Though I’ve been reading a lot lately (woo, already passed 60 books for the year, a feat for me!), I haven’t quite kept up with book reviews, even though I want to talk about all of these books! So to catch you and me up, I’m going to do a review round-up of some awesome reads! I really, really liked all of these fall releases and I think you will too.
Replica by Lauren Oliver
What a wild ride! If you’re a fan of Orphan Black like me, you’re going to really like Replica. Replica is told in two narratives, which is not uncommon for YA, but what makes that even cooler is a) it’s two girls and b) the book is a flip book, so you get to choose how you read it. (Also – two bookmarks!) I’ll explain how I read it soon, but first, I’ll tell you about the book.
Lyra is a replica (aka clone) who lives in a research facility on a remote island off the marshes of Florida with hundreds of other replicas. She’s a fairly self-aware replica for someone who is treated as an it rather than a she. She doesn’t think she’s human, she’s just there to be tested. Gemma is just a regular girl who lives a few States away with super protective parents. She knows she spent a lot of her childhood in the hospital, but she doesn’t think much on why besides the fact that it’s made her bullied for looking like Frankenstein’s monster with a big scar down her chest. Gemma feels trapped and lonely, so when she discovers her parents have some sort of secret connection to a shady research facility in Florida (hm!), at first she is excited to defy her parents and go on an adventure to uncover the truth. But it quickly escalates as soon as Gemma and Lyra cross paths, as they both must run for their lives from those who want to keep the research facility a secret.
I was totally sucked into this book, I was so satisfied. I wouldn’t say the concept is very original, but the experience is fun and exciting. I think I liked Lyra’s narrative a little bit more, because for her everything is new and mysterious, whereas with Gemma it’s more anxiety and panic. But what one lacks, the other has. So Lyra doesn’t realize there’s a mystery to be solved until some things happen, but Gemma’s been on the case from the start.
In a scene in the lab as Lyra makes a discovery:
“Lyra moved deeper, into the forest of file cabinets and old plastic storage bins, into mountains of paperwork no one had touched for years. A few rooms were dark, or only partly illuminated. And she could hear, in the quiet, the whisper of millions of words, words trapped behind every drawer, words beating their fingernails against the inside of the file cabinets.
All the words she could ever want: words to stuff herself on until she was full, until her eyes burst.”
Because it is a flip-narrative book, it’s rare that the story overlaps, which I liked. Everyone will have a different way of reading it, but here’s how I did. I flipped after every 2 chapters of each (starting with Lyra) until chapter 9. Then I’d flip every other chapter, however there were a couple parts where the narrative kept going for one character so it made more sense to do two chapters then back to the other. You’d recognize it while reading. Some people read one whole side first then the second, but I know that would drive me crazy. So it’s really up to you!
Lauren has announced that Replica will be the first in a duology – Helix is set to come out next year and I could not be more excited!
The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis
Oh man, this book left me with so many complex feels. I was reading the ending while out in public, which I would’t recommend, because I almost cried at a bus stop. So, just a warning, this book might destroy you for a while. But oh is it necessary.
Alex Craft’s sister was brutally murdered, so Alex is out for revenge. The story takes place a year or so after – with her sister’s killer also mysteriously murdered. But Alex is hyper-aware of the people who surround her. She’s a colder character – you would be too – but still has a lot of heart. She makes friends with Peekay (nicknamed for Preacher’s Kid) as they both volunteer at the local animal shelter. And soon she ends up surprisingly interested in popular jock Jack, who was actually found having sex with another girl, Branley, while he was supposed to be searching for her sister (yeaaahhh), though he does have a softer side to him, which is what Alex is drawn to. The book is told from all three of their POVs, but obviously Alex’s is the most compelling. I got a little annoyed with Jack after a while because he is always being all ‘yeah so I was attracted to Branley, so what, I’m a guy, can I help it?’ which is a little uncomfortable because get this – the book is largely about rape culture and how guys assert themselves. Though Jack is never the bad guy, it’s still a bit bothersome (and just annoying to read after a while). And Peekay is a sweet, lovely flower who needs to be protected. I don’t want to give too much away because you really need to read it on your own, but I will say that this book is so important, is such a good reflection on assault and rape, and how girls have to deal with really upsetting actions, even something like a boy getting away with humping a basketball on a playground, but Alex knowing she’d never be able to do that. It’s full of really memorable scenes, and you’ll be left feeling all sorts of things. It’s not your average heart-wreck of a YA – you’ll be a bit confused by how you feel, because it’s sort of noodled its way into your brain, and you don’t know if it’s right to feel compassion in ways that you will. But oh, just please read this.
From Alex, in the humping-a-basketball scene:
“I wonder what would happen if I went down there, took a ball out of the cage, and pretended to have sex with it. I think people would stop and look. I think the whole gym would come to a standstill and teachers would definitely interfere. There would be discussions (again) about what exactly is wrong with me that I would do such a thing. I would definitely log some more hours in the guidance office.
But boys will be boys, our favourite phrase that excuses so many things, while the only thing we have for the opposite gender is women, said with disdain and punctuated with an eye roll.”
Girl Mans Up by M.E. Girard
I so enjoyed this book! I’ve been meaning to tell you guys more about it for a while. It’s a queer diverse YA novel that takes place near Toronto <3
Pen is a girl who looks like a boy and likes girls but doesn’t want to be a boy, she just wants to be herself. She has no problem with this (which I loved about her), but it seems that everyone else around her does, from her strict Portuguese parents to her childhood best friend Colby to her peers. These people are straight up closeminded and awful to her, and she takes it. I felt so much for Pen, I wanted to hug her and high five her and tell her it’s going to get better. I wanted to punch Colby in the face multiple times, like, woof, he’s bad news. Pen must find a way to convince everyone that she is wonderful just the way she is, which is unfortunate, but makes for a good story, ha.
But Girl Mans Up isn’t all about pain, it’s also about love. Pen adores her older brother Johnny, though siblings are bound to have their bumps in the road. She also falls for a girl at school, Blake, and their romance is just plainly adorable. Pen also finds a new friend in Olivia, a girl who had hooked up with Colby before, and is having some problems with him too. They’re unlikely friends at first, but each find something in the other that they needed.
I loved M-E’s writing style – I was immediately and completely drawn into Pen’s life from the beginning, and was sad when the book was over. At a recent event, M-E explained how Pen is based off of her girlfriend Melissa’s teen self. When Melissa was reading it over she told M-E ‘this totally happened to me when I was younger’ and M-E was surprised because she knew Melissa hadn’t told her anything like that before, but she had really wound her way into Melissa’s character. I think that is so sweet! Because of this, Pen is one of the most genuine characters in YA you’ll meet these days. I just want everyone to read it! I particularly think it’d be a fantastic read for queer teens who are in a similar position as Pen.
Girl Mans Up is full of gems. I compiled a list of the top ten quotes for HCC Frenzy, but here’s one:
“Everyone wants something different from me. It’s like one second, I should be a better dude. I should stop being such a girly douche, and I should just man up. Then, it’s the opposite: I’m too much of a guy, and it’s not right. I should be a girl, because that’s what I’m supposed to be.”
The Lost & Found by Katrina Leno
Frannie and Louis always lose stuff. Things that mean a lot to them, and things that don’t. There is no way to explain the weird phenomena that has affected them, so they just accept it. Frannie and Louis don’t know each other by name at first – only screen names – The Missing Nib and Bucker – from an online support group for those who have suffered a tragedy. Their childhood tragedies still very much affect them as teens, and they’re both pretty much alone in their coping besides talking to each other online. But something happens to each of them that encourages them to move forward, to the same place. They embark on their own road trips with the only other people who mean the world to them — for Frannie it’s her adopted cousin Arrow, and for Louis it’s his twin sister Willa. Along the way, Frannie and Louis mysteriously and randomly find the things that the other has lost.
It took me a little while to get into the story – just a warning: it starts with their tragedies and they’re both fairly graphic – but once I did, I found what I came to the book for: a cute YA story with dual narrators that includes love but isn’t all about love. It significantly brightens throughout the book, along with their attitudes. I enjoyed reading their separate journeys – what they must go through in order to find relief and happiness – the love that they find is just a super cute bonus. Their past tragedies and present worries are totally valid, but you root for them to find a way to find some peace. And I love the hint of magical realism in the sense of the lost and found objects!
This book seems to have flown under the radar, so I hope you’ll now add it to your TBR! It’s beautifully written and has a bit of everything. One thing I’ll say though as a paper person who was drawn to the book with the words ‘pen pals’ – online chat buddies are not pen pals 😉
“The distance between two things so phenomenally far apart from each other crossed at the slowest possible rate. And when they collided, there was only buzzing and humming and the bone-deep vibration of a thousand light-seeking beasts… We were seeking our own light, and we had just found it.”
Write This Down by Claudia Mills
While all the books above are YA, Write This Down is middle grade. Twelve-year-old Autumn is sweet, bookish, and confused about the world. Autumn and her older brother Hunter used to be so close, but recently he’s been angry, withdrawn and mean. Hunter crosses a line when he reads Autumn’s private poetry to his friends, which includes the brother of Autumn’s crush Cameron, who of course she wrote about in her journal. Autumn is so upset, and she wants to get Hunter back. But being the precious self-proclaimed next Emily Dickinson that she is, she’s not going to do something on Hunter’s level – she’s going to get back at him through the written word. Autumn is a young, aspiring writer, and she decides she can not only get Hunter back but also prove herself as a writer and as crush-material to Cameron, by getting a story published in The New Yorker. I loved the bit of ridiculous this was – Autumn – a preteen – truly believed she had a good shot at The New Yorker, which was sweet. She even submitted some of her novel to agents at a public event.
“There have been lots of – well, some – mega-popular books that were written and published by kids. S. E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she was in high school. Christopher Paolini wrote Eragon when he was fifteen. Fifteen isn’t that much older than twelve. And Christopher Paolini probably didn’t have a horrible older brother and a fabulous boy in his journalism class that he needed to impress, or maybe he would have published his book even sooner.”
I had fun reading this book and I think it could speak to a lot of middle graders. I sure saw a lot of my former self in Autumn, and I know there are lots of girls out there like me. While Hunter is truly frustrating, and it’s hard to feel invisible to a crush, Autumn has nice relationships with her parents and best friend Kylee that keep her supported. Autumn has some growing up to do herself, and she needs to learn how to deal with anger, but it’s nothing anyone hasn’t had to go through before. I’d recommend it to the shy, young writerly girls who are learning how to use their voices.
Well, well, well! Five reviews in one post! I won’t be doing that again 😉 But I hope you’ve added these to your TBRs and would love to hear what you think of them when you’ve read them! And hath no fear I definitely have a lot more reviews coming your way.
Thank you to HarperCollins Canada for Replica, The Female of the Species, and Girl Mans Up, and thank you to Raincoast Books for Write This Down. This did not affect my opinion of the books whatsoever.