans of Crazy Rich Asians or Jane Austen Comedy of Manners, with a hint of La La Land

When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?”

Ever loves dancing, but her parents view it as a waste of time. They begrudgingly let her do it, because it makes her look like a well-rounded person on college applications. But it’s not a priority and the second she can, she’s going to have to drop it and focus on her future: med school. Unfortunately, she gets light-headed at the sight of blood. (This doesn’t save her. She’s expected to be a doctor and figure out how to get over it.)

And then she get sent off to Taipei, where she doesn’t know anyone or speak the language. But Ever is incredibly brave and it doesn’t take her long to decide that what she’s going to end up doing is break all the rules she has to follow at home. She’s determined to have the best summer.

I absolutely adored this book! I love YA about traveling, especially if it’s a sort of fish out of water tale, and I love books where people are out of their comfort zone and where they have something to prove (whether it’s to themselves or to other people) and Loveboat, Taipei is all of those things and more.

Best of all? There’s going to be a sequel and I cannot wait. I don’t know if it’s going to be a continuation of Ever’s story or if it’s going to be a companion novel. Either way? I’m reading it the first second I can.

Highly recommended.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come

Finished All the Days Past, All the Days to Come by Mildred D. Taylor. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The saga of the Logan family–made famous in the Newbery Medal-winning Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry–concludes in a long-awaited and deeply fulfilling story.

In her tenth book, Mildred Taylor completes her sweeping saga about the Logan family of Mississippi, which is also the story of the civil rights movement in America of the 20th century. Cassie Logan, first met in Song of the Trees and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, is a young woman now, searching for her place in the world, a journey that takes her from Toledo to California, to law school in Boston, and, ultimately, in the 60s, home to Mississippi to participate in voter registration. She is witness to the now-historic events of the century: the Great Migration north, the rise of the civil rights movement, preceded and precipitated by the racist society of America, and the often violent confrontations that brought about change. Rich, compelling storytelling is Ms. Taylor’s hallmark, and she fulfills expectations as she brings to a close the stirring family story that has absorbed her for over forty years. It is a story she was born to tell.”

This is part of a series (the end, as it happens) but can be read as a standalone. (I think I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry in elementary school, but I don’t really remember it that well. This book makes me want to read the whole series, though.)

I love the way that the civil rights era is told through the lens of this family, but the most fascinating parts for me were the ones that dealt with the actual battle to end segregation: the freedom riders and the sit-ins, and that’s basically the very end of the book. I wish those parts had been longer.

This story shows how far we’ve come but, in a lot of ways, shows how some things haven’t changed very much at all.

That said, and without spoiling anything, the end of this is absolutely beautiful and made me cry.

Recommended, especially for people who have already met the Logans. I’m looking forward to spending a lot more time with them.

Tweet Cute

Finished Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.”

This is basically a YA You’ve Got Mail (or Shop Around the Corner, if you want to be a cinema purist about it) and I am absolutely here for it.

This is an incredibly sweet and fun story and Pepper and Jack (and Jack’s family and Pepper’s sister) are all fantastic. I love the concept of a Twitter war between two NYC carryout places, and the book more than delivers on its concept.

I had a huge smile on my face the entire time I was reading this. But one warning: do not read while hungry.

Highly recommended.