History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera

Published: 17th January 2017 (print)/17th January 2017 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Recorded Books
Pages: 294/9 hrs and 35 mins
Narrator: Tom Picasso
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   – 1 Star

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course.

To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart.

If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life.

When I realised Silvera had another book out I picked it up instantly because I adored They Both Die at the End, but it didn’t take me long to realise that this book and that book are vastly different in terms of enjoyment.

I kinda see the point. Theo is already gone, and we flash back and forward to how the memories Griffin has are all that’s left versus how he is living his life now. But on the flip side – it’s boring. Even listening to this at 2x speed did not help me get through this faster. Every time I thought I was close to finishing I still has ages to go.

It was definitely a combination of a few things. I didn’t have any connection to these characters, they weren’t one dimensional exactly but at the same time there isn’t any depth or emotion to them that I could find substance in.

There’s emotion of course, we get descriptions and experiences of their time together and how Griffin feels after Theo is gone but it only ever felt like words. The story takes place so close after his death yet I kept thinking it was months afterwards the way everyone behaves and how hollow the words felt.

There’s a little bit of “mystery”. Theo’s death is a slow reveal and we find out gradually what happened, all the different layers and circumstances, but at the same time it meant nothing. Even the eventual reasoning didn’t make sense and at times the circumstances and the behaviour between Wade, Griffin and Jackson felt unnatural and clunky.

Good points: Silvera portrays compulsions well with Griffin’s behaviour about counting and routines. His OCD is not a focusing factor, but it isn’t treated as a background feature either. It butts into scenes, affects interactions, and has flare ups based on experiences and events but being OCD isn’t the focus of Griffin’s story which was nice. It wasn’t about him having OCD and Silvera keeps the balance of it being a part of Griffin and not the point of the story well.

I cannot understand how someone who wrote They Both Die at the End, a beautiful, philosophical, amazing book also wrote this. I know this came first and writing evolves, but they both came out in the same year and the shift from this to that is drastic. I’m now wary with his other books because knowing it could go either way I’m going to have to do a little bit more research than picking up a book based on author alone.

You can purchase History is All You Left Me via the following

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Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Published: 5th March 2019 (print)/24 March 2019 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 480/9 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Nile Bullock
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★  – 1 Star

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favourite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Lured in by the interesting blurb I’m annoyed to say this story had so much potential if I didn’t hate the writing. Also the main character, but I am blaming that on the writing because I think it’s not entirely his fault.

The issue I have with the writing is it’s cringe-worthy, long winded and often unnecessary. It’s painful to listen to I’m sure it would have been annoying to read as well. Having Jack’s narration spoken aloud in my ear made me realise how weird the sentences were and how the story is flooded with overly wordy similes and metaphors which go far beyond their purpose. Reynolds over explains things so not only are similes sprinkled in more often than necessary, he goes one step further adding explanations and examples of those similes which take away from the moment being described.

As a character Jack is annoying. I didn’t like his voice and Reynolds’ written him to be the “adorable dork” who gets the cool, interesting older girl but Jack is more on the annoying dork side of things and the weird, overly cute, eye rolling dialogue between the two was hard to bear.

I wanted to stop reading so many times but I was determined to stick with it at least until the first time travel, and then I kept telling myself to stay with it to see if there was an explanation for the Groundhog Day type situations. Thankfully Reynolds chooses a four month cycle which gives us time to explore the relationship and the impact it has on the wider friends and family group.

It was relatively interesting seeing the different actions having different outcomes, and yet despite the multiple cycles we spend with these characters, they still felt flat and one dimensional, like we never learn much about them past the things we need to know for the events in the cycle to occur.

Reynolds shows that Jack takes advantage of the knowledge he has of previous cycles but then becomes incredibly weird and the story shows multiple breaches of privacy and I have no doubt Kate wouldn’t have gone along with anything Jack did with his intrusive nature into her personal and medical life. Not to mention the ways he abandons and treats his friends with his choices.

Other downfalls of Jack’s character were the many sentences dedicated to talking about how attractive Kate was and there are even scenes where Jack is spending his time describing how attractive Kate’s face is while she’s talking to him but he isn’t actually listening to her tell him about her very serious illness. The line she was sexy when angry even happens which did nothing to help me warm to the writing, Jack or Reynolds.

Overall I was not a fan of this book. The story is a letdown, I don’t actually think Jack learnt anything substantial to make him a better person, there are great characters that are left on the sidelines until they’re required for the story and aside from a few moments of remorse Jack doesn’t change his behaviour in any real way to show he’s learnt from his actions over the time loop. Jack tells us it happened a lot more often than what he’s telling us, I can only be thankful that we weren’t subjected to having to read about them as well.

You can purchase Opposite of Always via the following

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Between the Lives by Jessica Shirvington

Published: 1 May 2013 (print)/1st May 2013 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia/Naxos Audio
Pages: 336/8 hrs and 5 mins
Narrator: Matilda Reed
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★  – 2 Stars

Sabine isn’t like anyone else. For as long as she can remember, she’s had two lives. Every twenty-four hours she “shifts,” living each day twice. In one life, Sabine has everything: popular friends, perfect grades, expensive clothes, and the guy everyone wants. In the other, Sabine’s family struggles financially, and her friends are considered rebels. But then she meets Ethan. He’s gorgeous and challenging, and he makes her feel like she’s never felt before.

All Sabine really wants is the chance to live only one life. But when this finally becomes possible, is she willing to risk everything – including losing the one person who might actually believe her – to make it happen?

CW: self harm, drug use, overdose, physical abuse

Note: This review contains minor spoilers

This is a reread of a book I first read in 2014 and I’m surprised that I’ve gone from a 5 star rating to a 2 star review. I think at the time I was amazed at how Shirvington created this world. Her creativeness of how Sabine shifted between worlds, how the rules were changing, what it meant for her life and her decisions caught me more than the problems I can obviously see now.

I did this as an audio second time round and to be honest it was hard to get through it. I had it on the fastest speed I could still understand and I was tired of this story fairly early. Once you see the problems it is hard to see past them.

I feel like having lived for essentially 36 years instead of her single 18 she should be more mature, smarter, and sensible than she is. Sabine has managed her two families and lives well enough — she can live two lives and not get them mixed up, has never forgotten which world she was in, but having lived twice as long as anyone else she is still acting foolishly.

No wonder she is sent to an institution because she’s clearly gone to the extreme self-harm approach instead of doing normal less extreme tests. The blasé attitude she has towards it as well is concerning. She can’t see anything wrong with it, she doesn’t think it’s a big deal and in a YA book especially, to show it as “no big deal” is incredibly troubling.

The abuse of power by Ethan when he was acting as her “nurse” while she was in the hospital crosses a lot of boundaries and whether Sabine wants him or not is no issue, but Ethan crosses a line, whether it’s because he believes her story and knows she isn’t mentally unstable is beside the point. I’m sure somewhere in there there’s an ethical issue as well, and a breach of privacy but I’m not sure on that one. It’s a vague set up Shirvington has going on.

It isn’t a bad concept to be fair, as I say, I did give it five stars the first time around. The ideas are interesting, I liked the fact we have no explanation of why and really the mystery isn’t the point of the story. It is what it is and we follow the change in Sabine’s life as suddenly the rules have changed.

As you read you make your own judgements about which life Sabine should live in and which one would benefit her. Both sides have pros and cons but as the story goes on you can see how the idyllic world may not always be what it seems. On a lighter note, I was annoyed Sabine didn’t use her two lives to her advantage more often. It would have been a great way to test out the consequences and the effects a lot better too.

Where Shirvington fails is that she included these Big Issues and she treats them as if they mean nothing. Not only the detailed description and flippant self-harm, but also abuse. Minor spoiler, but you can’t go from being assaulted to kissing and sleeping with someone else. It just isn’t possible – especially given the examples we’ve seen of how the mentality of the other life comes across. How Sabine is not still reacting from the other life when she shifts is unbelievable when we’ve seen her still reacting from a lot less.

I feel bad having such a shift in rating but I think it’s a good look at how upon initial readings you can get blinded by the overall artwork and not see the cracks that make up that artwork.

You can purchase Between the Lines via the following

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Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

Published: 5th September 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Open Road Media
Pages: 183
Format: ebook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

When Liza Winthrop first lays eyes on Annie Kenyon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she knows there’s something special between them. Soon, their close friendship develops into a deep and intimate romance. Neither imagined that falling in love could be so wonderful, but as Liza and Annie’s newfound sexuality sparks conflict in both their families and at their schools, they discover it will take more than love for their relationship to succeed.

This was a beautiful story to read. I found whenever I stopped reading I longed to come back. Garden tells the story of Liza who is reminiscing about meeting and becoming friends with Annie before a mysterious incident happens that has kept Liza from contacting her.

The writing is easy to fall into and it flows beautifully as you read so you find yourself turning page after page. There was a lovely story being told and I loved the naivety, the passion, and the free spirited nature of these girls. The descriptions are beautiful and honestly it’s incredible how Garden has captured the growing relationship and the act of falling in love between these two girls.

It is of course also a heartbreaking story. For all the beauty and eloquent writing about two teens finding each other and falling in love there is the society around them intent on demonising them if they ever found out. It isn’t only Annie and Liza’s lives under scrutiny either and Garden does a fantastic job of capturing the whole story and all the players in it. Garden balances telling the story while also pointing out society’s failings remarkably well. It says so much but it works within the realm of the story world and never seems out of place or comes across as moralistic or pushy.

Garden tells the story in both past and present tense and the mixing of flashbacks and Liza’s present situation as she writes letters to Annie is incredibly well done. There are well placed clues and mystery around what separated these girls and as readers you’re caught up between watching them fall in love while also wondering what has come between them.

What I found amazing about the whole story is you never felt unsatisfied and it was sometimes surprising to be flung back into the present after having escaped so completely into the past through Liza’s words. I loved this book from early on and it stayed an amazing story throughout. From being a ground-breaking book of its time in the 1980s this story has held up and remains a fabulous and emotional story about first loves and the power and intensity they can have.

You can purchase Annie on My Mind via the following

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If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

Published: 3rd May 2016 (print)/4 August 2016 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Flatiron Books /Macmillan Audio
Pages: 280/6 hrs and 59 mins
Narrator: Samia Mounts
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★ – 3 Stars

A new kind of big-hearted novel about being seen for who you really are.

Amanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Meredith Russo’s If I Was Your Girl is a universal story about feeling different and a love story that everyone will root for.

I read this after Russo’s other book Birthday but while I liked this I think Birthday was a more powerful story. Even though some tough issues are raised here like transphobia, bullying, abuse and violence towards trans people, it was still a relatively minor part of the story. The main plot points are about Amanda at her new school, making new friends, falling in love and trying to reconnect with her estranged father.

There are stereotypes and easy roads taken to make Amanda’s story work which Russo admits to, but that is ok because this isn’t a story about Amanda’s transition (though we do get her full backstory through well placed flashbacks), this is about her life now and how she is navigating a new school, new relationships and her first love.

Russo’s author note at the end talks to her readers, trans and otherwise about how to approach Amanda’s story. She admits she took liberties and made the process seamless for Amanda where it otherwise shouldn’t have been to make the reader accept Amanda more easily, but she acknowledges that many other people don’t have such luxuries in real life. I liked this addition because it would be so easy to dismiss Amanda’s experiences because she had it easy and things were perfectly aligned for her, not to mention for people to assume this experience was universal when it isn’t. In doing so Russo makes the story afterwards the focus and Amanda’s life now rather than before where the main story lies.

Having said that, it isn’t a perfect road for Amanda – I hated that for the entire time I was waiting for the reveal about her past and for the town and/or her friends to turn on her. There are so many trans stories and they shouldn’t all end in revelations resulting in abuse and rejection but while some of Amanda’s story had rule bending, I appreciated Russo not sugar coating the entire experience.

Despite being #OwnVoices it still falls into YA tropes and stereotypes; it is cheesy and sappy at times, but if you’re after a sweet romance with the small town aesthetic that so many US YA books have then this is right up your alley.

You can purchase If I Was Your Girl via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

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