They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

Published: 5 September 2017 (print)/5 September 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperTeen/Harper Audio
Pages: 373/8 hrs and 30 mins
Narrators: Michael Crouch, Robbie Daymond, Bahni Turpin
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.

Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.

I am so, so glad I kept reading this. I tried twice to get going but I don’t know whether it was too late at night or I wasn’t in the right mood on the day, but I almost didn’t keep reading. I’m glad I was rewarded for my persistence though because this is a beautiful story. This story answer the question about what would you do if you knew today would be your last day? Where would you go? What would you do? Who could you meet?

In this not so distant future the technology exists to let people know the day they will die. The problem is they don’t know until the day of when they get that fateful phone call. I loved that there was no explanation about how or why this system came into practice but it has been in long enough that people are used to it, but not so long either. I also loved how there were enough new technologies to allow people to experience things they never thought they would, and that society had evolved to allow spaces for those on their last days to enjoy themselves and be with others like them. This was also a brilliant way to explain and explore the world from so many different voices and experiences.

I will give away nothing but there is a beautiful heart in this story and with these characters. I loved the alternating points of view, not only from Rufus and Mateo but from the other perspectives we’re shown. Through these other eyes we see the wider world, other experiences and gain more insight into the way this future works with people knowing the day they will be dying. The three narrators do a fantastic job. Each one brings a different approach for their roles which makes the right tones sit with the right moments. Turpin’s role is separate from Daymond and Crouch but it still helps create a fantastic mood for this story. Daymond and Crouch bring these boys to life and I loved that I was caught up in the story and their narration allowed me to get lost in the story and not focus on anything else.

This is a story about connections and life and not even so much as living it like it is your last day regardless but also about making whatever you do count. Make it matter. There’s a mixture of opinion about whether it is better to know when you will pass away, and if you must know, certainly knowing a future date is better than knowing the day of. I loved there is no real explanation about how this all came about but I love that it is clinical, accepted, debated and still new.

There is so much to say about this wonderful beautiful story and yet not so much to say either. The best way to experience this book is to read it, book, audio or other. You won’t regret it and it will do wonders for your outlook on life.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (#1) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Published: 21 February 2012 (print)/ 9th April 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster Audio
Pages: 359/7 hrs and 29 mins
Narrator: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

How I managed to relate to a teenager in America from the 1980s is a surprise to me but I did. This is a novel that didn’t evoke a lot of visible emotions, there wasn’t any squealing or gasping, no warm fuzzy feelings, but it was impactful all the same. It was a profound novel without being Profound. There are no sweeping metaphors, not Deep Thoughts, but at the same time it was deep in its own way. Sáenz is quite subdued with his grand thoughts and that is what I loved about this story.

At the beginning I didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story as much as other people but somewhere around the middle I realized how much I adored this story, how much I loved Ari. Sáenz’s writing is brilliant in its slowness, and its enlightenment. It felt real. It felt like the 1980s where everything is slow, there are certain world events around you that have their own impact and effect. There is growth and understanding and I think it is a beautiful story.

I loved how Ari thought about things but it never came to a point where it was unbelievable, that you wouldn’t believe these are a fifteen year olds thoughts and feelings. I believed everything Ari thought and how he thought and seeing him work out the world and who he is was a great journey. I loved that it takes place over years, it isn’t one summer of discovery, it is years of growth and finding out who you are, it takes time. But at the same time I loved that it has a focus on the long summers. The long days of finding things to do and wasting time and being with friends.

The friendship between Dante and Ari is fantastic. There is a wonderful and genuine friendship between them that breaks down the need for manliness and inherent toxic masculinity, especially from the 80s but also from today. Sáenz’s depiction of male friendship is loving and affectionate without it being an issue for either boy. It is pure and I loved every minute of it. Dante is gentle and kind, and has no problem with that, even Ari is quiet and thoughtful, and loyal and has no worry being unlike other boys.

Other things that makes this story feel realistic is the constant call-backs to old jokes, no matter how long ago they started. This is a great reflection on real life that in jokes between friends and family can rise up at any point. It also explores serious things like absent family members and the after effects of war and those who must live on after it. I understood Ari’s frustrations and the way Saenz explores why Ari has these emotions; his anger, his guilt, his shame whether he knows that is what he’s feeling initially or not, it is real and heartbreaking. Dante is also wonderful and unapologetic. His confidence and shine is invigorating and it’s great seeing how it helps Ari, whether he knows it or not.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is amazing as narrator. His voice is perfect for these boys and he had wonderful pacing and tone which made it even more enjoyable. He uses a good voice for each of them and you don’t even hear that it is him after awhile because you get lost in their story. I thought it may be hard to hear anything but Lin but that wasn’t the case.

I need book two because I need to know what happens after what happens at the very end. I need a whole book of that final scene and I think there are so many brilliant moments in this book about friendship and honesty and boys, and what it means to be a person in the world and a teenager. There is a lot of love of all kinds and seeing Ari understood the world by observing others is such an introverted thing to do I loved it. He doesn’t say much but he thinks a lot and through those thoughts we try and understand who Ari is and how he is seeing the world around him. This is truly a story about Ari discovering who he is and wants to be, but more so trying to make sense of the world around him. Each character must try and find their place in the world and realise their actions affect others.

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Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Published: 2nd October 2018 (print)/2nd October 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Candlewick Press / Listening Library
Pages: 240/3 Hours 35 min
Narrator: Cassandra Morris
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★  ★ – 4 Stars

When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town — including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder — she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.)

This story is told to us by Louisiana and from the start we are put right into the excitement as Lousinana and her grandmother take off on a mysterious journey in the middle of the night. I love DiCamillo’s work and this was just as beautiful as all her other stories. She has a way with making the everyday seem profound and important and she makes you realise the everyday is profound and important too.

I liked the almost magical feel of this story. The southern charm is evident and the peculiarities of Louisiana’s grandmother add a nice eccentricity to the tale but the further you get into the story it becomes so much more. The feeling of belonging, finding out who you are and where you belong in the world is an emotionally touching story. Louisiana’s innocence, the daunting nature of her situation are captivating and as DiCamillo takes her story into new friendships, tough questions, and harsh realities it draws you in further. There is a timeless feeling despite being set in modern time.

The characters are just as charming and it is hard not to be captured by their hospitality and kindness. Their love and support of Louisiana are a nice comfort while you follow her journey and try and find her footing in this strange new life her grandmother has put her in. I can understand how it may feel too perfect at times but it is also refreshing and it brings safety and security to a child’s world, a refuge with open love and acceptance without fear.

The audiobook was a wonderful expereince, Morris captured Louisiana’s voice perfectly and her narration only added to the mystical nature of the tale. There is nothing actually magical about this story, really, but DiCamillo’s stories always feel a little out of this world, some deep magic and I felt that with this story. There was an old time feel to the setting and it had the childhood innocence but resilience, knowledge and strength as well.

This is a standalone but it has connections to characters previously seen in DiCamillo’s book Raymie Nightingale. This is a story that is both heart-warming and heartbreaking but Louisiana is endearing and seeing her discover who she is and what she is capable of enduring is a beautiful comfort. A very small part of you may even tear up as you read, especially the end, and that is 100% completely acceptable.

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Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Published: 1st May 2007 (print)/3 December 2015 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Algonquin Books/Lamplight Audio
Pages: 335/11 hrs and 26 mins
Narrator: David LeDoux, John Randolph Jones
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Historical
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, drifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town. A veterinary student who almost earned his degree, Jacob is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her. 

After years of having this book on my shelf and after even more years of wanting to read it. I have finally read Water for Elephants! I actually chose the audiobook and it was a good listen. There are two narrators, one for young Jacob and one for elderly Jacob and both gentleman did a great job.

The story jumps through time from the present day to Jacob’s early life in the 1930s when he runs away and joins the circus. While the present day begins the story, most of it is told by Jacob’s younger self but there is a constant back and forward, especially in the early chapters. I loved present day Jacob, his thoughts are sardonic and admittedly a bit depressing but there is hope and it is so easy to fall in love with him. He worries about his mind, his memory and while a lot frustrates him, he is a darling.

It was definitely a curious contrast because I loved present day Jacob but twenty three year old Jacob annoyed me a few times. He is a fool but I guess that what comes from being young and naïve, especially in a world he knows nothing about.

The story is heartbreaking at times and tough in terms of content. With an audiobook I definitely had to turn the volume down while I was driving on occasion with some of the animal abuse but thankfully you could tell it was coming and Gruen is restrained in her descriptions so they don’t last long. A lot of it reinforces character development and while it is tough, it was also a reality of the time and the treatment of animals in the circus.

There is diversity of the characters and Gruen sets up the class system well for the train layout and the circus employees. And while it was not essentially part of Jacob’s story, I enjoyed that Gruen manages to casually slip in the prejudices against the African-Americans and other folk as they travelled the various American towns.

There’s hope and triumph through the story but there’s a bittersweet reality to it as well. The stories have always been around about the reality of circuses in those days and while the circumstances were rough, it is also fascinating when you see how many were in operation and makes you realise how amazing it is for those that survived.

This isn’t a history of circuses, but it is a good story about the life of being on a circus, and especially one that isn’t real. The ending was the crowning glory. After hearing Jacob’s life story and seeing his present day circumstances Gruen concludes this story in the best way possible. I barely remember the movie but I know it was a bit different to the book. There is a lot of padding and I was surprised when it was revealed a lot takes place over a few months because it felt like a lot longer as the story was happening. I’m glad I finally read it and while it was enjoyable, I will admit a small part of me found it a tad underwhelming.

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The Dead Queens Club by Hannah Capin

Published: 29 January 2019 (print)/29 January 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harlequin Australia/Harlequin Audio
Pages: 440/10 hrs and 52 mins
Narrator: Jesse Vilinsky
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

What do a future ambassador, an overly ambitious Francophile, a hospital-volunteering Girl Scout, the new girl from Cleveland, the junior cheer captain, and the vice president of the debate club have in common? It sounds like the ridiculously long lead-up to an astoundingly absurd punchline, right? Except it’s not. Well, unless my life is the joke, which is kind of starting to look like a possibility given how beyond soap opera it’s been since I moved to Lancaster. But anyway, here’s your answer: we’ve all had the questionable privilege of going out with Lancaster High School’s de facto king. Otherwise known as my best friend. Otherwise known as the reason I’ve already helped steal a car, a jet ski, and one hundred spray-painted water bottles when it’s not even Christmas break yet. Otherwise known as Henry. Jersey number 8.

Meet Cleves. Girlfriend number four and the narrator of The Dead Queens Club, a young adult retelling of Henry VIII and his six wives. Cleves is the only girlfriend to come out of her relationship with Henry unscathed—but most breakups are messy, right? And sometimes tragic accidents happen…twice…

This is a fantastic story if you know the history of Henry VIII and his wives and even if you don’t it is an amazing, complicated drama about high school politics which can only be told in the setting of an American school. Even if you don’t understand the entirety of the Tudor history Capin still tells an engrossing story and provides enough clues without ever breaking from the present day reality.

Not only is the premise brilliant, but Capin is a master with her metaphors. She doesn’t throw them in your face right from that start but when they come out they are the ideal representations of who these character were and the roles they played in history. The comparisons are not exact for obvious reasons, but Capin is incredibly close with her high school student equivalents and the more I thought about the historical events and the events and characters in the narrative I was even more in awe.

Our narrator Cleeves is a budding journalist and the use of journalistic chapters is a clever touch and while it does put everyone in their high school boxes, it works as an additional storytelling tool from Cleeves’ perspective. I love Cleeves because she has a journalistic mind but she is also passionate about what she wants and while she is a “good” character, she isn’t afraid to step outside the lines for a bit of fun either. She is a feminist and a fighter and the amount of girl power in this book is so fulfilling. Capin via Cleeves isn’t afraid to point this out and I loved how Cleeves isn’t afraid to speak out.

I loved everything about Cleeves, she isn’t pure but she is malicious either. Her friendship to Henry is solid and seeing her react to the things around her and the events that unfold is marvellous. Capin draws you in and once you are in deep to this stunning tale of drama she starts to plant her seeds and despite knowing the history you still aren’t entirely sure about what will happen. It’s an incredible journey to go on.

There is a strong chance I love this book more because of the ties to history. I got quite excited when I realised who characters were representing and what roles they were playing as the story unfolded. I can see how this might be too dramatic and convoluted for some people and overly dramatic, but if you read it as a modern Henry VIII then it becomes just as dramatic as history has always made it out his life and relationships to be, perhaps compressed into a few months rather than over years.

What makes this a strong story I found was that it wasn’t even much of a stretch. When I thought about Henry VII and his relationships, it easily translated into high school drama. While some of the historical events have been excluded, there is still enough to see the events of Henry and his court unfold in the modern day. Capin includes key aspects of Henry’s life and the lives of his wives, and while not everything is translatable, the references that are there are creative and true to her characters.

As I say, so much comes back to metaphors and Capin’s ingenious weaving of history into a modern setting which works so ridiculously well. I never even thought I needed a retelling of Tudor history but now that I have it I’ve realised what magic I have been missing out on.

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