First & Then

I’ve been meaning to read this debut novel for a few years. Its author is Emma Mills, or Elmify on YouTube. During college, I watched her videos religiously. Now that she is a published author, I couldn’t wait to read her work.

When I first started this novel, I was disappointed. It started like every other contemporary YA novel. There’s a girl who likes a boy, but he doesn’t like her back. Then there is this other boy that annoys her and also Jane Austen is involved. But this novel didn’t only focus on romance. The platonic relationships that arise are my favorite part of the novel.

Devon is a perfectly average high school student who is just trying to figure out if she even wants to go to college. She hasn’t even started thinking about where she wants to go and how she’s going to get in. Then her parents decide to take in Foster, her cousin whose mother isn’t taking care of him after his father passed away. He starts at Devon’s high school and she is thoroughly annoyed by his enthusiasm and dorkiness.

This novel could have easily been 300 pages of pining and whining. But instead it was about the relationships the grow between Devon, Foster, and Ezra (the boy that annoys her). The three of them help each other through high school drama and more.

This novel ended up being so much more than I thought it would be. Mills is a talented writer with a gift for realistic characters and relationships. I can’t wait to read her other novels.



Everything, Everything

I read this YA novel at the recommendation of a coworker and because of the recent movie staring Amandla Stenberg, who also played Rue in The Hunger Games. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon is the story of Maddy, who is sealed off in her house due to an extreme illness. Literally, anything from the world could kill her. But then Olly moves in next door and she has to ask herself what she would do for love.

One of my favorite parts about this novel is the multiple formats used to tell the story. There are journal entries, blogs, plane tickets, drawings, and many other creative ways that Yoon created the narrative. This also made the novel pass extremely quickly. Most of the “chapters” were just a few pages. It felt almost more like a scrapbook of her experience. While a device like this can feel kitschy, it actually drew me deeper in to the novel. It was like I stumbled upon a stranger’s mashed-up diary and learned about her through it.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. It could have easily gone on too long, but I felt like one complete story. I can’t wait to watch the movie so I can compare the two. I feel like this story will translate extremely well to the big screen.


Zero Day

I work at a library and we started an informal book club. One of my coworkers wanted to read this book and we ended up all reading it together. Out of the six people in the the group, not one liked this book. Jan Gangsei’s Zero Day follows the story of Addie Webster, the eldest daughter of the current U.S. President. Addie was kidnapped as a young child and has just recently returned, under suspicious circumstances.

This is billed as a political thriller for teens, a la 24. Which it was, but not a particularly well-written one. This book was so full of plot holes and cliches, that I don’t even know how it was published in its current form. It was even chosen as a Lone Star Book through the Texas Library Association, something else that baffles me.

Addie is a super-hacker that is having trouble readjusting to life with her family. She was brainwashed by her kidnapper, who is also trying to bring down the government. While I can suspend some disbelief for the terrible tropes, Addie hacks into the U.S. Government in just a few minutes. Most of the plot seems to be crafted for the sake of moving the story along, not for any particular theme or characterization.

The only scene I liked in the novel was one towards the end when Addie’s dad saves her life. She realizes that he loves his daughter and doesn’t just see her as a political tool. This was by far the best scene in the novel, even if it was just as unrealistic as the rest of it.


The Moth and the Flame

This short story is the tale of Despina and Jalal, two characters from Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn series. I originally started this series for three reasons: the covers are pretty, the story is a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, and the author and the characters are Middle Eastern, like me.

This series feels like the stereotypical YA to come out of Penguin recently. Which isn’t a bad thing, but they all start to run together a little bit. The two characters of this short story are minor characters in the original series. I think that a digital release was the right route for this story. Print would have been too expensive and an overkill.

Despina’s drama revolves around a boy- Jalal. She teases and flirts with him and gets pregnant, falling in love in the process. But she is strong and makes her choices on her own terns. She wants to make the world a better place for her child. Despina decides that telling Jalal about the child means that he would have power over her. She is a rough idea of a strong woman. She is what someone would call “feisty” and sticks up for herself. She isn’t perfect and she shows vulnerability.

Overall, I enjoyed this short story for what it is. It’s not elaborate or literary, but it’s fun, short, and satisfying.


The Thousandth Floor

Let me start by saying that love the cover of The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. I think it represents the content perfectly: shiny and youthful. There wasn’t a lot of weight or substance to this novel, but if you like the mindless Gossip Girl style or you are looking for a ‘palate cleanser’, then this is a great novel to read next.

It follows the stories of five different teenaged characters that live in a 1000-story tower. It seems like they are mostly ignorant of each other, but as the novel progresses, their stories are more and more intertwined. The novel starts with all of the main characters on the roof of the tower and then a girl drops to her death. Then it backtracks to how all of them got there.

I think that this novel will make a great teen movie or TV show. I could easily see it on Freeform or The CW. Plus, I saw the author at TeenBookCon in Houston and she said that a sequel will be coming out in August 2017. She also said that in the sequel, another character dies, even connecting it to Game of Thrones.

There is a shadow of diversity in this one. One of the main elite girls is at least queer, but indeterminately so, and several of the characters are people of color. As for the feminist perspective, there wasn’t anything that stood our to me as markedly feminist or anti-feminist. Overall, this book was bland and perfectly consumable all around.