Book Review: Young Adult: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

The Abyss Surrounds Us cover

Cas has fought pirates her entire life. But can she survive living among them?

For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Title: The Abyss Surrounds Us
Author: Emily Skrutskie, Twitter
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Post-apocalyptic SF
Publisher: Flux, Twitter
Publication Date: February 8, 2016
Format: Paperback
Length: 273 pages
ISBN-10: 0738746916
ISBN-13: 9780738746913

Series or Standalone: The Abyss Surrounds Us #1

Literary Awards: N/A

Themes: QUILTBAG, Romance, Pirates, climate science fiction
POV: 1st Person Singular
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa Greene

Where I Got It: Recced by a friend

Cover Notes:  Holy crap, guys.  Loved this cover!  Normally I’m not much for textured titles, but this just fit so well.  The light effects are a bit flashy for me, but they’re story related, so I’m dealing with it.

Review:  

There are good and bad things about this book.  I don’t love the first person present here.  It doesn’t feel like it serves the purpose I expect that set-up to serve.  The pacing doesn’t match it, mainly.  But I did like Cas’s voice, so that’s something, I guess.  I appreciated her snark in the face of adversity.  I wish the main characters were fleshed out a bit more, too.  Like, I get Swift is the mysterious stranger.  But I could have done with a bit more personality.

Now, the premise of the book is fantastic.  War leviathans?  Sign me up.  Also, the romance angle.  Although the execution was a bit lacking in this book, there’s a sequel.  It gets better, I think.  I should take now to mention I’ve already read the sequel.  A lot of stuff makes more sense, and more plot lines get tied up or at least explored, if you read the sequel.  It’s basically one story rather than two sequential stories.  I could still wish some things developed faster, but that’s how this structure works.

Although I liked Cas’s voice, I wish her character had been a bit less bland.  Besides her Reckoner training training, there’s not a ton to the character.  Perhaps it’s because the action/adventure part started so early.  But I would have liked more understanding of her relationship to her family.  More about who she was besides being a trainer in training.  I think this lack of development hurts her character in this book and the sequel.  It’s a lot more interesting for me when someone has to make tough decisions if I feel I know enough about them to justify both the internal conflict and their choice.

One of the main things I liked about this book was that Cas was both not white and not straight.  The sexual orientation aspect was really well handled, to me.  Not preaching, judging, ham-handedness.  But she seems so bland it’s hard to see any influence from her Asian heritage.  Maybe that’s how it should be.  Either way, it’s nice to see some diversity.

The setting for this story is pretty important.  It’s something of a climate science fiction story, with rising water levels and the break-up of big countries into smaller political units.  Thus the need for the Reckoners.  Although it’s only vaguely sketched out in the book, I think it works well as a backdrop, and there’s nothing that makes you feel like it’s a cheap gimmick.  It informs the attitudes of both the privileged “shore” people with national citizenship, and the nation-less “pirates”.

The supporting characters here, especially as you read the sequel, are very neatly-drawn.  Although the main villain in the first book is a bit one-note, banging the cruel manipulation drum non-stop, the rest of the “bad” characters have some nice nuance to them, which is something you don’t always see in these sorts of stories.

Because it’s the first of a duology, the conclusion leaves a bit to be desired, but it pays off by the end of the second book.  The only plot-hole was the whole trope of animals tasing human blood.  It was played up a lot by Cas, but in the end, as the SBTB review says, it didn’t seem to have much effect?

Finally, the romance angle was cool.  There’s a really fantastic scene where the concept of consent comes up.  You’ll know it when you see it.

Conclusion: 78/100 (Has its flaws, but totally worth it for the awesome sea monsters)
Premise: 10/10 (For awesome, even if the science is bullshit)
Plot: 7/10 (Pretty standard kidnapping story)
Setting: 8/10 (Could have been deeper but worked well)
Main Character: 7/10 (Pretty standard YA protag)
Orientation: 8/10 (No yuck, but little relevance?)
Romance: 8/10 (An extra point for dealing with consent issues)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Loved ’em)
Writing: 8/10 (Very smooth aside from the tense and perspective issues)
Themes: 7/10 (Standard but well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (First-book-itis)

Buy Or Borrow:  Buy or borrow, either one is a good choice here.

Similar Books:

Can’t think of any obvious similar books off the top of my head.  Paolo Bacigalupi’s Shipbreaker series, maybe?

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
Books, Bones, and Buffy
Rich in Color
The Lesbrary (major first-half spoilers!)

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

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High-school junior Leila has made it most of the way through Armstead Academy without having a crush on anyone, which is something of a relief. Her Persian heritage already makes her different from her classmates; if word got out that she liked girls, life would be twice as hard. But when a sophisticated, beautiful new girl, Saskia, shows up, Leila starts to take risks she never thought she would, especially when it looks as if the attraction between them is mutual. Struggling to sort out her growing feelings and Saskia’s confusing signals, Leila confides in her old friend, Lisa, and grows closer to her fellow drama tech-crew members, especially Tomas, whose comments about his own sexuality are frank, funny, wise, and sometimes painful. Gradually, Leila begins to see that almost all her classmates are more complicated than they first appear to be, and many are keeping fascinating secrets of their own.

Title: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel
Author: Sara Farizan
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary with a side of romance
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Publication Date: October 7, 2014
Format: NetGalley DRC
Length: 306 pages
ISBN-10: 161620284X
ISBN-13: 9781616202842

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes:GLBT
POV: First person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa

Where I Got It: I asked Nick to keep an eye out for interesting contemp novels on NetGalley, especially involving diverse authors or characters. He gave me the summary for this one, and it sounded fun. Even though the cover was pink and had lips on it, it didn’t seem like a standard romance, so I figured why not?

Cover Notes: I really liked the cover here, although it was a bit pink. I think it implies a more classic romance plot than is really present, but that might just be me. I wish there had been more of an actual image here.

Review:

There were a lot of things to like about this book. The main character, Leila was a very good YA MC. She was a bit clueless, and a little privileged; which is fairly standard for YA protags. She also had a bit of a social misfit vibe, which Farizan handled very smoothly. It never felt forced or overdone. Despite Leila going to a fairly elite school, Farizan managed to make the story and Leila’s school life feel accessible to me, a middle class public school kid. That’s something I really like in an author.

Leila’s family, was also well-written, from my perspective. I felt like there was a strong theme of unreliable narration there, in the sense that at first, you really only see them through Leila’s eyes, but as she grows throughout the book, you realize she’s just as clueless about everybody else’s true selves as any teenager. It’s a common theme in YA, but only because it’s pretty common in real life.

The romance plot in the book was also great. Better than many YA romance plots I’ve come across. Saskia is exactly like many of the girls/boys who seem most alluring as a teenager. Now, there are a few cliches common to GLBT romances (and straight ones, too, to be fair): the clueless straight best friend with a crush, etc. But they’re handled pretty well by Farizan. There are some fun twists and turns, and they all felt pretty natural.

I said earlier I didn’t see this book as a classic romance; I think I should elaborate a bit. What I mean is that there’s so much more going on here than a straight romance plot. Many (but not all!) romance stories have way more focus on the romance than I’m interested in. Especially with love triangles–(I’m looking at you, Twilight!). There’s absolutely a strong romance component in this book, and it’s marketed that way. But there’s more than just that romance plot, and I think that gives a book more depth. I think a fair number of readers who aren’t romance fans could still enjoy this book.

Finally, this is a coming-out story. Not only is Leila not out, but she’s also a bit naive about the whole thing, and she believes many stereotypes about lesbians. The coming-out plot itself is fairly standard. There’s nothing shocking or unique about Leila’s experience, although her cultural heritage–she’s Iranian–does add some flavor to it. Farizan telegraphs many of the developments coming-out-wise fairly early, although she manages to keep the romance aspect of it a bit less obvious to the reader. That said, I’m not really criticizing her handling of it. Any readers not familiar with the coming-out narrative in modern fiction will find Farizan’s version accurate and interesting, and there are no real stereotypes perpetrated by the author herself.

Conclusion: 79/100 (Not brilliant, but very enjoyable)
Premise: 8/10 (Interesting, though not unique)
Plot: 8/10 (Engaging)
Setting: 8/10 (Well-depicted)
Main Character: 8/10 (Standard teenager, fun and not irritating)
Coming out plot: 7/10 (Nothing new or unique, but well-written)
Romance plot: 8/10 (Strong and realistic, but still cute and fun)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (No cardboard cut-outs here)
Writing: 4/10 (Engaging)
Voice: 5/10 (Very realistic)
Themes: 8/10 (Well-executed)
Resolution: 7/10 (Very optimistic but not contrived)

Buy Or Borrow: If you’re looking for a contemp with strong romantic or GLBT themes, this is definitely worth a buy. If not, you might be better off borrowing it.

Similar Books:
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth
The Difference Between You and Me by Madeleine George
Ask the Passengers by A.S. King
Empress of the World by Sara Ryan

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
YA Midnight Reads
Good Books and Good Wine
Writer of Wrongs
Little Hyuts

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
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Book Review: Fantasy/Romance: The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

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The rulers of tiny, impoverished Swansgaard have twelve daughters and one son. While the prince’s future is assured, his twelve sisters must find their own fortunes.

Disguising herself as Clarence, a sailor, Princess Clarice intends to work her way to the New World. When the crew rebels, Clarice/Clarence, an expert with rapier and dagger, sides with the handsome navigator, Dominick, and kills the cruel captain.

Dominick leads the now-outlawed crew in search of treasure in the secret pirate haven known as The House of Four Winds. They encounter the sorceress Shamal, who claims Dominick for her own—but Clarice has fallen hard for Dominick and won’t give him up without a fight.

Title: The House of the Four Winds
Author(s): Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Category: Adult Fiction/New Adult
Genre: Fantasy/Romance
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Format: Digital Review Copy from NetGalley
Length: 231 pages
ISBN-10: 0765335654
ISBN-13: 9780765335654

Series or Standalone: One Dozen Daughters #1

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Pirates
POV: Third Person
Tense: Past

Reviewer: Marisa

How I Found It: I’ve always been a big Lackey fan, so when Nick told me he could get an ARC of her new series, of course I jumped at the chance.

Cover Notes: I thought the cover was lovely, but to start on a theme you can expect to see a lot of in my review, it felt very Pirates of the Caribbean to me.

Soundtrack: It might be a bit mean of me, but you won’t be surprised to know I read this one to the tune of my PotC soundtracks. Unsurprisingly, they fit it pretty well.

Review:

Maybe I over-hyped this book to myself, since I love Lackey so much. Perhaps I went into it with slightly inaccurate genre expectations. Either way, I found myself quite disappointed with this book. That’s not to say it’s awful. It’s a passable mix between a pirate romance and a fairy-tale. The plot mostly holds together, and most of the characters are interesting. But there’s nothing special about the book that grabs, and despite portraying itself as a fantasy romance, the fantasy elements are few and far-between, for the most part, and the romance has no meat to it. There’s insta-love on the part of Clarice, but 99% of the story pushes her relationship with Dominick towards friendship rather than romance. In fact, there’s something of a warm bro-mance between Dominick and Clarice’s alternate persona Clarence. I think the book might have been better if Clarice had been a boy, perhaps a disposable 12th prince instead of the 1st of twelve princesses.

The main plot of the story started out quite interesting, and up until half-way through the portion of the novel set in the eponymous House of the Four Winds, I thought the story was quite interesting. Despite a few small quibbles. But the direction the story took after that had horrible pacing, little suspense, and was chock-full of sailor lore cliches that added little to the story. There were three major conflicts in the story. The first, involving the mutiny, was fairly interesting and what at first appeared to be bad characterization in fact turned out to be an intriguing plot twist. I have to congratulate the authors on that one.

The second conflict/sub-plot, involving the aftermath of the mutiny and the character’s arrival at the House was also interesting. But it was rushed through, and the swash-buckling, pirate-wrangling adventure I was anticipating was almost immediately done away with.

The third conflict was cliche, rushed, and boring, with only one or two sparks of interest to carry me through it.

In the end, while this isn’t an awful book, and I don’t think I completely wasted my time reading it–short as it was, I’m not particularly excited to see the next few books in the series either. This was not of the quality I had come to expect from Mercedes Lackey. I haven’t read any of her other collaborations with James Mallory, so perhaps his influence has something to do with the lack. I’m not very motivated to find out, at this point.

Conclusion: 61/100 (A very cliche and rather boring Pirates of the Caribbean clone)
Premise: 6/10 (Fun and an old standard, but no interesting twist)
Plot: 5/10 (Cliche and a bit dull, but coherent)
Setting: 8/10 (Our world, but nicely re-imagined)
Main Character(s): 7/10 (Loved Clarice/Clarence, found Dominick rather flat)
World-building: 5/10 (paper-thin facade of an alternate earth, but coherent enough)
Romance Sub-plot: 5/10 (Sweet, but way under-developed)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Fun and diverse)
Writing: 7/10 (Decently-written, but not fantastic)
Themes: 4/10 (No real theme to add depth to the story)
Resolution: 6/10 (Rushed and hollow)

Buy Or Borrow: I’d say borrow unless you’re a huge Lackey fan or love nautical romance.

Similar Books:
I don’t read a lot of romance, but I’m sure there are similar books. As for fantasy, I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Dear Author
Bibliophilia, Please
There Were Books Involved
Between the Pages
Imaginary Reads
Gun In Act One

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK Not available
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

lolaandtheboynextdoorcover

Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion…she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit–more sparkly, more fun, more wild–the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood.

When Cricket–a gifted inventor–steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

Title: Lola and the Boy Next Door
Author: Stephanie Perkins
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication Date: September 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Length: 338 pages
ISBN-10: 0525423281
ISBN-13: 9780525423287

Series or Standalone: Series: Anna and the French Kiss

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: drug addiction, family
POV: 1st Person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Marisa Greene

How I Found It: I read the first book in this semi-series because everybody was raving about it. It wasn’t awful, but I didn’t really connect with it beyond a cute love story. But the writing wasn’t bad, and I liked the characters okay, so I thought I’d give Perkins another shot. I’m glad I did.

Cover Notes: I used the photographic cover because I felt like the other covers for this “series” imply they’re more connected/similar than they really are. I prefer the individuality in the photographs.

Review:

(Note: This is my first review here on Notes, and I’m still struggling to get used to the format.)

I’d read Anna and the French Kiss a few months before reading this book, and although I knew intellectually they were part of the series, I wasn’t expecting Anna and Etienne to show up quite in the way they did. I know it’s weird to start a book review talking about another book, but with this series, you can’t really help it. I suppose it’s going with the crowd, but it’s a topic I noticed in all the reviews I read before deciding to pick this one up. If you’re looking for more lovie-dovie from Anna and St. Clair, you’ll be disappointed. This is definitely Lola’s story. Which is another difference from Anna: This time it’s the MC with a decision to make, and Lola is much more strongly together with Max than Anna was with Toph.

I realize writing the above paragraph that I’m going to ahve to review Anna right after this!

Anyway, there are two obvious things that have to be said about this book, and neither of them have to do with Lola’s deadbeat mom, or her gay “uncles”. I really enjoyed this book. If you like contemp romance, if you liked Anna and the French Kiss, you’ll probably like this book, even if Lola is quite a different character. But I did have a few issues with it.

Lola’s boyfriend Max is a very… interesting character. There’s a lot of noise made about his age compared to Lola, and I really believed her claim that age doesn’t matter at the beginning of the book. But later, I started having some doubts. There’s a kind of tension between Max being pretty much just a bigger teenager, and simultaneously pressuring Lola to be older than she really was. There are definitely benefits to dating older men, and I wish Max had made a better case for it.

The second issue is the apparent insistence that your one true love exists, and should always be easy to be with. I can’t read Stephanie Perkins’s mind, but it seemed like there was a bit of authorial intrusion pushing that ideal, and that Max’s character was treated a bit shabbily to make Cricket seem like that one.

I believe in being transparent in my reviews, and so I wanted to get that out of the way before continuing.

I love Lola as a character. She’s a bit self-centered, and very dramatic, and just a perfect example of many girls I knew when I was that age. And I mean that in a good way. I liked that she had some quirks, including her love off off-beat fashion, or costume, as she is careful to distinguish. I also thought Perkins did a good job of developing her character throughout the novel. She did some growing up, but not too much.

Naturally, the main thing here is: who did she end up with and how was it? I think that, given only two choices, she definitely made the right one. Personally, I would have been fine with her being single, too. That’s a bit heretical when talking about a romance story, but I felt there were some possible issues with either guy.

Max was much older, and had different priorities than Lola. And she pushed him to date her, even though there was some initial reluctance. Given the beginning of their relationship, I think there was plenty of tension and a suggestion that they could make it. I even, in isolation, liked the development of their relationship, and that the sexual part of it was handled so well by Perkins. Obviously, Lola’s dads were against it, especially considering some of their family history. But Lola actually handled her sexual relationship with Max more maturely than maybe anything else in the book. I don’t think Perkins could have had a better set-up for the beginning of the story.

Cricket was more similar to Etienne than I would have liked, in the sense of his well-off family, but he did have his own issues, and I think that in the first half of the book, he was very well-written. I really liked his as a character and as a love interest. That said, as he started to get closer and closer to Lola, I started to like him a little less. Not that I thought he was a bad person, but that he had slightly more of a book-boyfriend vibe that I prefer. The reader was clearly supposed to think everything he did was so cute and romantic, and that’s often how it seems with young love (I can’t believe I just said that, they’re not much younger than I am). Maybe I’m just jealous. Anyway, Cricket is definitely endearing, and I can’t say I’m upset that Lola decided to be with him.

While there are many things I liked in this story, one I really noticed was the comparison between the family lives of Lola and Cricket. There’s an adorable scene where Cricket expresses frustration about his ancestor stealing the idea for the telephone (Yes, the Bells of the book are those Bells), and comments how he feels guilty for what his ancestor did that ended with with him having so many opportunities. And he should probably feel a little guilty, I think. But then Lola makes a heart-aching point about what that says about her, and her relationship with her mother. It can definitely suck for the kids to be declared guilty of their parents’ sins. Although it was an awkward moment, it definitely made me feel not only empathy with both characters, but that they were hitting a more mature point in the development of their relationship.

So I guess look forward to the Anna review, and now that this book has convinced me to try the third one, I guess I might end up reviewing that, too. I’d really like to thank Nick for giving me the chance to guest review on here. I don’t have the time to manage a blog myself, but I like that I can now say I’ve done a formal book review visible to the vast mass of the internet. I’m really looking forward to this being a regular thing.

Conclusion: 78/100 (A nice fun read)
Premise: 7/10 (Cliche, but fun)
Plot: 8/10 (Well-plotted, only a bit cliche)
Setting: 7/10 (Didn’t feel incredibly grounded in San Fran, but described well)
Main Character: 9/10 (Quirky, but not obnoxious; realistic portrayal)
Love Interest(s) 8/10 (Cute, fun, a bit arhcetypal)
Romantic Plot 8/10 (Cricket was a bit too perfect, but it’s a romance story, after all–in a good way)
Supporting Characters: 7/10 (A little weak, but good enough)
Writing: 4/5 (Better than servicable)
Voice: 5/5 (Nailed it.)
Themes: 7/10 (The family trouble on each side of the romance was a nice contrast)
Resolution: 8/10 (Strong, but a little too perfect)

Buy Or Borrow: This story was definitely worth the buying. No regrets.

Similar Books:
The Sky Always Hears Me: And The Hills Don’t Mind by Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Pretty Books
The Busy Bibliophile
Kirkus Reviews
CuddleBuggery
Reading Lark
Alexandra’s Scribblings

Buy Links:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
IndieBound

E-Books:
iBooks
Kindle UK
Kindle US
Kobo
Google Play
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Book Review: Young Adult: Saving June by Hannah Harrington

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‘If she’d waited less than two weeks, she’d be June who died in June. But I guess my sister didn’t consider that.’

Harper Scott’s older sister has always been the perfect one so when June takes her own life a week before her high school graduation, sixteen-year-old Harper is devastated. Everyone’s sorry, but no one can explain why.

When her divorcing parents decide to split her sister’s ashes into his-and-her urns, Harper takes matters into her own hands. She’ll steal the ashes and drive cross-country with her best friend, Laney, to the one place June always dreamed of going, California.

Enter Jake Tolan. He’s a boy with a bad attitude, a classic-rock obsession and nothing in common with Harper’s sister. But Jake had a connection with June, and when he insists on joining them, Harper’s just desperate enough to let him. With his alternately charming and infuriating demeanour and his belief that music can see you through anything, he might be exactly what she needs.

Except June wasn’t the only one hiding something. Jake’s keeping a secret that has the power to turn Harper’s life upside down again.

Title: Saving June
Author: Hanna Harrington
Category: Young Adult
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Publication Date: May 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
Length: 322 pages
ISBN-10: 0373210248
ISBN-13: 9780373210244

Series or Standalone: Standalone

Literary Awards:
N/A

Themes: Road Trip, Suicide, Sisterhood
POV: 1st person
Tense: Present

Reviewer: Nick Morgan

Review:

Saving June is a pretty standard road-trip novel. Rather than post-graduation, though, it’s kicked off by the suicide of the main character’s big sister. I’ve randomly ended up reading a lot of sister stories recently, especially dead/absent sisters, and this one stands up pretty well in that area. Harper spends a lot of the book realizing that she didn’t know her sister quite as well as she thought she did before her suicide. I might be a bit biased, since I love the theme of finding out the truth about someone. Especially someone you think is perfect, like Harper thought her sister was.

The book does a pretty good job of exploring that theme, as well. What I reallly loved about the way Saving June handled it, though, is that there’s nothing crazy, no huge revelations. There were no secret affairs, no drug use, no murders. Just Harper’s slow realization that her sister tried too hard to be what everyone wanted her to be.

One of the obvious things to talk about with the book is June’s suicide. I won’t spoil it, but I thought it was very well-handled. I had a friend who killed herself when I was younger, and it’s hard to really imagine that kind of situation unless you’ve been through it. But Harrington gets the reader pretty close. June had her reasons, and although they may seem insufficient to some, they match what I know pretty well. And Harper’s reaction, and the reaction of her parents, was quite realistic.

And speaking of the parents, they were brilliantly-drawn characters. A lot of YA does the absent parent thing, or the clueless parent thing. But Harper’s parents are just like many of the parents I know. And her relationship with them is both a bit oblivious and very close–at least with her mother–all at the same time. Harper’s friend Laney has parents that fit more of the common tropes and cliches of YA, but it’s not as annoying because you don’t have to deal with them as much. Plus, while I think the commonness of such parents in YA is exaggerated, I did know people who had parents like Laney’s when I was younger.

Now, I don’t read a lot of Romance, and I didn’t read this book as a strict Romance novel, but technically it is. So it’s only fair to talk a bit about the Love Interest and his relationship with Harper. Jake is nothing special in the YA Love Interest category. He’s a bit mysterious, helps out the MC for what at first seems like no clear reason, and somehow has all the connections needed to get the protagonist where she wants to go. Obviously a bit of fantasy is inherent in any Romance novel, though, and I’m not necessarily the target audience of a YA Romance, so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

What I do want to complain about a bit is the style of romance involved. I’m not a huge fan of the antagonistic relationship in fiction. Every now and then it can be interesting, but often it seems like it’s exploited for tension rather than being an organic development based on the characters. It gets a little better as the book goes on, but I think I would have preferred Jake having more of his ow desire in going on the road trip than him putting Harper’s goals first as much as he does. His relationship with June I think would have been strong enough of a motivation, as well as the other things you learn as the books goes on.

One of the best relationships in the book, besides Harper’s relationship with her memories of her sister, is her relationship with Laney. They’re bickering was much more natural than Harper and Jake’s and despite hitting some tough spots, they come across as really close friends. One of the best aspects of the relationship is how it highlights how self-centered Harper can be. For example, stealing her sister’s ashes and going on a road-trip with a guy she barely knows. There were a few weaknesses in Laney’s character arc. For one, when she has her own big reveal, it wraps up a bit too neatly, and her family situation, while probably shitty for her, gives her more latitude than I felt made the conflict work. But it’s hard to find a perfect book, so I don’t want to nitpick too much.

Finally, there’s the issue of music in the book. A lot of YA in the last few years has had a focus on music. In Saving June, the role of the resident music expert is played by Jake. He loves classic rock, and spends a lot of the book trying to share that love with Harper and Laney. I’ve seen several reviews, of this book and others, criticizing the use of music references. Especially older ones, like Eric Clapton and The Kinks, as in the book. But personally, I think many of the references Jake makes are either familiar to readers even in this day and age, and if they aren’t they won’t detract a great deal from the story. And plenty of teens and young adults are music buffs in their own right. Everyone has favorite music, and even if the references are a bit obscure, I think most readers will be able to empathize with the characters in terms of loving music in general.

I would say I don’t regret having read the book, despite a few complaints. The theme is great, and it’s one of the themes in YA I think isn’t overdone. Plus, I love a good road-trip novel.

Conclusion: 76/100 (Worth reading)
Premise: 8/10 (Fun, but not shallow)
Plot: 6/10 (Too man convenient coincidences)
Setting: 8/10 (We;;-described and engaging)
Main Character: 9/10 (Realistic and complicated)
Romance Plot 7/10 (A bit convenient, and I dislike the tropes involved)
Love Interest 6/10 (Pretty standard)
Supporting Characters: 8/10 (Didn’t suffer by comparison to the MCs)
Writing: 8/10 (Captured the teenage voice well, wasn’t clunky)
Themes: 9/10 (Well-handled, nuanced)
Resolution: 7/10 (Seemed a bit easy)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth buying, if you love romance and sibling relationships. Or if you just want a good road-trip novel.

Similar Books:
Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
Between Here and Forever by Elizabeth Scott
The Sky Is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
Dangerous Neighbors by Beth Kephart

Other Reviews:
GoodReads
Kirkus Reviews
YA Love
The Guardian
Dear Author
Young Adult Book Haven
Alexa Loves Books
Lauren Reads YA

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