Friday, October 9, 2020

Review - Wishful Thinking

Original Title: Wishful Thinking
Series: Wish, 2
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2011

Publisher: Point


*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Ok, what to say about this companion novel?

It’s nice, and lovely, but it’s definitely enough. I don’t think the concept of magical dresses that grant wishes to lonely girls could be exploited any further, so I’m glad the author stopped the series with this one. I was hoping to find a book that would be better than the previous one, and in the end, I found them to be rather similar. That is why it is a solid three GoodReads stars to me. Not terrible, but not amazing, either. An okay read.

Overall, Wishful Thinking is a book focused on family and friendship, in the context of time travel, which, honestly, isn’t the best I’ve ever read. At first, I thought, how come no one notices that Hazel is dressed differently, and has this camera that obviously is not from the present time, but then I thought, no one is going to say “this girl came from the future”, so I’ll let it sly. But, I do question Rosanna’s instant trust in her, hiring her without inquiring anything about her past, or her family, or even her last name? Later she says she never believed what Hazel said, about her parents being traveling in Europe, but it was weird that she never asked anything about the real story. Like, ok, she wouldn’t pry on things that were not her business, but before hiring someone who came out of nowhere, and bringing her to live in your property, you should find out a thing or two about her, don’t you think?

One of the things I liked the most about Hazel was that she has photography as a well-defined passion in her life, instead of spending the whole book whining about how sad her life has been. Just like Rosanna tells her, she had a lot of potential even before knowing it, a way to find beauty in unexpected places, which is, at the end of the day, some sort of survival mechanism in a life in which happiness is so scarce. That is well done, because, even with strangers that weren’t from her own time and place, Hazel was able to find her own value and recognize parts of herself she always took for granted, but were what made her special.

As for the others characters, my favourite was, actually Rosanna Scott, with her passion for art and her decision of not letting her sickness determine her decisions. Jaime, Reid and Luke weren’t really of my liking, specially Reid, because of his attitude when he knew about the pregnancy, immediately abandoning both Jaime and her baby, and ditching the responsibility for his actions. He wasn’t really the father Hazel deserved. As for Jaime, I think she was the most realistic character in the book, because all her reactions were understandable. Scared upon finding out about the baby, not knowing what to do about it, going back and forth between keeping it, or giving it away for adoption… It’s a natural reaction to an unplanned, teen pregnancy. Just, the outcome isn’t very clear, because, at one point, Jaime tells Hazel she will keep her baby, but when she returns to the present, she hasn’t kept her word, because nothing has changed since she left.

The romance was really not for me. I’m never into insta-love, and this is not exception. I honestly didn’t care about it, since they jumped into love at the two months of knowing each other, and if we think about it, Hazel had told Luke absolutely NOTHING about herself. And I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that you can say you love someone you virtually don’t know, and after such a short time. So, no, this just didn’t work for me.

The ending was bittersweet, I really was left wanting a reunion, once Hazel found out who Jaime was, and that she had another child, her half-sister. I would have loved to read about Jaime’s reaction when Hazel told her “I’m your daughter”, but it never happened. Plus, just like it happened with Wish, I think the whole book would have benefited from a first-person narrative instead of the third-person, to live the experience along with Hazel, in a more personal way.

I think the overall message of this book is good. Hazel didn’t have a happy life, moving from one foster home to another, without really belonging anywhere, but her experience teaches her a valuable lesson. Even when it’s not easy nor nice to learn that you were an unwanted baby, it’s important to know that who your parents were doesn’t have to determine who you are, that finding yourself and giving value to your own talents and passions, it’s still worthy, and that your past doesn’t have to determine your future. Plus, Hazel learns to value those who were there in her life, instead of constantly suffering for those who weren’t –or wouldn’t–, like Wendy, her dead foster mom, who saw her dream of having a child come true when she adopted her, but couldn’t enjoy it for long, and Roy, who didn’t have to take care of her, but did it, anyway.

So, I guess it was a good book, even when it could have been better. Overall, I liked the concept of Posey and the magical dresses, but I would have liked to know more about both. Yet, I think the charm lies in not knowing everything, and letting the magic flow.

Do I recommend the duology? Yes. It’s great for those fairytale fans and contemporary fantasy, even when it’s not perfect. It’s a nice read to pass the time, and they will keep you entertained for a little while.

***

Thanks for reading!
See you soon!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Review - Wish

Original Title: Wish
Series: Wish, 1
Author: Alexandra Bullen
Published: April 1st, 2010

Publisher: Point

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Here we are, again with a book that was never on my TBR. I guess I was just curious, and in need of a fairytale, and that’s why I went for this one. And what can I say? It’s an ok story. Not the best ever, but not a complete disaster, either. The first thing I thought when I finished it was that it definitely lacked a certain spark that would have made it better.

One of the most prevalent aspects of this book is its narration, which I often thought, was poorly chosen. Even when the grieving aspect is well written, and the portrayal of the brokenhearted Larsen family, trying to move on after their terrible loss, is realistic, with both parents trying to unsuccessfully drown their pain in work, I still think that the third-person narrative was not the best way to go. If instead we could have been in Olivia’s mind, through a first-person narrative, her raw experience through loss and emotional swings would have been a lot more intense, and would have felt more as a personal journey than a mere plot device to justify their moving to San Francisco (not that it is, though).

For me, the best character in this book was definitely Violet, the dead twin. Through the wish Olivia makes while wearing the magical dress, she’s allowed to come back as a ghost, and immediately, you can tell her personality is completely different from her sister’s. And I think it was lacking in that aspect, as Olivia felt, more often than not, really flat as a character, without enough depth as for me to believe she could actually be a real person. That’s why I liked Violet better, as she is strong and direct, never feels sorry for herself, always takes the lead, and is virtually the driving force that leads Olivia to change her life and start to move on, finding her own self in a life in which she mostly depended on her sister to make decisions. Violet was the risk taker in opposition to the careful, restrained Olivia. Yet, I think the sisterly bond is really well written, and I liked how, by the end, Violet is the one who pushes Olivia to be herself, and find her own identity, separated from the life they had together before the tragedy.

As for the romance, I really didn’t care a lot about it. It felt a little forced, because Olivia falls for Soren without even really knowing him. I liked that he was the listening kind of guy, and that he had the nice gesture of taking her to see the stars, thinking it would make her happy. But we never really get a real reason why he suddenly breaks his solid, year-long relationship with Calla –a person who has done nothing wrong and is actually very nice to Olivia–, for a girl he has known for a couple of weeks and is in the middle of a terrible grieving process. It makes no sense. At one point, Olivia asks him what is that he likes about her, but the answer is vague and not very believable, and I was left really unfazed by their relationship, not really caring if it worked out, or not. Plus, it felt really out of place that, in one moment, Olivia is thinking that she doesn’t belong and never will in her new world, and not two paragraphs later, as she talks to Soren, she suddenly feels she does. What?

Also, at certain points, I honestly didn’t know where the plot was going, as it felt like it was rambling on and on without really leading somewhere. Although it was obvious that Violet would be gone by the end of the book, in general, she was the most interesting character, because none of the others had much of a personality. In many cases, I could have taken them out of the story, without disrupting the plot. Like the girls, Lark and Bowie. Or Miles, who’s intervention only helps to solidify the metaphor from Virginia Woolf’s book, in which the protagonist finishes her painting and moves on, as a reflection of Olivia herself. Even though I think this symbolism could have been introduced without bringing yet another character to the plot, I still think it’s well done. Just as Woolf’s character, Olivia feels she’s nothing without her sister, but not having her anymore is what has to push her to build her own life, separated from Violet’s personality. She needs to close that chapter of her life –a.k.a, finish the painting–, even if she thinks the grieving process will last forever, at the end of the day, it’s necessary to unstuck herself and continue living her own life.

As for Olivia’s parents, I think their portrayal was realistic, and well done. Doing their best to hide their pain after their loss is a natural, self-protective reaction, but I kind of hated that they didn’t seem to remember they had another daughter that needed them, and was in as much pain as them, having not only lost her sister, but also having been uprooted from everything she knew, leaving her life behind to start anew. Some family therapy was immediately needed there, no doubt. But I liked that, by the end, the family didn’t try to hide their pain anymore, choosing, instead, to do their best to remember Violet with love and joy, even if losing her was terribly painful. It’s never easy to go through such processes, but the way is described is honestly well done, for a children’s book.

And, finally, I would have really liked to know more about Posey and her grandmother, and their unusual ability to sew magical dresses. It’s definitely interesting, as it speaks of a parallel world of magic I would like to know better. Still, the fact that we do not know much about them helps to create this mysterious aura around them, so that way, it’s nicely done.

So, in short, it’s a lovely book, but it definitely could have been better. I will read the next one in the duology, and I just hope it’s good.

***
Thank you for reading!
See you soon!


Monday, September 28, 2020

Review - Since You Asked...

Original Title: Since You Asked...
Series: 
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: June 25th, 2013

Publisher: Scholastic

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This book is definitely one of the stupidest, most pointless pieces of nonsense I’ve ever read. I can’t explain how unbelievably glad I am that I read Maurene Goo’s other books first, because if I had started with this one, there would have been no way I would have continued reading her work, missing on her actual good novels. I still recommend the author and I think she’s great, and if you are going to judge her, please, do not do it based on this novel.

One of the most annoying things in this book was that it has absolutely no plot. I tried to find a storyline to follow after the accidental submission of the wrong article for the school newspaper, but it wasn’t possible. It’s just not there. Instead, this book can be defined as a bunch of random scenes in the life of a fifteen-year-old girl named Holly Kim, that are not even interconnected, nor integrate a bigger plot the reader can follow. Everything is so messy, with so many ridiculous characters, that there are not positive aspects to it, nor things I can say I liked. For one, it includes everything I hate about American movies set in high school. It’s full of stereotypical characters who do nothing, and seem to be created to fill space, resulting in one of the most boring pieces of literature that I’ve ever encountered.

Holly Kim, our young protagonist, turned out to be a completely unlikeable person after just a couple of pages. I mean, I get why people would like her, as she only has a couple of close friends in a school where people virtually don’t know who she is, but it’s not my case. I personally found her to be too whiny and opinionated for my taste (not that being opinionated is a bad thing, when you actually have something to say, which isn’t the case here). Half of the book consists on her columns in the school newspaper, and the only thing she does there is complaining, and saying how much she hates school events and holidays, like Valentine’s Day. And as reader, I can’t do much with them, except reading them as I wait for the actual plot to show up. But, definitely, one of the things that most bothered me about Holly was her constant whining and the fact that nothing was good enough for her. She first complains she has to spend Christmas in Las Vegas with her big family, and then, because she gets to buy her own presents, and she doesn’t even give us a reason why she hates that. She just does. And yes, her parents may be annoying, but let’s be honest, she doesn’t make her job any easier.

As every protagonist written by Maurene Goo, Holly is Korean-American, but, unlike in the other books by the same author, here her family is big and loud, instead of small and tight-knit. But her parents… *face-palm*. Her dad is nice, but does nothing nor says much. And her mom, oh my God. She’s absolutely cartoonish, and irritating, with zero redeeming qualities. I can practically see her with the anime throbbing vein in her forehead, in literally every single scene she’s in. She only lives to question Holly, scold her, and say she’s a bad daughter. And at the end of the book, they hug, and it’s like nothing happened. There’s no development, no deepening in their lives, no meaningful conversations… Nothing. Simply, nothing.

As I said before, this book is just a bunch of events and people that are not connected with each other. Holly’s supposed close friends are nothing but background noise. Their families and physical appearance are briefly described, but them, as characters directly related to the protagonist, have no distinct personalities –except for a few things, that are not enough. Same as the other characters. Maurene Goo wrote a whole scene in which Holly goes to this Matthew Reynolds’ house to interview him for the newspaper, and meets his autistic little sister, and absolutely nothing happened after it, to justify that I had to read it. At the very least, I thought Matthew would become the love interest, but not even that happened. So why writing that in the first place?

As for the romance aspect, it’s non-existent. Around Valentine’s Day, Holly keeps getting presents and cards from a secret admirer she bashes in her column, and as I read, I discovered myself feeling zero curious about who could it be. And when it was finally revealed, I just wanted to flush the book down the nearest toilet. The guy turned out to be a Latino boy named Alex Garcia, who we had NEVER seen before, in the entire book. Not once. And what the hell is that supposed to mean? How am I supposed to care about someone I’m seeing for the first time, two pages away from the ending?

I can’t with this. No. Just no.

Most of the time I felt like Maurene Goo was about to tell me something great, and at the end, NOTHING happened. Like when we meet Holly’s cousin Sara. Or when Holly secretly goes to buy a dress for the school dance; there’s an entire scene dedicated to it, as she tries one dress after another without any luck, finally setting on one that fits her perfectly, and in the end, she doesn’t even go to the dance. Or even worse, when she and her whole family go to Las Vegas for the holidays, there’s this huge description of the city, as Holly chases after the kid who ran away from his family, and when you move to the next chapter, the whole Christmas scene has passed, without anything having happened that was relevant to the plot (except more yelling from her mom). I could have cut those three things out from the book, and nothing would have changed. Literally, nothing.

And don’t even get me started on the Battle of the Bands or the ballet class, because those are just more random scenes that serve to no purpose. And Holly, honey, please, do not joke about school shootings. Never. They are not a laughing matter, and I shouldn’t be the one saying it. The author herself should know better.

So, in short, this book sucks. It’s terrible. But, I will say, I know for sure Maurene Goo is so much better than this, and that with her other books, she proved she’s a good writer. Give her a chance with titles like The Way You Make Me Feel and I Believe in a Thing Called Love, because there you can truly see character development and meaningful friendship and family bonds. I’m glad that her style and her characters’ build-up improved with each new book she released, and I look forward to her work, even if her debut novel wasn’t everything it could have been.

***
Thanks for reading, guys!
See you soon!



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review - Somewhere Only We Know

Original Title: Somewhere Only We Know
Series: 
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 7th, 2019

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

That was one cute, wonderful book! I don’t know where this Maurene Goo reading rush came from, but I don’t regret a second of it. Her books were never in my TBR in the first place, as neither is the contemporary genre, but you know, the unexpected sometimes is the best that can happen to you. And this is, precisely, the point of this lovely story.

One of the best aspects of Somewhere Only We Know is the fact that it is neither set in the US, nor in high school. Refreshing as that is, it is also a wonderful way to walk through Hong Kong as we go with Lucky and Jack in their one-day detour, and it is nothing short of fascinating. After I finished the book, I learned that the author based the general plot on the 1953 classic movie Roman Holiday, with Katherine Hepburn and Gregory Peck, but until then, the first thing I thought was that it felt like a ‘Notting Hill meets Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ kind of thing (only k-pop themed). And even when I know that this novel doesn’t have the most ground-breaking plot ever, it is its simplicity, and its message, what makes it beautiful.

Normally, stories set in the course of one day are not my favourite thing, as they often feel rushed, and in general, for me, they tend to be hit or miss. But this one is definitely a hit, as, even if I didn’t go for the insta-love between Jack and Lucky, it is necessary to see beyond the teens falling in love to understand the whole point of the story, because, for such short amount of time, Maurene Goo managed to write fully meaningful dialogues, and a true connection between the main characters, making me love them, even if they were far from being perfect.

Let’s talk about Lucky, our heroine, for a minute. She’s a k-pop star with a million fans and followers, that is finishing her Asian tour, as the book opens with her final concert taking place in Hong Kong. Right after it ends, we get see how her life really is off-stage, how her every move is a part of a carefully laid out schedule, in which she doesn’t have a say. I honestly don’t know much about the k-pop world, as it is not my preferred music genre, but I do know that it is terrible in terms of abuse. After I finished the book, I was able to read about the starvation, the eating and sleeping disorders, the exhaustion, and the plastic surgeries Lucky mentions, among other things that go on in the k-pop industry, and I guess that, even sad as it is, it’s not that strange in the show business. I mean, as fans, we only get to see the finished product, where everything is perfect and seems effortless, but actually, that perfection has a price, and that is the part they don’t tell you. As Lucky tells us her story, we get to know that her fame and success mean she can’t see her family, neither have any real friends nor lasting relationships, nor make any long-term plan around other areas of her life. Her music career is literally everything, and it consumes her identity. And Maurene Goo illustrated it perfectly with the jazz bar scene. After Lucky leaves her room in search for the hamburger she’s not allowed to eat, and is under the drowsy effects of her sleeping pills, she and Jack go to a bar where dead butterflies are a part of the decoration; she snatches one, and says:

Were these killed on purpose? To display here for our viewing pleasure? Like barbarians?!

And I think, it’s not too different from her life. She was that butterfly in the first years of her k-pop career, young, pretty, filled with hope, happy in the music world as she lived her dream, but now, she does things robotically, with her eyes empty of that initial enthusiasm, as everything is controlled by others. In the process that took her to the top of her field, her essence was killed for the pleasure of others. But I liked that, as the story progresses, we get to see how she finds a way to remain loyal to herself, and has this star quality that makes Jack fall for her, eventually realizing she can be so much more than just the product she was made into. Her attitude, her way of seeing things, even if they were buried by the pressures of her way of life, is untouched, and that is the source of her bravery, the one that leads her, by the end, to make her own decisions and take charge of her public image.

On the other hand, we have Jack Lim, the hero of the story. Even though his world and Lucky’s are complete opposites, their lives are not that different. They both feel lost, adrift in a world they can’t control, living day by day, without any long-term plans, and dreading what comes next, even if they don’t know what that is. I personally loved Jack’s passion for photography, and even though, at first, his intentions with Lucky are far from honourable, as their day together progresses, he gets to see things differently. The fact that, by the end, Lucky finds out his real intentions, and all the pictures he took of her during the day, to sell to the tabloid, is absolutely predictable, a rom-com trope you know it will happen eventually. But the important things lay elsewhere, in my opinion. At one point, as they are sitting on the tram, Jack says:

We were both quiet, sitting with our lies.”.

Do you know the famous quote that says “give a man a mask and he will show you his true face”? Well, it was my first thought when I read that. They are lying to each other the whole time, as Lucky pretends to be a girl who came to Hong Kong with her church choir, and although Jack knows it isn’t true, he still plays along to get the photos he needs. And yet, through those masks they put on, they can show themselves as they really are, to be honest as they never are, sharing their passions and thoughts, and building trust. And although I think that creating such a bond between them should take more than one single day, it’s still really well done.

And yet, even though I do not agree with saying that you love each other at the end of one day, as it feels rushed and unrealistic, I do believe it can be interpreted beyond the literal meaning of it. True is that both Lucky and Jack are better when they are together, they bring the best in each other out, and their honest conversations and exchanges are what, at the end of the day, pushes them to be themselves in a world that is constantly trying to change them, and define their paths for them. So, the love declaration, in my opinion, feels more like an “I love who you are”, or even “I love all about this version of you.”, rather than expressing the pure feeling itself.

Moreover, after she finds out about the tabloid and leaves the bar in a rush, not even knowing where she’s going, Jack goes after her, and spots a cat, finding her next to it. And I think it was incredibly meaningful, because later, her real name is revealed to be Catherine, so I think it was a way of showing us that Jack was going after the real person. Not the insanely famous k-pop star Lucky, but a simple girl named Catherine who helped him make life decisions and taught him the importance of doing what gives his life meaning. It’s simple, and beautiful.

I don’t know if I’m right with that interpretation, but it’s just the way I see it.

Overall, I think the story sends a very good message. Being the real, authentic you, is far more valuable than money, fame, or the blinding lights of a stage. Even when making the final decision is not easy, your talent and the things that make you happy should be your priority, in a life controlled by yourself, and not by others. Lucky had given up everything for a chance in the music world, and by the end, exchanging her stardom for a quieter, more authentic way of sharing her own art, she found herself, and the possibility to balance her passion with her family and friends, and even her physical and mental health. Same as Jack, who found the courage to say no to the path he knew would make him miserable, getting to live his own passion for photography, and so, finding his own self in the world.

Oh, and by the way, I loved the little cameo of the Shin food truck by the end of the book! The KoBra family is there! It made me smile, like I just had seen a friend. Lovely detail.

So, in short, this may be not be a world-changing kind of book, but it does encourage the reader to change their own, to be brave enough to let go of the things that are easy, for a chance to let your passion bloom. And I agree. I honestly think Maurene Goo has become an author to look out for, and I will happily read more books by her in the future.

***

Thank you for reading!
See you soon!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Review - The Way You Make Me Feel

Original Title: The Way You Make Me Feel
Series: 
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 8th, 2018

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

Wow. I mean… wow. I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but it was definitely not this. I thought it would only be a cute, fluffy book about a summer romance and food, and instead, I found a novel that is surprisingly deep on the psychological aspect, tackling complex issues, with realistic, relatable characters, and a plot that is both believable, and incredibly well written. You don’t find this often, and, in my experience, much less in YA.

I read reviews on this book saying that it was impossible for some people to finish it, due to the totally hateable heroine, and how hard it was to tolerate her. And I agree, because Clara Shin is a selfish girl who can’t take anything seriously, and actually puts effort on ruining things that are important for others, just for the sake of it. Which is basically the beginning of the novel, as she takes a prank a little too far, almost setting her school on fire, and fighting with Rose Carver, a girl that is her complete opposite. I mean, from the moment we meet her, we can tell Clara is not a good person, and even more after she tells us that, after Rose caught her smoking once, and told on her, she has dedicated a lot of time and energy to ruin everything that was important to her. And it’s not just that, but the fact that she knows she creates chaos, and yet, doesn’t actually care about being a better person.

And let me say, of course we do not like Clara! That’s pretty much the point. She’s deeply flawed, but all those shortcomings and negative traits have roots, and the plot of the novel is, precisely, finding them out. I’m no expert in psychology, but I can tell when someone needs therapy as soon as they can get it, and that is the case with her. Her rebellious, insolent attitude, the things she says and does, go far deeper than just her being a good or bad person, as I read them as both a vulnerable girl trying to get attention from adults, and at the same time, as a self-protection mechanism, in which not caring means less hurt when facing loss. And those are both natural responses to a life in which very little is solid, with an absent mother, and a father figure that is more of a friend to her than a parent.

At one point, she tells Rose:

The smoking. It was something I could control.

And I think, is there any clearer way to tell that someone needs therapy, and that is not just about the smoking itself, but an attitude rooted in deep-seeded issues? Which leads me to talk about Clara’s parents. Even when in the previous book by the same author, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Desi Lee and her dad have a lovely father-daughter relationship, loving and supporting each other after their loss, in this book, the bond between Clara and her dad takes the center of the stage. At first, I thought Adrian Shin was a total joke, that he only grounded her and forced her to work on his food truck because he saw Rose’s parents being… well, parents, and he didn’t want to look bad in front of them, instead of doing it because he thought Clara deserved it, or had gone way too far this time. But then, as I read on, I was able to understand him better. Clara is not exactly the easiest girl to parent, as she is strong-willed, and often disrespects her dad, calling him a jerk, and even using his mental disorder against him, making me want to slap her all the way to Korea. But my point is that, while Clara’s mother is little else than a guest star in her life, her dad is there for better or worse, no matter what, struggling to make sure she lacks nothing, and overall, figuring out how to be a father along the way, as Clara is the result of an unplanned pregnancy when they were only eighteen years-old. Of course he’s gonna make mistakes!

And that’s basically the difference with Clara’s mother. As we read, we hate Clara, when in fact, we should be hating her mom. She’s the truly bad person here, because both her and Adrian had their own dreams, but Adrian was the only one who truly assumed the responsibility of their actions, and put them on hold, to take care of their daughter, while Juliana practically abandoned young Clara, to go and live her dream life. It can’t get more realistic than that, and with a selfish mother who is never there, and a father who can’t discipline her because he doesn’t know how, no wonder Clara is out of control. And it’s amazingly well written.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m all about following your dreams, and living your best life, but to the point of ditching the responsibility of a child to prioritize social media followers, is nothing short of selfish, in one of its worst versions. Clara and her mom don’t have a very intimate relationship, as Juliana never sets time apart to devote exclusively to her, always mixing her with work, sharing everything with a thousand strangers online, with whom she is closer than with her own daughter. And, even worse, all her motherly attitudes over the years never came naturally to her, but were the result of Adrian prompting her to remember important dates and events on Clara’s life, so she wouldn’t miss them. Even the promised vacation together in Tulum, is something to Story on Instagram, instead of the purely mother-daughter time Clara needs. I mean, she suddenly ran away from L. A. in distress to find her, and her mother says she should have told her so she could have “sent a car” to the airport instead of picking her up herself! This seems small but hits hard, so I just have to mention it. It’s so sad! Everything about Juliana Choi says that Clara isn’t a priority in her life. Plus, her hypocrisy during the interview in Tulum is unbelievable! As she is praised for balancing her busy life with motherhood, she says she had Clara when she was very young, and then:

But, with Clara’s dad’s support, I was able to strike out on my own.

Support’? She just calls ‘support’ to the fact that Adrian had to be a single parent for both of them, and did everything for Clara so she didn’t have to? Oh my God! I hate her. I want to punch her, because, while she may have given birth to Clara, it was Adrian who was the real parent there, the one who raised her, and made all the sacrifices needed to give her a good life, in a country that wasn’t his own, no less. So, it’s not surprising that Clara lives in the moment, doesn’t take anything seriously, doesn’t make long-term plans, nor has any meaningful relationships in her life. It’s the example she has always seen. And if you think about it, it’s terrible.

So, in short, patience is key with this book, because although Clara is highly unlikeable, the point of the plot actually is going with her on her journey of self-discovery and self-improvement, finding her own self in the midst of chaos, and giving her life a new meaning. Appreciating her transformation is what gives the story its depth.

As for the rest of the characters, save Clara’s friends, Felix and Patrick, all the relevant ones to the plot are not just background noise (something that happens more often than not in YA novels), and they all have an important story to tell. Like Rose Carver, a character I liked very much. She is everything Clara is not, and for me, she was the most relatable person in the entire book. For one, her description of how anxiety feels like is the most accurate I’ve ever read, and through their forced proximity, Clara gets to know her for herself, instead of seeing her through the lens of the things she saw her doing in school. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the point of writing about friendship, that many authors miss, choosing to write about cat fights, slut-shaming, and girl-hating. Because, although at first Rose and Clara were sworn enemies, the fact that they weren’t trying to get to like each other made them be their authentic selves, and so, they realized that the other was not that bad, after all. Even when they don’t seem to have a lot in common, you see how they slowly become better as individuals when they are together, taking things from each other, which is the point of any good relationship. As their bond grows, Rose learns to relax and have more fun, and Clara becomes more responsible, truly caring about others, and stops taking everything as a joke. Their lost summer wasn’t so lost after all, and they send the very good message that people can get along and settle their differences, in despite of prejudice.

The only thing I didn’t particularly loved about this book was the romance part. Not because of Hamlet, though. He is a very nice, gentlemanlike guy, and genuinely likes Clara. The way he asked her out was the sweetest thing ever, all dressed up and with flowers, and as their bond grew, I was fascinated with how much respect Hamlet had towards her. He never forced to do anything, and always had her well-being in mind. I just didn’t quite like that, only after a couple of dates, he already could instantly notice that something was off with her. It felt too soon. Like, you could expect that attitude from her dad, because he knows her since birth, but Hamlet has only known her for a couple of weeks, she flinches, and he already knows something is wrong. That doesn’t quite work for me. However, I liked that Maurene Goo wrote this couple with zero drama and unnecessary, tacky horniness, and although Clara feels all the time that she’s not good enough for Hamlet, and that she doesn’t deserve him (which is kind of true), I liked how the bond with him helped her get away from the shallow, unfulfilling relationships she had had before him.

I think is beautiful how the author did the whole “Love has a way of finding you” thing the book cover mentions. Because finding love, in Clara’s case, didn’t mean just finding a boyfriend, but actually, getting to love and take care of herself, making true friends, and realizing how much her father loves her, through noticing the many things he did for her, even when she wasn’t aware of them. The fact that things have a bad start doesn’t mean that they can’t lead to something good. That little, tight-knit family that grew around the KoBra, where everyone had something to say and became an inseparable part of each other’s life, is the best aspect of this book, because Clara was finally able to find people worth keeping in her life, that were worried when she disappeared, and actually tried to find her when she put distance between them (unlike her mother).

So, to sum up, this book was a beautiful surprise, and I liked it very much. I’m not usually a contemporary reader, but I’m happy I gave this story a chance. It sends a wonderful message, while it also is a great display of diversity, tackling issues such as family, parenting, immigration, friendship, cultural differences, and even mental health, all wrapped up in a context of hard work, not just on the food truck, but in every area of life.

I highly recommend it!


Monday, September 7, 2020

Review - I Believe in a Thing Called Love

Original Title: I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Series: 
Author: Maurene Goo
Published: May 30th, 2017

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Byr)

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I have mixed feelings about this book. Sure, it made me laugh, and had a lot of heartwarming moments, but it also made me remember why I don’t usually read YA contemporaries. It wasn’t even on my TBR, although, as you know, sometimes you need a dose of romcom to leave the world outside and forget what a mess everything is around you.

After reading this book, at first, I didn’t know what to think of it. But I knew I couldn’t say I loved it, nor that I hated it. It had some good things, but an equal amount of moments I wish it didn’t. Let’s go by parts.

Desi Lee, the heroine, is a funny, lovely girl with a bit of a dork in her. She made me laugh out loud, and overall, she was a good character to read about. But sometimes I just couldn’t help but wanting to slap her in the face, because, for such an academic overachiever, she was not using her head. Still, I loved the relationship with her dad, even more than the actual romance. It’s nice to see how they only have each other, and, unlike in many other YA books, the relationship is pretty healthy. There’s mutual support and love, instead of a toxic “no, dad, it’s just you don’t understand me” kind of relationship. Thank you, Maurene Goo!

But, aside from that, I think Desi’s overall behaviour made me see her more in need of a therapist than a boyfriend. I honestly don’t know why is such a big deal to be seventeen, and never having had a boyfriend. The fact of having (or not) a relationship doesn’t make you a better or worse person, and if you can’t see that… well, try. I promise it’s worthy. Desi has a ton of other achievements and talents, she’s smart and wants to become a doctor. But no, she never had a boyfriend, so that makes her a failure. Right. Wonderful. And when she meets Luka Drakos, her control-freak attitude leads to an obsession that becomes almost psycho, to the point of causing nothing short of a car accident, just because she wants him to walk her home afterwards. If that’s not going too far, then I don’t know what is. Getting Luka as her boyfriend becomes her everything, and not so much because of her feelings for him, but because she can’t tolerate not being good at flirting, in despite of being top of her class, and amazing in every other area. I mean, she joins the Art Club just because Luka is there, in despite that she doesn’t like painting nor drawing, and even when it is Luka’s passion, she doesn’t try to appreciate art to at least get a glimpse of how he sees things, completely focused on getting him. And, in my opinion, a part of getting to know one another in a relationship is showing genuine interest in what the other one loves, and trying to see things through their perspective, for a lot more reasons than just snagging him/her.

Plus, Luka left impossibly clearer that he doesn’t want a girlfriend. He doesn’t! And it’s not your job to force him to like you just because you know you are not like his ex, and would never do anything to hurt him. That, other than being something he has to discover by himself, is what being friends is for. It’s not up to you to make him change his mind. Plus, honestly, guys, there’s nothing wrong in not finding the love of your life at seventeen, you know?

A very good thing, that many times gets glossed over –or plainly ignored– in YA books, is that both Desi and Luka have plans and dreams for their lives that go beyond their high school experience. Even though Desi misses her interview, she still gets the chance to study to become a doctor, and manages to balance it with her personal life, instead of just quitting because she didn’t get into the school she wanted; and Luka gets his scholarship to follow his passion, which, considering the number of books out there that focus on teens, their horniness and their making out sessions, with very little plot points and details, it’s a positive aspect. Bravo, Maurene Goo!

As I said earlier, I liked Desi’s relationship with her dad, with zero drama and mutual support and understanding, as they moved on from the loss they suffered, together. But that aspect got soon compensated by Luka’s backstory. Same as with Desi, I overall liked him, but not so much. He’s this brooding guy who thinks himself misunderstood by the rest of world, with art dreams, but other than that, he’s not interested in anything else (besides Desi, that is). He lives in this kind of dark, little bubble, from which Desi helps him get out. And I felt it was a little hypocrite from him to complain that his father isn’t interested in him or his art, when in fact, Luka himself is not that much interested in bonding with him, either. You can’t blame another person for not doing something you are not doing yourself in the first place! Logic, please. However, I do understand how art became his refuge, the place he goes when he can’t deal with his situation anymore. That is well done.

Something I really liked were those moments in which she dropped the act and got to be authentic, doing things that weren’t in her K drama schedule, and yet, were the most meaningful ones, like when she’s drawing with the kids, or cooking at home with Luka and her dad. Those situations made her look real, with zero stress over her love life, instead of coming from a carefully planned scheme. And yet, she didn’t learn anything from that, keeping up the K drama charade until the very end. And that bothered me very much. I absolutely hated that she decided to go for the damsel in distress situation, to get him back, letting herself fall in the pool, ruining her dress, and almost drowning Luka in the process. It’s such an immature thing, really. Because even after the whole K drama steps ended up breaking both her heart, and Luka’s, Desi still didn’t drop the act, keeping it up to the last minute. Didn’t she realise that it was what got her in trouble in the first place? I know she loved Luka and all, and I know she wanted a chance to explain herself, but, in my opinion, placing herself in such position wasn’t exactly the best way to do it. I honestly thought that she, being so smart and having so many resources thanks to her own efforts, wouldn’t be desperate to the point of defining her value by Luka liking her or not.

As for the other characters in this book, there’s really not a lot to say about them. Emily Fairchild, Luka’s ex-girlfriend, is the fullest cliché stereotype I’ve ever read. Blonde, beautiful, social media-obsessed, with lots of followers… Completely self-absorbed. Desi assumes all kind of things about her when she checks her online profiles, and when she finally shows up, she is exactly what she thought. There’s no room for possibilities there. I thought that her prejudice would be proved wrong, but Emily is exactly the selfish, pretty girl Desi guesses she is from her pictures, without really knowing her at all. And that, honestly, isn’t fair. In my opinion, that kind of thing creates a huge contradiction. Nowadays, everyone looks for diversity in literature, and get angry or disappointed if there’s not an accurate representation, this being people of colour, cultural differences, disability, members of the LGBT community, and so on, so authors definitely have to get that right. But on the other hand, there’s things like this one, placing all the pretty girls under the selfish, vain banner, and I don’t see anyone complaining about that.

Just sayin’, guys, and it’s ok if you disagree.

Anyway, let’s go to Wes and Fiona, Desi’s best friends. They are there for her in her romantic misadventures, but they are basically background noise, just like this girl, Violet Choi, who used to study Korean with Desi when they were children, and is a character I could erase from the book, with little to no disruption on the plot. And, again, perhaps it’s just me, but I think that making a character diverse is the only purpose authors have when they write one. As I said, it’s like the representation HAS to be there, so they create characters that don’t do much for the story itself, but yes, they are diverse. And I felt that was the case with Fiona, who is both gay and Latina, and, just like Emily, felt stereotyped, because when they go to her house, her grandmother is making tacos, and not once it was said Fiona was Mexican. For what we know, she could be anything: Belizean, Honduran, Salvadoran, Puerto-Rican, Costa-Rican, Cuban, Guatemalan... There’s an entire continent with unique countries she could come from, being a Latina. But she’s only referenced as that, and perhaps, only perhaps, Mexican. And being Latin is way wider than just a couple of cliched traits (and dishes, for that matter). I’m not angry at it, I just wish her character could have been a little more accurate about it, instead of going down the obvious, zero-effort path.

As for Wes, other than posing as Desi’s boyfriend in that party she only went to make Luka jealous, he doesn’t do much, and gets Violet as his girlfriend by the end of the book. I wish I could have cared a lot more for them, but I can’t do it if I don’t really know the people I’m reading about. Sorry.

So, in short, I Believe in a Thing Called Love is a funny, fluffy and somewhat predictable book, that will help you get your mind off things, and if you like to watch K dramas, all the better. It’s like one of them, in book form.

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See you soon!